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Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (Myths) Hardcover – February 7, 2012

3.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Booker Prize winner Byatt, a writer of exceptionally deep thinking and mischievous humor, who often incisively contrasts the great web of the wild with the tangles of human yearning and invention, presents a commanding retelling of her favorite myth, Ragnarok, the Norse “myth to end all myths.” Byatt reinvigorates this gripping vision of the end of the world and all its creatures through the eyes of her young self, a “thin child” evacuated to the countryside during the German Blitz. A thoughtful child who “devoured stories with rapacious greed,” she becomes utterly engrossed and stringently comforted by Ragnarok. Following the myth’s arc of disaster, Byatt first brings its lush, singing world to rhapsodic, scientifically precise life in a grand litany of living things as entwined as the fine threads in a vast, breathing tapestry. Then we meet the flawed, reckless gods: Odin, Thor, Frigg and her beloved son Baldur, and shapeshifter Loki, chaos incarnate, whose pranks turn the gleaming, fecund splendor of life into a wasteland of bone, ash, and darkness. In her bracing closing essay, Byatt shares her fear that we are unconsciously emulating the “irresponsible and wayward and mocking” Norse gods and truly bringing about the end of nature and ourselves. A gorgeous, brilliant, and significant performance. --Donna Seaman


“Color and sensation flood Byatt’s writing . . . One of the most brilliant minds and speakers of our generation.” –Independent

“Majestic . . . Dazzling . . . Wonderful . . . . What you see here . . . is the strength and fire of Byatt’s imagination.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“Bristling with life and invention. . . . A seductive work by an extraordinarily gifted writer.” —The Washington Post

“Spellbinding. . . . Alive . . . Potent. . . . Byatt is a master storyteller.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Proves that a serious, intricate book can also be a page turner . . . Manifest intelligence, subtle humor and extraordinary texturing of the past within the present make Possession original and unforgettable.” - Time Magazine

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Product Details

  • Series: Myths
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; unknown edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802129925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802129925
  • ASIN: 0802129927
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #402,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
How does something come out of nothing? A thin girl in England during World War II compares creation myths as she ponders the question. Her church teaches her of a "grandfatherly figure" who created everything from the sun to the peacock in six days. Her reading of Asgard and the Gods introduces her to a more appealing explanation. In the empty gulf between the cold mists of the north and the hot flames of the south known as Ginnungagap, a giant named Ymir is formed in the steam of melting icebergs. Ymir becomes the father of "the frost-giants, who budded from his bulk" before he is slaughtered by the first gods: Odin, Wili, and We. The gods make the world from the flesh, blood, and bones of the dismembered giant. Yet nothing lasts forever; even gods must die. Ragnorök refers to the Norse end-times, the judgment of the gods, the twilight of their reign. The gods do not go down gently; as befits a myth, their battle to survive is epic.

The thin girl does not want to consider the possibility that the creation myths are related -- that, for instance, a flood in Asgard might be "an echo of the story of Noah and the Flood" -- because she likes to believe the Asgard stories have an independent foundation. She nonetheless sees similarities between biblical stories and those of Asgard, comparisons that are insightful yet plausibly within the ken of a bright child. The thin girl enjoys but does not believe the stories of Asgard, any more than she believes Greek myths, fairy tales, or the stories told by the vicar at her church.
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Format: Hardcover
If you enjoy taking a ride into the ancient myths and into the worlds of fantasy, you will surely enjoy this book.
Byatt, one of the great masters of the English language, tries with a certain amount of success, to reinvent here for us the Norse myths, while at the same time drawing parallels with the modern day world. What she's most interested in, as it seems, is not to retell a story that's been told so many times before, but rather explore whether we've learned something from humanity's past mistakes, if we somehow became a little wiser. Besides, as she points out: "...They (the gods) are human, because they are limited and stupid."
The narration drives the reader back and forth in time, talking to him/her about the wars of the gods and those of men. It all begins with a thin girl, who's trying to survive the war, hiding in a shelter. At the start she feels kind of bored -"The thin girl, despite the war that was raging, was more afraid of eternal boredom," as we read- until a book full of wonder and awe falls into her hands; a book that talks about Asgard and the gods, and which for her becomes a passion. Through that book, she comes to discover an amazing world, where magic exists, and where the gods are full of weaknesses and prone to mistakes, who sometimes look kindhearted, but most of the time are just petty and vengeful; they somehow remind her of the gods of the Old Testament.
The thin girl is encouraged by these stories to look deep inside her own being, to discover herself, and to ask questions about the what's and the why's of modern day reality. It all comes tumbling down, day after day the world heads straight towards total destruction, she seems to think, and no one can or maybe wants to do anything to stop it from happening.
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Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that this slender volume was my introduction to A.S. Byatt, and I was a little intimidated. I know her reputation for challenging, complex, beautiful work. Well, her language was beautiful, but this work was a limited success for me. And if I'm being entirely honest, my favorite part was the author's essay at the end of the book.
Now, my personal knowledge of Norse mythology doesn't go much beyond naming the major players, but Wikipedia tells me:

"In Norse mythology, Ragnarök (typically spelt Ragnar'k in the handwritten scripts) is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and reborn gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. Ragnarök is an important event in the Norse canon, and has been the subject of scholarly discourse and theory."

And Ms. Byatt is diligent in relating the myth faithfully--with one exception. She's added a framing device to the tale, in the form of a "thin child in wartime," who is reading the Norse myths. Most readers won't be surprised by the revelation in the author's afterword, "Thoughts on Myths," that "I was writing for my childhood self, and the way I had found the myths and thought about the world when I first read Asgard and the Gods."

So, I mentioned that Ms. Byatt took the source material seriously, but perhaps a little too serious for my liking. To be honest, much of this felt like I was reading an academic text, or perhaps Genesis.
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