Title: Odd and the Frost Giants
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Kid’s Fantasy, Norse Gods, Fable, Growing Up
Neil Gaiman is, enduringly, one of my favorite authors. I find his lyrical style and deft weaving together of the magical and the mundane enchanting, while the themes of myth, memory, and storytelling that permeate his work resonate with my personal thoughts and priorities.
My local library hosts an annual book sale around this time of year, and I was lucky enough to uncover a copy of Odd and the Frost Giants, complete with beautiful illustrations by Brett Helquist (whose art you might know from A Series of Unfortunate Events). It is the fairly short, straightforward tale of an unlucky 12-year-old Norse boy named Odd, who has a shattered leg but runs away from home, and his abusive stepfather, after an extended, ongoing winter leaves everyone in the village leaner and a fair bit meaner. Odd returns to his deceased father’s cabin in the woods, where he encounters the gods Odin, Thor, and Loki recently banished from Asgard by a clever Frost Giant. Equipped with a crutch, his father’s woodcutter’s axe, and a smile that seems to know far too much, Odd assists the gods in their quest to return to Asgard and remove the Frost Giant from the land.
The greatest strength of Odd and the Frost Giants is that it does not stand on the strengths of the gods it contains. They are images and personalities for people to recognize: Loki the Trickster, Thor the Noble Warrior, Odin, distant, aloof, and wise. In other stories, Loki’s deceptions, which cause the initial troubles, would also have solved them, or Thor’s bravery and noble heart would find a way to save the day. But, appropriate for a story that is so clearly Odd’s, they are instead there to provide a mythic framework and to raise Odd’s actions and principals to the level of myth and fable. Because here’s the thing with Odd: He’s brave, yes, and also clever, but the traits that resolve the conflict are compassion and empathy. His story offers the incredibly important lesson that problems can be solved through awareness of other people, which is a valuable insight not just for young readers, but for everyone.
Odd and the Frost Giants is a charming book and well worth the couple hours it takes to read. Gaiman’s mastery of language is evident as ever, so if you’re a fan of his works, this is a clear addition to your collection.