“Do you know what spring it was you drank from, boy? Where the water came from? Do you know what it cost me to drink there, many years ago?”
This is a sweet little bonbon of a book, the perfect treat to occupy an hour or two. (If you’re an adult, it will take you no longer than that to read it.) I might have overlooked it, but my partner had gotten it out from our wonderful public library here in Eugene. I had been sick all weekend with the plague currently going around locally (I suppose, with the stress we’ve been under the past couple of weeks, I was bound to succumb at some point), and when it became obvious I wasn’t going to make it to work on Monday she set it aside for me (along with The Graveyard Book, another excellent read) to help keep me occupied and resting for the day.
Gaiman became one of my favorite writers of all time nearly a decade ago on the strength of a single book: American Gods, which I was strangely drawn to one day in a bookstore, never before having heard of either the book or its author. I devoured that book in a matter of days and it changed my life by introducing me to Mr. Wednesday, who neatly opened the door for his real-life counterpart, Odin, to re-enter my consciousness. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Gaiman’s books since then (Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, Stardust), but I must confess that American Gods holds a unique place in my heart. Odd and the Frost Giants offers a smaller taste of the same kind of magic.
Written for children (yet obviously enjoyable by adults—since I am one, most of the time), this short novel tells the story of a fatherless–yet relentlessly optimistic and cheerful–boy in ancient, pagan Norway. Lonely and teased by the other children after having been crippled in an accident, Odd wanders away from his village one day in March, when winter should have begun to melt into spring but somehow will not relinquish its grip. In the forest he encounters three animals–a fox, an eagle, and a bear–who are far more than what they seem. Overhearing the animals talking when they think he’s asleep, he discovers that they are in fact gods, transformed into animals and banished from Asgard, their home, by a frost giant who tricked Loki into handing over Mjollnir, Thor’s mighty hammer, and who now keeps Midgard locked in eternal winter. Thor has been transformed into a bear, Loki into a green-eyed fox, and Odin into a one-eyed eagle. On hearing of their plight, Odd hatches an unlikely plan (with a little help from Odin, via a drink from Mimir’s Well) to trick the frost giant, save Asgard, and restore the gods to their rightful places.
I won’t offer any plot details beyond this (it wouldn’t be fair; it’s such a short book, and well worth reading for yourself!), but if you enjoy the tales of the travels of Thor, Odin, and Loki from the Eddas, and/or if you loved American Gods, this is a must-read. Odd is a plucky and likeable young hero, the picture of life in ancient Norway is both accurately and charmingly portrayed, and the tale is interspersed with Gaiman’s characteristic humor. As in American Gods, Gaiman has an uncanny way of perceiving spiritual truths and presenting them more or less accurately in his story. He seems to recognize that the land of Asgard itself is a magical, transformative place, possessing a consciousness of its own, and his portraits of the three gods (in both animal and humanoid form), as well as an appearance by a goddess, Freyja, are simply rendered yet will ring true to those who know Them. Odd and the Frost Giants is highly recommended.