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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A myth for today
This is a powerful re-telling of an ancient myth through the eyes and mind of a child reading about the Norse gods during the Second World War. The child, evacuated to the countryside, roams in woods and fields and takes delight in the beauty of the natural world. She gathers armfuls of flowers, knowing there will always be more to replace them. She visualizes the...
Published on 29 Jan 2012 by Mrs. A. Nicol

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Enjoyable Re-Telling
I had been looking forward to reading Ragnarok: The End of the Gods for quite some time. Not only because of my love for ancient myths, but also because of the Norse links to my own debut YA novel, The Black Petal. It was also my first A.S. Byatt novel, and after winning the Booker Prize and writing the critically acclaimed `The Children's Book' I was rather looking...
Published 15 months ago by Dan Thompson


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A myth for today, 29 Jan 2012
By 
Mrs. A. Nicol (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths) (Hardcover)
This is a powerful re-telling of an ancient myth through the eyes and mind of a child reading about the Norse gods during the Second World War. The child, evacuated to the countryside, roams in woods and fields and takes delight in the beauty of the natural world. She gathers armfuls of flowers, knowing there will always be more to replace them. She visualizes the bombing raids over London as the Wild Hunt of Woden.

The book does not speak directly of our current environmental crisis, and yet there is an underlying feeling throughout that this is a myth for our time. It tells of a world that was created, that was abundant and full of life, and then was destroyed. Already the English landscape we inhabit is very different to that of the 1940s and immeasurably less diverse. This ancient myth offers no solutions, only warning - and what a terrifying end of the world it shows, as the people wait for a spring that never comes, wolves swallow the moon and sun, and the stars fall "like spent candles" from the sky.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful retelling, 10 Aug 2011
When I first saw this title was available on NetGalley, I was so excited and requested it at once. I've loved everything I've read by Byatt and this story was of particular interest to me as I adore mythology.

I devoured this book in one sitting and loved every minute of it. The story of Ragnarok is told here as seen through the eyes of a young girl, reading the mythology from a book while she lives in the country during the war. I loved the way the child related the story to her own experiences of war and religion.

This book shifts between the child's thoughts and the Ragnarok story, but it never feels fragmented as Byatt manages to balance the two elements perfectly. The prose is beautiful and descriptive yet not overly 'flowery' and it is a real pleasure to read it and lose yourself in the words.

I enjoyed the note from Byatt at the end, discussing the approach she'd used, as that really helped bind the piece together.

It's been a while since I last did any reading on Northern myth, but I now feel inspired to grab up my copies of the Edda and the Kalevala again. This is definitely a book that I will be buying myself a print copy of so that I can keep it in my library and reread it in the future. Highly recommended to both lovers of literary fiction and those interested in mythology.

I received this book as a free ebook ARC from NetGalley.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful introduction to Norse myth, 14 Aug 2011
By 
Curiosity Killed The Bookworm (Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Ragnarök is the latest edition to Canongate's excellent Myths series, all standalone novels by a variety of the world's finest writers. Written by A.S. Byatt of The Children's Book fame, it tells the Nordic story of the Judgement of the Gods or the end of the world.

Told through the eyes of a girl in wartime Britain, known only as the thin child, Ragnarök is a good introduction to Nordic myths. The thin child finds a book entitled Asgard and the Gods in the house she is evacuated to and she shares those myths with the reader. With her father fighting in the war, the thin girl is going through her very own Ragnarök, knowing that the end of her world must surely be coming.

The novel is not really about the thin girl though, it is more a collection of myths that lead up to Ragnarök. From the creation story of Yggdrasil, a great tree whose ecosystem was the world, to the tale of the great serpent Jörmungandr, who encircled the world. Like the thin child, Loki has always been my favourite player in the Nordic myths and this mischevious demi-god plays a big part in most of them.

Reading this, you will get the feeling of familiarity, even if you don't know the myths themselves. It really does emphasis that myths are borrowed and adapted throughout cultures. The Nordic Hel will have shaped the Christianity's Hell of eternal torment much more then the Greek underworld would have, where the Elysian fields were the reward of heroes.

The author's thoughts on myths are also included and are well worth a read. My copy (a proof not the Kindle edition) had place markers for the illustrations so I can't comment on those but am excited the see how it is illustrated. The bibliography is full of interesting titles if you wish to read more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ragnarok, 8 Nov 2012
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Straight retelling of myth can be extremely dull - like reading an old schoolbook. This avoided that pitfall by linking the Asgard stories to the writers wartime childhood in a way that I found both subtle and convincing. Beautifully written - I liked the way alliteration in the prose gave it a Norse feel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reimagining the myth of the end of the gods, 6 May 2012
By 
LittleMoon (loving my life in the rain) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths) (Hardcover)
"[The gods] know Ragnarok is coming but are incapable of imagining any way to fend it off, or change the story. They know how to die gallantly but not how to make a better world."

Who better than AS Byatt, one of the most formidable writers of our time, to tackle the Norse Armageddon, Ragnarok, the fate of the gods. Above this most final of battlefields "the wolves tore apart sun and moon, day and night, drank their blood and swallowed them ... the stars ... fell like spent candles" whilst the gods fought against giants and creatures beyond imagination to a final black doom. There is to be no panacea here though, the chance for eternal life is rejected in Byatt's revision--as "Homo homini deus est"--the fall of the gods will be the fall of humanity.

