Ragnarok: The End of the Gods
A.S. Byatt
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Buy *Ragnarok: The End of the Gods* by A.S. Byatt online

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods
A.S. Byatt
Grove Press
192 pages
February 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In the bucolic English countryside, a thin child reads long into the night, recalling her fatherís red-gold hair and clear blue eyes while he fights the War in Africa. Like the capricious Norse gods that exist only in books, the girl knows that her elders live in provisional fear of imminent destruction.

Devouring stories with rapacious greed, the thin girl falls into a world of dragons, dwarfs and forests that contain rabid wolves and giant foxes. Like an undiscovered island, lifeís tree holds the world of Asgard together while its roots reach under the meadows and the mountains, evenutally forming the foundations of Midgard and Jotunheim, the home of the ice giants and the dark vapors of Hel.

The thin child likes seeing and learning. Amid glossy golden buttercups, the speedwells and foxgloves, she reads of Asgard, once built as the home of the three gods: Odin, Honir, and Loki. While Odin is the mover of the story and the ruler, clever, charming Loki is the trickster. As Odin imposes order, Loki smirks at disorder and uses his gifts as a shape-changer to eventually set all of the gods on a path towards self-destruction.

Byattís poetic tale renders the impassioned growth of her vulnerable beings. She understands their apprehensions and their fearful expectations of doom. While the thin child thinks of her father burning in the air in North Africa, the Gods of Asgard feast and drink mead from golden plates and cups, often appearing to be cursed and unpredictable but also fearsome, and sometimes cruel.

The mysterious worlds of Midgard and Jotunheim are revealed in all their glory: dark lands of mists and cold that can also harbor a creature of nightmares - Lokiís daughter, a giant serpent that laps around the world, unknotting her coils and constantly spitting poison. Then there are the ice-giants and the flickering fire-creatures who spread tongues of glassy lava while Hel sits on her throne, her dead black flesh crowned with gold and diamonds sparkling with delicate light and then disappearing like "quenched flames."

The mythical failings and strengths of the gods add shaded complexities to the horrific landscape of the thin childís World War II storyline. More than a dash of Norse mythology is mixed with modern psychology as Byatt unfolds her major theme: how the selfishness of modern life contributes to manís willful and imminent destruction.

Embodying the struggles of a brave new existence, Byattís treatment of Norse legends offers up a magical portrayal of passionate but flawed beings. Telling her story in the present tense, the author explores the effects of our actions and our missteps, the thin childís prophetic and frightful visions a cautionary symbol for the impending death of our planet.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2012

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