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Evergreen Ash

Ecology and Catastrophe in Old Norse Myth and Literature
Christopher Abram

BUY Cloth · 254 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942261 · $65.00 · Feb 2019
BUY Paper · 254 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942278 · $32.50 · Feb 2019
BUY Ebook · 254 pp. · ISBN 9780813942285 · $65.00 · Feb 2019

Norse mythology is obsessed with the idea of an onrushing and unstoppable apocalypse: Ragnarok, when the whole of creation will perish in fire, smoke, and darkness and the earth will no longer support the life it once nurtured. Most of the Old Norse texts that preserve the myths of Ragnarok originated in Iceland, a nation whose volcanic activity places it perpetually on the brink of a world-changing environmental catastrophe. As the first full-length ecocritical study of Old Norse myth and literature, Evergreen Ash argues that Ragnarok is primarily a story of ecological collapse that reflects the anxieties of early Icelanders who were trying to make a home in a profoundly strange, marginal, and at times hostile environment.

Christopher Abram here contends that Ragnarok offers an uncanny foreshadowing of our current global ecological crisis—the era of the Anthropocene. Ragnarok portends what may happen when a civilization believes that nature can be mastered and treated only as a resource to be exploited for human ends. The enduring power of the Ragnarok myth, and its relevance to life in the era of climate change, lies in its terrifying evocation of a world in which nothing is what it was before, a world that is no longer home to us—and, thus, a world with no future. Climate change may well be our Ragnarok.


"Old Norse studies sometimes lags behind other fields in assimilating new critical and theoretical approaches, and this has certainly been the case with ecocriticism. The tide is turning, however, and medieval Icelandic literature offers very rich material for the environmental humanities. As the first book-length ecocritical study in its field, Evergreen Ash will become the key reference point for everyone interested in how Old Norse Icelandic literature and ecocriticism might illuminate each other."

Carl Phelpstead, Cardiff University, author of Holy Vikings: Saints’ Lives in the Old Icelandic Kings’ Sagas

Christopher Abram uses the paradoxes of volcanic ash vs the ash (the words are similar but not identical in Old Norse), and a deciduous tree that is always green in a tree-less volcanic landscape to launch into a wide-ranging and dense discussion of environment and ecological catastrophe in the literature and especially the mythology of medieval Iceland. His approach is ecocritical: he aims to introduce ecocrticism into Old Norse-Icelandic studies; and to show how Old Norse-Icelandic literature "provides us with distinctively different at at times advantageous viewpoints on matters of fundamental concern to ecocriticism."

Times Literary Supplement

Evergreen Ash is an ecocritical reading of medieval Old Norse literature, arguing for the parallels between Ragnarök, the apocalypse of the Old Norse world, and the climatic disaster of the Anthropocene. By analysing the myths of pagan Iceland, Abram aims to discover how Icelanders imaginatively lived in a place so apparently inhospitable to human settlement.

Environment and History

Christopher Abram offers us a brilliant study bringing ecocriticism comprehensively to early Icelandic and Norse literature... this is a significant book, whose diligent creative scholarship willmake it foundational to further iterations of medieval ecocriticism, and is distinguished also by a virtuous clear-eyed view of current crises.

Modern Philology

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