Ragnorok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt is a skillful and fantastic rewrite of the Norse Eddas through the eyes of a child at wartime.
She carries a gas mask on her bag as she walks through the fields to and from school. Her father is gone to war, and though her mother speaks of 'when he returns', she knows he will not. She does not worry because she doesn't truly understand the danger.
Her asthma makes playing difficult, so she spends time inside reading books. The Pilgrim's Progress is one of her favorites, but Asgard and the Gods calls her back time and again. Having read from her encyclopedias, the little girl imagines vivid pictures and scenes, like the world tree and the many creatures that live beneath the ocean. The detail of the more violent myths, such as the death of Ymir at the creation of the world, may disturb some readers.
Her comprehension of the myths, both Christian and Norse, reminded me much of how I myself understood them as a child. Her confusion over how the gods act is familiar, as is her pondering of what the myths themselves might mean.
Scattered sporadically throughout the novel are traditional ink drawings of scenes, such as Wodan's Wild Hunt, the World Tree, and Ragnorok. These are nice visuals, but they pale in comparison to the detailed prose of Byatt's writing.
A knowledge of either of the books is not necessary, as the author does a fine job of explaining the pieces she uses during the novel; however, reading the pieces beforehand can enhance the enjoyment of the detailed account that the author provides that are not present in the originals.
A passing familiarity with the names of Gods and places may be necessary, though. The spellings of Gods and places from Norse mythology change from region to region. While most authors will choose one spelling throughout their book, Byatt decides to use multiple spellings throughout the novel. This may confuse some readers who are not familiar with the names.
I read this last year in February, and I found myself continually thinking back on it throughout the year. I could hardly wait to read it again this year!
Asgard and the Gods by W. Wagner
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Song of the Dwarves by Thorarinn Gunnarsson
Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout