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 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.
Ragnarök will be available to buy in hardback from 1st September and appears to be available to download now from the UK Kindle store. Thank you to Canongate for providing me with a copy to review.