"In fairy stories - if you accept the bloody violence, and the horrible things that happen to the bad characters - the point is a pleasurable and satisfactory foreseen outcome, where the good survive and multiply and the bad are punished...," A. S. Byatt writes in her afterword to her retelling of the Norse myth of Ragnarök, explaining why her childhood self responded so strongly to this myth. "Myths are often unsatisfactory, even tormenting... The fairy stories were in my head like little bright necklaces of intricately carved stones and wood and enamels. The myths were cavernous spaces, lit in extreme colours, gloomy, or dazzling, with a kind of cloudy thickness and a kind of overbright transparency about them."
Certainly the Norse myths as Byatt retells them here feel both cavernous and bright, gloomy and dazzling, populated with wildly imaginative creatures, dark...
Beyond the Book
A. S. Byatt's Ragnarok
is the most recent addition to The Myths series, published in the UK by Canongate and around the world by various publishers. Launched in 2005, The Myths series has brought together remarkably talented authors to put their own stamp on ancient myths from around the world, including many that are familiar to Western readers.
"The civilization I live in thinks less and less in terms of raw myth, I think," Byatt writes. "The idea of many other writers in the Canongate series has been to assimilate the myths into the form of novels, or modern stories, retell the tales as though the people had personalities and psychologies." Byatt takes a different approach to her chosen myth: framing a fairly conventional retelling in a modern setting and thereby...