What is Ragnarök? - A Masterclass Mini-Guide with Dominic Sandbrook
Updated: Feb 10
Recently we ascended the mountain of knowledge to consult with the oracle of history that is Dominic Sandbrook. We wanted to ask this veritable literary legend all of the Viking-related questions that our workshop participants and readers asked, nay demanded, an answer to.
Over the next few days, we’ll be revealing what we learned about the Vikings from Dominic in a series of mini-history guides on the run-up to the release of his latest history book for children, teenagers, and grown-ups, Adventures in Time: Fury of the Vikings.
The question we posed Dominic: What was Ragnarök?
What we learned:
“That’s a great question”, replied Dominic, “Ragnarök is about the doom of the Viking Gods. This, for me, is one of the most interesting things about the Vikings. Their stories are always shot through with this looming disaster, doom, and death. You could try and escape these things, but they would all catch up with you eventually. The Norns, these women that sat at the base of the world tree Yggdrasil, would cut the thread of your life and that would be the end of you.”
“In the myths, at one point, Odin goes to see a seer. Odin is obsessed with knowledge. He’s plucked out his own eye to try and gain knowledge. He sees this witch and she tells him about Ragnarök and what will happen; one day the forces of evil will slip their bounds and come across the Earth. Loki, the prince of lies, will lead into battle this great ship made of the fingernails of the dead. The world serpent will come roaring out of the depths, the wolf Fenrir, Surtr the fire demon, there’ll just come charging out and do battle with the gods and the inhabitants of Valhalla.”
“They fight this terrible battle and basically everyone dies, they all kill each other. Thor is killed, Odin is killed, all of them. Then the world is born again after being consumed by fire and darkness. New people come out of the woods with the few gods that survived. Everything restarts.”
“It’s a brilliant story. We are always fascinated by stories about the end of the world. This story captures the sense that I think the people of those Northern lands had, that life is this great struggle against death and the cold and one you will lose. They really had a strong sense of that. You can never escape your doom, but what matters in life is to meet it, sword in hand, and a smile on your lips.”
A huge thank you to Dominic for an absolute masterclass on the Vikings! Be sure to check out the rest of the series (links below) to learn even more about these fascinating people.
In Adventures of Time: Fury of the Vikings, prepare to meet the most terrifying raiders the world has ever known, as historian Dominic Sandbrook plunges us back into the thrilling drama of the Viking Age.
We'll encounter gods and giants, axemen and shield-maidens, from the warlords rampaging through King Alfred's England to the sea-captains who first glimpsed the mountains of Iceland. For even in the most glittering cities on earth, no one is safe from the Northmen's fury.