Odd and the Frost Giants

April 20, 2009 at 10:40 am (Reads) ()

odd1Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

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Fanboy-ism is a tough yoke to bear, since it’s hard for people to take you objectively about the thing in question.  With me, it’s Neil Gaiman.  Luckily, you can find my reviews of InterWorld and Eternals to see that I’m not averse to pointing out how bad some of his stuff can be, and American Gods is still among my least favorite of his novels, despite it being his most successful and approachable book.  So maybe I have enough con positions to still be able to talk objectively about his work.

The thing is, I read for story more than anything else.  Good characters are great to have, and lyrical prose is always a plus, but if the underlying story is engaging enough, I can overlook the rest (this is how I wind up reading Steve Alten’s books).  Neil’s stories, though, have a sort of timbre that resonates with me, in such a way that even his mediocre stories have a profound effect on me.  Odd and the Frost Giants is a gentle story, with minimal conflict and action, but it still manages to strike a chord with me.  Is it because I know it’s Neil Gaiman who wrote it?  Or is it just the story itself having a lasting appeal that transcends the words themselves?

Over the years, I’ve talked about how Neil’s use of mythology (both borrowed and created from scratch) makes his stories more timeless.  In this case, he uses Norse mythology, with Odd being the central character who comes of age during a long winter.  This is a short novel/long short story (it’s just under 100 pages, with full-page illustrations, a large-ish font and wide spacings), and at first glance, you might think it’s a throwaway story for the World Book Day event, but the story evokes a lot of classic storytelling archetypes, much in the same way that George Lucas used The Power of Myth to develop the material that became Star Wars.  When Neil does this (Sandman, Stardust, and now Odd and the Frost Giants), his stories tend to resonate much farther than with the story itself.  When he doesn’t (Eternals is the prime example), they fall flat.

This book isn’t the easiest to find (importing a copy from Amazon.co.uk or finding a used copy on eBay are the ways most Americans will have to read it), but it’s well worth finding.  The book is short enough to finish in just a few hours, but the underlying story will stay with you for long after you finish it.  That sounds like a cliche as I write that out, but it is the truth.

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