This year I am undertaking the 2016 Reading Challenge, I’ve already completed “a book previously abandoned” so I thought I would have a quick win with “a book you can finish in a day.” I chose Ragnarok by AS Byatt, which is part of the Canongate series of reworked myths, so now I have another set of books to work through.
It’s one I’ve picked up a few times in the library, and to be honest I’m not sure why I haven’t read it sooner. I loved reading mythic stories as a child/teen and devoured as many as I could get hold of in my local library; Greek, Roman, Nordic, Celtic, etc.
This book tells the Nordic stories, through the eyes of a child evacuated in to the countryside in the Second World War. Her life has been turned upside down, her father away fighting and yet she is now in a land with clean air and miles of countryside to explore.
Her anxiety with it’s resultant nightmares of helplessness reflects the uncertainty of the gods as they set about events that will lead to Ragnarok. They know it is coming and fear it, yet they still undertake the actions that will bring it about, either through curiosity, greed, or sheer devilment.
After the story Byatt’s “Thoughts On Myths” is a treasure. She distinguishes between fairy tale and myth, and uses Nietzsche to argue that myths give Apollonian order and form to protect us against Dionysian chaos and destruction. The gods and heroes of myth are not characters, but attributes. She claims we don’t get “narrative satisfaction” from myths, that the good are not always rewarded or the wicked suffer.
This book was comforting to me, with it’s familiarity of old stories well written. The 48 book target doesn’t seem quite so daunting now.