CBR11 BINGO: Remix (Retelling of Norse Myths)
A.S. Byatt is an author that I find difficult and I can only tackle one of her novels every so often when I feel I am up to the task. It’s always worth the effort, but it takes a lot of concentration to deal with the richness of her language and the scope of her thoughts. It’s a little like reading philosophy, mythology, psychology, poetry and historical fiction all at once. This little book of only 171 pages packs it all in.
While Ragnarok is a re-telling of Norse mythology, it’s not done in a straightforward way. The myths are viewed through the lens of a young girl (referred to only as “the thin child”) who is sent to the British countryside during World War II. Living in a life behind black out curtains, “the thin child” begins reading a book, “Asgard and the Gods.” Finding these myths more relatable than the stories of Christianity taught by the local vicar, she finds a kind of solace in the Norse Gods. Their world mirrors her world. A bucolic countryside alive and thriving with living things but surrounded by destruction, war, and death.
Byatt uses this “retelling” to comment not only on the upheaval of the second World War, but on the current and constant dismantling of the earth’s resources. The hubris of the Norse gods is our hubris. Their appetites are unbridled and unchecked as they march towards their death and Ragnarok, the end of the world.
Byatt takes the reader under the blanket with a flashlight as “the thin child” furiously reads and re-reads the Norse stories of creation and conclusion. The death of the Gods is a panacea for the girl’s own loss of faith and innocence. It’s a good book, and makes me a bit ashamed that my previous knowledge of Norse mythology was limited to watching “Vikings” and Marvel movies.
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