Neil Gaiman (text), Chris Riddell (illus.), Odd and the Frost Giants, Allen & Unwin, Oct 2016, 120pp., $29.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781408870600
I adore Neil Gaiman’s stories. Whether he is writing novels for adults or children, or short stories, radio plays or graphic novels – and he has done all of those things and more – he is a crafter of consummate skill. He has a real affinity with myths and fairytales, and an ability to see to the heart of the great old stories. Gaiman brings something more to light in them, something sharp, and funny, and dangerous, and always, always addictive.
Odd and the Frost Giants has long been a family favourite in our household, based on the Norse myths of Thor and Odin and troublemaking Loki. No matter what, Odd keeps smiling that wide smile that drives the villagers mad, even when he loses his father and an accident crushes his leg. In true fairytale style, he runs away from his abusive stepfather and in the cold grip of winter meets and helps three animals who are far more than they seem.
Odd isn’t the strongest or the handsomest, but he is kind, and persistent, and he knows how to use his brains, and so in spite of the bear’s gloomy predictions of doom he finds a way to summon the Rainbow Bridge and enter Asgard. And somehow, all on his own, he defeats the Frost Giant, saves Asgard, and ends the endless winter. It is the qualities of intelligence, kindness and persistence that save the day and lead Odd to grow into his own happily ever after. And, as in all good myths and fairytales, symbolism is strong in Odd and the Frost Giants, and the way that Gaiman uses it is deft.
What better accompaniment to Gaiman’s word magic than Chris Riddell’s wonderful black and white artwork, which, like Gaiman’s stories, draws from the classic artists like Arthur Rackham but with Riddell’s own sly, funny, clever wit behind it. Don’t forget to take a good look at the borders, and there’s nothing quite like the smug, mischievous glint in Loki’s eye, no matter what form he’s in.
Since the release of Marvel’s Thor movies, there has been much more interest among kids in the old Norse stories. This is a perfect bridge between the modern Hollywood appropriation of these stories, and the old myths themselves, and kids will recognise characters they have met in one form in the movies, and hopefully become interested in digging a little deeper into the older stories. Odd and the Frost Giants should also appeal to anyone who has read and enjoyed the How to Train Your Dragon series. This edition of Odd and the Frost Giants is perfect for boys and girls aged 7 to 11, or adults, like me, who love the magic of word and illustration.
Reviewed by Emily Clarke