4.5 out of 5 Stars
Neil Gaiman has become one of my favorite authors to read. I love his story telling and imagination and how he brings different characters to life.
I recently came across “Odd and the Frost Giants” by Mr. Gaiman while wandering around Annie Blooms Books one afternoon. The cover itself drew me in with the amazing texture and the illustrations reminded me of the old fairy tales I would read (and would be spooked by) as a kid. That eye on the cover – I swear it watches me from across the room!! The entire book is beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell and after reading (and while reading and before reading) I would flip through the book and just stare at the the various drawings. Each is so detailed and I see different things each time I look. My version of this book has hits of silver throughout making it shiny but also giving it a cold and wintry feel which is fitting as the story takes place during a long, cold winter in Norway. This story was originally written by Mr. Gaiman for World Book Day and has had a couple of different versions published featuring different illustrators.
The story is about a 12-year old boy named Odd, which at the time and place, was not an odd name in the slightest because the word Odd meant the tip of a blade and was considered lucky. Our protagonist was anything but lucky though. His father died when he was quite young trying to save a pony that went over-board during a viking expedition. Odd hurt his leg badly taking his father’s large ax into the forest. He cut down a large tree which landed on his leg, breaking it. His mother married another man after his father died and he was not a nice man and his family didn’t like Odd. One morning very early, Odd decided he had had enough and took some food and went into the forest where his father’s carpentry hut was. His father used it in the summer for his wood working and Odd wanted time away from the village after a long, hard winter that didn’t seem to be letting up and the constant abuse he suffered from his new family.
After laying down for a rest, he was awoken by a fox at the door. He noticed a bird circling above too. He noticed the fox wanted his attention and lead him away from his hut to a giant bear that had his paw stuck in a tree. Odd, with the help of his ax was able to free the bear. With the job done, Odd wanted to head back to the hut but had lost his way. The animals let him know they would take him back, and he climbed on top of the bear and they arrived rather quickly at his hut and were reluctantly invited inside for the night. After going to sleep Odd started hearing voices which he thinks are dreams until he realizes he is awake. He rolls over and asks the animals if they were talking and they finally confess they are the Gods Odin, Thor and Loki. They are currently trapped in animal form and need help from Odd to get back in to human form, defeat the Frost Giants who love winter, return Thor’s hammer, and end winter before everything dies. Odd agrees and they set off on their adventure over the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
I loved this story for so many reasons. I like the idea of learning about the various mythologies from around the world. I have spent time reading about the Greek and Roman Gods and have learned a bit about some of the Egyptian Gods as well. I didn’t know as much about Norse Mythology and with the various Thor movies being super popular right now, I thought it would be fun learning about the original and very ancient viking gods. This does that but the story feels really tender in so many ways. I love Odd and how he is an unlikely hero. He is suffering with a severe, debilitating injury and he steps up to solve issues. He is incredibly brave and a very good problem solver. He sees that he is very small when he confronts the giants and there is no way he will beat them with might. He uses powers of listening and a small token gift to convince the Giant to leave, saving Freya and returning Thor’s hammer. Odd tells stories of how his village raided a village in Scotland and his father saw his mother and thought her to be the most beautiful woman in the world. He took her with him back to Norway, but would not touch her until she could understand his words. She was very gentle as well, singing songs and the story of his father saving a little pony was touching. The people who brought Odd into the world turned him into a thoughtful being that could not be hardened by a village that wanted to wipe the smile right off his face. That gentle nature allowed him to save all of the people and return spring to their land. I often hear people in my own society talking about hardening boys up for the cruel world, and this story is a wonderful reminder that we don’t need to harden our boys, because the empathetic and understanding boy often can accomplish far greater feats by being his tender self.
This book is rated for kids 8-12 years old, but I think kids older than 12 will love it too. The book is not terribly long and my version had illustrations on nearly every page for kids who might be more reluctant readers. I didn’t feel there were any really scary bits to the story and this is a fantastic introduction for kids into Norse Mythology. I am presently reading Mr. Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology” book and am seeing some of this story in that one as well. This story is definitely toned down, where many of the actual stories can be rather brutal.
I highly recommend this book for adults and kids a like! Check it out!