Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

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Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Susan P on Wed Aug 01, 2012 7:41 pm

Now that I've finally remembered how to sign in here, let's get the discussion rolling. Norse gods, the thin child, parallels between the twilight of the gods and our own inertia when it comes to saving the planet--I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Stefanie on Wed Aug 01, 2012 10:58 pm

Thanks for getting things started Susan!

I really liked the parallels between Ragnarok, WWII - it really must have seemed like the world was going to end - and environmental destruction today. It seemed like Ragnarok was inevitable but in spite of a lack of global will to do something real about global warming I still can't believe the worst is inevitable. Perhaps I am too optimistic or just don't want to face up to how utterly we have wrecked the environment. Maybe like the thin child I should accept the darkness and embrace Ragnarok. I don't get the impression though that Byatt sees a human Ragnarok in the future though she certainly leaves one with a melancholy feeling.

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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Litlove on Thu Aug 02, 2012 8:34 am

I thought the interesting part was at the end, where Byatt couldn't resist coming in with her own interpretation and explaining the way she was using- or not using - the myths. She says that myths don't explain things, or offer allegories. Yet she can't help but elaborate a sort of possible allegory in the contemporary environmental situation. And then the last lines were so provocative, where she points to Loki as the scientist who could solve everything or destroy everything, and then concludes that in the Norse myths no one knew ultimately how to save their world. So I was left with the feeling that the pull of allegory was too strong to resist.

Did people like the explanation on the end, or would you have rather that Byatt left it for the reader to come to his or her own conclusions?

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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Stefanie on Thu Aug 02, 2012 3:06 pm

I thought Byatt's commentary on the end was not needed. I didn't find it that useful or interesting. It would have been better as an introduction just generally explaining why she chose Ragnarok and what myths mean to her. I don't think it really added anything to the actual story.

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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Rohan on Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:58 pm

I guess I already said basically this on my comments to the very interesting blog posts you all wrote, but I did find the end commentary helpful. For me, it would have worked well as an introduction, because I could have held on to her ideas about myths as I went through what sometimes seemed to me a fairly formless book. Formless isn't quite right, but it seemed to rise and fall in its attention to different aspects, which seems to fit her idea that, as litlove remarks, myths don't explain. But the allegorical reading is so tempting, and for me might just have made the rest of the book more resonant if it were used more overtly along the lines of what she says about us destroying our world.

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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Litlove on Sun Aug 05, 2012 7:11 pm

That's a very interesting idea, the afterword as a foreward. I admit it took me ages to cotton onto the environmental reading. To begin with I wondered why there was so much emphasis on the nature descriptions, but assumed this was just Byatt being the particular kind of writer she is. Once I'd fit them into the climate change analogy, they did resonate much more for me.

The idea of formlessness is intriguing too. I felt that the long opening section about creation was meant as a sort of paradisiacal first half, intended to balance the inexorable descent into destruction in the second. But that second part necessarily has a story attached to it, an explanation for ragnarok. The first part is story-less. In Christianity, creation is so brief, Genesis trips through the making of the world in such a short space before the storytelling begins we don't notice that it, too, is a narrative but not a story. I was intrigued as to why that long section on creation as told by the Norse Myths was so destabilising to the shapeliness of Byatt's book. I don't have any answers! Just thought it was surprisingly strange.

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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by dsimpson on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:18 pm

I don't think I have anything insightful to add, as this book just offered more questions than answers, but I find your discussion helpful in trying to sort through what I've read. I've been reading Greek myths and I thought they were used as a way to explain things, but now is she just throwing that idea to the wind? I wasn't entirely sure either about her differentiation between myths and fairy tales (not that she isn't right--just that I'm not entirely sure what she means). I didn't catch on to the parallel between the destruction of the gods with the destruction of the planet, but I can see where that is where she was leading. I thought it was more the destruction of the world because of the war. It was an interesting and challenging read for me as I had no prior knowledge of Norse mythology and I think it would have been helpful to sort out the story. Her prose is so lush it's almost a little unwieldy--all the descriptions--definitely not a book where you can let your mind wander! Don't get me wrong--I liked it, but I think I wasn't really prepared for it!
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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Stefanie on Sun Aug 05, 2012 11:18 pm

I wonder if the creation story at the beginning of the book was dwelt on not just for the environmental aspects, but also because one must know what is being lost in order for the destruction to have any kind of meaning? It also sort of set up the characters of the gods too and how they fit into the world. The two trees sounded so beautiful and when they died I felt so terrible. I didn't care that the gods were killing each other so much, but the trees, the beautiful life-giving trees. Yes, yes, I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said "tree hugger" so you know where I stand in all the environmental implications in the book Smile

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Re: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Post by Rohan on Wed Aug 15, 2012 11:30 pm

So, what are we reading next? Is someone going to put up a list of suggestions for us?

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