Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review - Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Gaints by Neil Gaiman
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

In ancient Norway (Midgard) there lives a boy, Odd. His name is not odd, but he himself is a little, with an infuriating smile he loves to wear. Odd has had some rough times of late. His father, a gifted woodcarver, died on a pillaging trip. His mother, who feels alone in town because she is from Scotland, remarries a man who has his own kids and doesn't like Odd. Odd himself has become crippled. All of this Odd could deal with if only spring would come. Only this year spring isn't coming for some reason. Odd decides to run away to the wood cutting cabin his father kept deep in the forest. Once there he finally feels safe and secure, but he stumbles upon some interesting characters, a fox, an eagle and a bear. This being the Norway of myth and legend, they of course aren't want they seem. They are in fact Gods, fully animal and unable to change back, because they were banished from Asgard by a Frost Giant who tricked them. Odd says he will help, his mother used to sing him songs, and the boy always is able to defeat the giant. Once in Asgard it takes all that Odd has in him, even that which he didn't know he possessed to attempt to defeat the giant. But if Odd does succeed what will he do? He can't go home can he?

So I had doubts about this book working at first, most of them related to the quote on the back of the book: "inventive, short, yet perfectly formed novel." Who reviews a book on it's brevity but then has to mention, oh, that's not bad, it's "perfectly formed." Like it's being judged on its structure, like an essay you write for school. Of course they turned out to be right, but I still think that's going to turn some people off the book. A book is however long a book needs to be to fully tell the story, no more or less. This is such a sweet little compact and funny novel I think everyone should read it. What I love about this book is that while it's about Norway and Scandinavian gods, Neil Gaiman makes them seem so human and real, people you'd want to be around and not some mythical beings who you can't relate to. Oh, and they're funny.

But of course, underneath all the humor and myth there are also profundities. Beauty, wisdom and want, and what happens when you get what your heart's desire. And of course, Gods. While I didn't like Gaiman's American Gods, I liked his thoughts on the nature and behavior of them. I have read some reviews that felt this book was almost written as research for American Gods. I heartily disagree, and not just because temporally that's absurd. This book, while dealing with some of the Gods who will figure into his earlier work, is more of a little meditation of the nature of Gods, versus an all out treatise with a battle at the end. And of course he's fascinated with similar topics, we like familiarity, but it's the genius of Gaiman to bring us something that while it feels old is still so new. A sweet little fairy tale of the boy outwitting the giant, again, but gaining wisdom in the process. These people Odd has befriended are Gods, and the nature of Gods are they are timeless, unchanging and eternal. In American Gods they are forced out, made to change, while in Odd and the Frost Giants, they are as they always were and ever will be. This has all happened before and it can happen again. But Odd sees that now. I wouldn't mind spending time with this new Odd, and as Gaiman says in his hilarious bio at the back of the book, he "thinks there are more stories about Odd he would like to tell." I for one hope it's true.


This is very definitely on my list. On the subject of good viking/norse stories have you read Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer, I loved that one.

I have not read the Sea Trolls, I must now add that to my tbr list.

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