Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (2011) by A. S. Byatt: Book Review

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (2011) by A. S. Byatt

Since Marvel movie Thor, I'm fascinated by Norse mythology (Edith Hamilton's book Mythology also influenced me too). Thor latest movie entitled Ragnarok (2017) really exposed me to this end-time term for the end of the gods. This god-man, monster-alien, good-evil characters are very interesting for me because, as George Lucas once said, "Mythology gives you a sense of what a people believe, what they fear." One of the reasons I like to read books is so that I can learn other people's beliefs. In this short novella, A.S. Byatt captures the spirit of Norse mythology with short (I like!) and poetic prose (I don't like poetry). She tells this end-times story from the point of view of a 'thin girl' who escapes to this mythology during WWII.

The events of WWII are cleverly contrasted against the horrific events of the mythology of Ragnarok and the death of the gods. In the end, A.S. Byatt clarifies that she chose "to use particular translations and aspects of the story" in her retelling to not give a happy ending to the story. The story of Ragnarok she suggests here (in its mythic nature) is not meant to be a happy story. Unlike fairy-tales or any other narrative, a myth is not a story with happy endings. Myth always evolves and never end.

The one thing preventing me from enjoying this to a greater extent on a personal level was the poetic prose. Flowery language is not my strength. I wish to read a straightforward novel (I know myth supposed to be poetic). Adding to this the fact that I already knew the stories of the Norse gods quite well and this became a rehashing of familiar material for me. That said, it was well written and neatly constructed with an interesting narration device to show the point of view of a reader of these myths. I fully recommend anyone with a passing interest in Norse myths to read this short tale. It only takes you about 30 minutes to finish it.

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