05 January 2012

Post 465: Ragnarok

Ragnarok* by A. S. Byatt. ISBN: 9781847670649 (eGalley - publishes in US February 1, 2012).

In high school I did a paper on the Uncle Remus stories examining frame tales, or stories within stories. In the case of Uncle Remus, you had the story of Uncle Remus telling the stories to the children, and then the "framed" stories of Brer Rabbit. Byatt has created more of a simpatico story.** The Norse mythology has almost nothing to do with the additional narrative of the "Thin Child." Yet, she is dealing with her own generation's brand of chaos in being young during World War II, with a father in a particularly dangerous military position. So while this is not exactly a retelling of Ragnarok myth, nor is it a complete story regarding the Thin Child, it does offer emotional context to stories that might otherwise seem "dead" to our current state of mind or being.

I think children tend to be drawn towards the stories that make sense to them emotionally. I know I found this to be true as I was growing up. I wasn't interested in the books that contained facts and figures; the idea of reading non-fiction for pleasure was eye-rollingly bad. But books about pets dying were some of my favorite from 3rd grade up until about 5th. Shiloh, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Yearling; these were all books that I could relate to on an emotional level. Even though I hadn't lost a pet at that time, I was still able to sympathize with and connect with the main character's loss. As I grew up, I was able to expand on the emotional ranges I could relate to, but when it comes down to it, the simplest emotions are the best.

I think this is why myths, and religious texts, appeal to us. The ones that have endured are those that are most inline with our emotional centers. We love the stories of Jesus Christ because we are beings capable of loving, but more than that, we are beings who need love. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of that love, and so we are drawn to his stories because if he loved the most wretched of us, surely he could also love the rest of us even better.

In the case of the Thin Child, and others who have gone through particularly tumultuous times, the myths of Ragnarok may speak to the confusion experienced. Myths were created to make sense of our physical world. As a species we chose to do so through a very emotional means, and therefore we have also attempted to explain our emotional state along with earthquakes, tornadoes, and the creation of mountains, rivers, and snakes. That the Norse created and were drawn to a trickster god and a myth that ended with the destruction of the world tells us more about their state of mind as a people than I think we realize. That their myths still resonate with some of us is both encouraging and disappointing. Encouraging because they are still with us and have survived thousands of years, disappointing because our society still seems to be a mass of chaos despite our best efforts.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eGalley provided by Netgalley.
*I cannot spell Ragnarok for the life of me, I keep wanting to spell it "ragnorak". This is totally important information that you needed to know.
**I made this literary term up (I think), there may be a more accepted term for it, but I can't be arsed to look it up.

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