Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ragnarok - Myth and Skepticism

With her father fighting the war in Northern Africa, a thin child and her mother flee to the English countryside to escape the bombings of London. With fear and danger around every corner this highly sensitive and imaginative child finds the book Asgard and the Gods, and begins to read.  She also has weekly Scripture lessons with the local vicar and makes frequent mention of Pilgrim's Progress. Norse mythology enthralled the child and fueled questions regarding the truth of Christianity which presented an interesting view of religious skepticism.

She did not understand how such a nice, kind, good God as the one they prayed to, could condemn the whole earth for sinfulness and flood it, or condemn his only Son to a disgusting death on behalf of everyone. 

And then this insight.

This death did not seem to have done much good.

Before continuing, let me make it clear that I'm not trying to step on toes or start a religious war. I have carefully edited out my personal views. We all find different themes in our reading and this is the one that stood out to me. And that's all.

The Norse mythology was fascinating and I must say, Byatt is a wonderful writer. The descriptive language is beautiful, yet tight and spare. Strunk and White would be proud. I can't pretend every name and place was absorbed, but I got the gist of most of the stories and a few sucked me right in. Loki's snake daughter that ate and ate until she circled the globe was gleefully horrifying.

I noticed many, sometimes startling connections between Norse myths and biblical stories. At the beginning we see a great tree where life seemed to spring from and I immediately thought of the infamous one that supposedly played a role in humanity's downfall. The comparisons could go on and on with the Creation of the world by the gods, Loki being a type of Satan, and an earlier war between the Norse gods with the war in Heaven where the bad angels and Lucifer were cast out. Hel/Hell were there as well. The last battle seemed very Armageddonish to me, complete with a Lake of Fire. Of course Ragnarok spells the end of the gods versus a resurrection and judgment for people.

The thin child was adept at finding these similarities and it strengthened her growing skepticism. I was rather amused that she found the idea of Heaven boring in both accounts. Here, she feels bad about the inescapable fates for both Baldur and Jesus.

The thin child considered Baldur the beautiful. He was a god who was doomed to die...The figure in the painting of Jesus talking to the animals, all white gentleness and golden radiance, was also a god who was doomed to die. 

The end of the gods verses the end of faith. Or in the thin child's instance, the logical thought processes that rejected the whole premise outright. Ultimately she saw no difference in the Norse tales and the biblical ones. Her conclusion was this.

That the story had always been there, and the actors and always known it. 


Stefanie said...

The contrast between Christianity and the Norse gods was really interesting wasn't it? I noticed similarities too.

Aarti said...

I've not read any of the Canongate Myth series (except the Penelopiad) but I want to! I think I'd really enjoy this one as I like Byatt's style.