Monday, May 11, 2009

book: odd and the frost giants, neil gaiman

(picture borrowed from Neil's own post about it)

It constantly amazes me how flexible Neil Gaiman's style is. There's a whole lifetime in core audience between American Gods and Odd, and yet, both feel like Neil Gaiman. They have the same delicate understanding of how people work, the idea that there's more going on in the background that doesn't directly impact the current story but definitely informs it, the bone-deep certainty that this is how the Gods are.

Odd and the Frost Giants is lovely. Being older than eleven, it took me about three hours to read it, but it was a whole story-- it didn't feel as thin and substanceless as a lot of stories aimed at kids do: it was written in such a way that the fact that Odd was orphaned and abused and strange to boot could be generally ignored by those who aren't old enough to know what that means, but also so that all of it comes through for those of us who are, and makes the story fuller, rounder, easier to read as an adult. And that's how the best kids books are written: in layers that let us still enjoy them when we're technically too old for them. I wish Neil had been writing when I was seven; I wish I could have incorperated all these books into my psyche when it was still forming. As it is, I'll incorperate them into my already weird adult psyche, and I'll write my own stories informed by his sensibility, and I'll save these lovely books for my own kids, mixed in with the ones I did read when I was seven.

I love stories where Gods have the be helped by people. People are neat; they're changable. Gods are what they are, and sometimes that gets them into trouble. Odd gets us out of the trouble by being quiet, sincere, and very clever. It's set in a violent, cold, Viking world, but the violence is all background; Odd is quiet and determined and smart enough to figure things out, and that's a lovely thing for kids to see.

I only wish he could have stayed a kid at the end, though I understand that children always seem to want to be adult; the reverse comes after you realize how much being grown up sucks.

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