Friday, March 04, 2011

Odd and the Frost Giants [Review]

Title: Odd and the Frost Giants
Author: Neil Gaiman (his site:
Illustrator: Brian Helquist  (his blog:
Copyright: 2009, Harper, ISBN 978-006-167173-9
Genre: Literary fairy tale
Length: 117 pages

Summary: Odd is a 12-year old boy very much at odds with the rest of his Viking environment. He’s lame in one leg and even he admits it was due to his own failure to think through his actions. His father is dead and his mother has remarried a man who has no particular interest in Odd. Winter has dragged on for far too long, affecting overall spirits in the village. Can anything be done to improve his lot in life?

This literary fairy tale satisfies our appetite for stories about coming of age and quests. Odd encounters members of the Norse pantheon in animal form (with one of the priceless scenes being one with Odd awakened by those animals indulging in human speech when they think he’s still asleep.)  Ultimately, Odd thinks his way through the resolution of the conflict that has kept Spring from arriving when it ought. If there is a take-away from this reassuring fairy tale. He returns to his home and to his mother having grown in a variety of ways.

Excerpt:Winter hung in there, like an invalid refusing to die. Day after grey day, the ice stayed hard; the world remained unfriendly and cold.
In the village, people began to get on one anothers’ nerves. They’d been staring at each other across the Great Hall for four months now. It was time for the men to make the longship seaworthy, time for the women to start clearing the ground for planting. The games became nasty. The jokes became mean. Fights were to hurt.”

Spring is of course the antidote to this type of illness as is beauty.

Also relevant: I liked this story just as I liked the companion illustrations by Brett Helquist. (For a taste of those illustrations, make a point of viewing the book trailer found here:  That said, I doubt that Odd and the Frost Giants is the most timeless of Gaiman’s works, but, on the whole, it is a satisfying story -- satisfying rather than being charming or adorable or enchanting. This short (14,000 words) tale is explanatory in many ways, helping younger readers better understand what is required in life. Odd is called upon to be smart; he must think  things out. He must be resourceful in meeting the challenge of putting things back on track. Far from being able to turn to his creature companions for assistance, he has to figure out the answers. The Norse Gods while helpful at times in Odd’s quest just as readily demonstrate their well-known character flaws. (Odin is overly taciturn while Loki tends to boast of his cleverness).

The length is right for the tale; it spins out over the course of six chapters, suitable for reading out loud over the course of an evening or two. Sentence structure is simple but appropriate. Nothing has been dumbed down.

One tidbit, this story has aleady been tranmuted into another medium; this link takes you to a puppeteer’s blog where she discusses her challenges in delivering Gaiman’s tale to an audience.

Perhaps I’m wrong and this work will live longer than I anticipate.  If it’s any indication, I don’t think I will be passing my own copy on to the local library friends book sale.  I too need to be reminded of Spring and the importance of Beauty.

My 2007 review of Gaiman's Stardust.