Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Published: 2008 by Bloomsbury
Word Count: 14,445
Source: Hardcover

My Grade: A

[WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]

A short book written for the UK’s World Book Day; a great idea in my opinion. This is what Gaiman says about it on his website: [Odd and the Frost Giants] was written for something called World Book Day in the UK, where a bunch of authors write books for nothing, and publishers publish them for nothing, and they get sold for £1 each to kids who have been given £1 Book Tokens, and the whole thing exists purely in order to get kids reading. They describe it on their website as the biggest annual event promoting the enjoyment of books and reading.

Odd and his family live in the village of Midgard, where the cold of winter lingers on and spring does not come. “Winter hung there, like an invalid refusing to die.” (p 9) Odd rescues a bear with his arm stuck in a tree, and he invites the bear, along with his friends a fox and an eagle, into his father’s woodcutting hut. He soon learns that the bear is the god of thunder, Thor, the fox is the wily and cunning Loki, and the eagle is the All-father God, Odin.

It’s great that an author as well-known as Gaiman has chosen to get traditional folk tales out  there among the mainstream children’s chapter books. All too often folk tales are regulated to pictures books that, while beautiful, are hardly seen as substantial or something upon which an ancient and complex culture based its beliefs. So hurrah for Neil Gaiman and his subject matter. I am a big proponent of folklore and the cultural relevance it holds.

The best part of the book is the climax, of course, but the way in which Odd overcomes his foe the Frost Giant is unconventional from what we are used to seeing and reveals an aspect of Norse culture to the reader, which is that beauty is a powerful as brute strength and might.

Odd asks what the Giant what his brother wanted as payment for building the wall, and the Giant tells him, the Sun, the Moon, and Freya.

       “Why did he want those things?” Odd asked.

       “…and the giant whispered, in a voice like the howl of a winter wind, ‘Beauty.’”(p 82-83)
           
       “Odd said, ‘You came here for beauty, didn’t you? And you can’t go back empty-handed.’

       He reached into his jerkin and he took out the thing that he had carved. His father’s carving, which he had finished. It was his mother, as she had looked before he was born. It was the finest thing that Odd had ever made, and it was beautiful…

       The Frost Giant…smiled…and he said, ‘It is…remarkable. And lovely. Yes. I will take it back with me to Jotunheim, and it will brighten my hall.”’ (p 92-3)    

The Giant conquers Asgard, the home of the Gods, not for glory, or riches, or power, but for something much more unobtainable and fleeting: beauty. Likewise, Odd reclaims Asgard by offering the Giant something beautiful.

It is interesting to note that after the goddess Freya transforms the three Gods back to their true selves, she offers to mend Odd’s crippled leg, but admits that even she cannot fully heal it. The Norse Gods’ power has limits. They can even die. Without launching into a full analysis of Norse mythology, I’ll just say that what Freya does for Odd – healing him to some extent but not fully – seems to be in line with the Norse mythological canon. For if the Gods can be overcome by Giants and kicked out of their home, then their power must not be limitless.

Overall, this is a quaint and lovely retelling of iconic elements of Norse mythology.

Find it on Amazon: Odd and the Frost Giants 

Visit the author's website: www.neilgaiman.com

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