We live in a time of unprecedented awareness of "our own extinction" (Byatt furnishes several examples just in case you are in any doubt) and tells us that no modern writer could fail to see how this idea haunts Ragnarok. Yet, she insists the myth must be told on its own terms, as she herself ("the thin child" of this tale) "discovered it", without a sense of prophesy or preaching. It's difficult to know if this works, partly because the reader (like the writer) cannot help but draw parallels, and partly because Byatt herself is so insistent on pointing them out. Only a child perhaps, unmindful of our modern condition, could ever rediscover this myth in such a way.

Having said that, Byatt's reimagining is sumptuously written and arguably all the more immediate for being read as a parable. The tree of life, Yggdrasil "fed and ... fed on" is a metaphor for the earth's ecosystem and the interconnectedness of life: "[i]t held the world together, in the air, in the earth ... in the mind." The Sea-Tree, Rándrasill "stood in a world of other sea growth ... sea-tangles, tangleweeds, oarweeds, seagirdles, horsetail kelps" whilst in its fronds "[t]hings swayed, and slid, and sailed ... hunting and hunted." Words, names and descriptions build into great rhythmic pulses of energy that charge the story with beauty; they read like spells woven from the natural world.

But when Odin takes up Loki's three children ("monsters") and scatters them, the seeds of destruction are sown. Hel is "flung ... towards Niflheim, the dark land of mists and cold" and will rule over the human dead. Fenris, the wolf, is bound and a spear wedged between his jaws and "amongst his howling a river springs from his open jaws. Its name is Hope." Jörmungandr, the World Snake, is insatiate evil; she spits "venom into the eyes of porpoises and monk seals, blinding them, swallowing them" killing wantonly with her "cathedral-mouth" and growing "as long as a marching army" and more. Finally Loki too is caught and bound by the gods, who laugh at his torment in their temporary reprieve. Until Ragnarok, then, when they would have their day "[w]olves and snakes infested the mind, but were kept within limits."

Myths are, according to Byatt, "unsatisfactory, even tormenting" and it's possible many readers will experience this feeling on reading Ragnarok; it does feel disconnected even though our author's closing explanations ground it a little too thoroughly. There's a lack of motive or feeling evident which is characteristic of myth, but doesn't lend itself to the creation of characters or narratives as we know them to be. Nevertheless, at the end of the world "the brilliant destruction" is absolute, and, Byatt tells us, there is a curious satisfaction to be had in that. If myth is indeed born from a human fear of chaos and death, then Ragnarok illuminates the "cavernous spaces" these ideas inhabit in our mind, and reminds us that we are human.

[AS Byatt's Ragnarok is part of Canongate's brilliant series "The Myths".]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling return to Norse myth for one of Britain's best writers, 14 April 2012
By 
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths) (Hardcover)
'Ragnarok' is A. S. Byatt's retelling of the Norse myth of the ending of the world, which she first encountered as a child during the Second World War. The author has managed something very difficult here: she has told a story about one aspect of childhood - the mythic dimension of a child's burgeoning imagination - in an unsentimental way that makes sense to an adult without distorting the original experience. In addition, she has rescued an authentic northern European mythology from the Christianizing overcast that has concealed it in recent centuries, and has reconnected it to our own world of conflict, waste and environmental destruction without merely substituting one clumsy allegorical reading for another.

Byatt's prose here is plain and muscular, achieving many of its effects rhythmically and additively, respecting the strangeness of the myth and yet restoring a degree of accurate detail - particularly of the lives of living things - that gives the imagination purchase. The author's intelligence shines through at every point.

I greatly enjoyed this book. The only false step for me is in the concluding chapter, 'Thoughts On Myths', in which Byatt muses about the imaginative origins of the story and her own understanding of the nature and function of myth. For me this was an unnecessary glimpse behind the scenes, bringing much that is already clearly implicit in Byatt's telling too far into the light of day. I would strongly advise any reader who might be tempted to read that final chapter first, as a crib to the main text, to resist the temptation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book, 16 Mar 2012
By 
Mrs. K. A. Wheatley "katywheatley" (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths) (Hardcover)
I love the Canongate Myths series, in which the publishers invite well known authors to recreate myths that are important to them in a new way. There have been some fascinating stories and authors over the years in this series, and I was excited to see A.S. Byatt, who is one of my favourite authors, tackling the Norse myths, which I love.

I was not disappointed. Byatt writes with such fluidity and sheer beauty that the images practically leap from the page towards you. Her feeling for the subtleties and nuances of the myths totally changed my understanding of them, and I saw much more in them than I ever have before. I love the fact that she draws parallels between the childhood perception of World War II being the end of days and the days of Ragnarok in Norse mythology. I also love her focus on the natural world and its destruction and how she sets up echoes and resonances of what we are doing to our planet that will probably bring about the destruction the child was afraid of, but which did not come.

I did not understand it all, but I loved it, and it is a book I will read and re-read and find new pleasure and depth in every time I do.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, 11 Jan 2014
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Superb descriptions and an interesting take on the Norse legends. A wonderful book. Some not very subtle environmental comment, though.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully told, 21 May 2013
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The Norse myth of Ragnarok retold in exquisite prose. Byatt uses the device of a precocious, 20th century child-reader, so the book is laced with the child's thoughts and observations. There is also a useful commentary on the nature of myth.

My overall impression is of writing that flows like prose-poetry. Byatt has made this mighty, complicated, challenging myth digestible for the modern reader.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 29 Nov 2012
By 
Verena (London, England) - See all my reviews
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I enjoyed the poetic use of language and the traditional story telling approach. Ok, yes it is a tad pretentious but a beautiful read.
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Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths)
Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths) by A. S. Byatt (Hardcover - 1 Sep 2011)
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