Tag: Chris Riddell

Odd and the Frost Giants

Cover image for Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Chris Riddellby Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Chris Riddell

ISBN 978-0-06-256795-6

“Nobody knew what Odd was feeling on the inside. Nobody knew what he thought. And in a village on the banks of a fjord, where everybody knew everybody’s business, that was infuriating.”

When Odd’s father dies while off raiding with the other Vikings, his mother eventually remarries. Feeling unwelcome in their new family, Odd decides to go live in his father’s old woodcutting lodge in the woods, even though it has been an unusually long and cold winter. It is in the woods that he meets a bear, a fox, and an eagle, but these are no ordinary animals. In fact, they claim to be the gods Thor, Loki, and Odin, banished from Asgard by a frost giant. So Odd sets out to help the gods reclaim Asgard, and bring spring back to the human realm of Midgard.

Originally published in 2008 for World Book Day in the UK, this is a newly illustrated edition of Neil Gaiman’s story. This new version imitates the style and design of Chris Riddell and Gaiman’s 2014 collaboration The Sleeper and the Spindle, though Odd and the Frost Giants is a little less opulent. It lacks the semi-translucent slip cover, and the silver highlights used here provide a less striking contrast than the gold used in The Sleeper and the Spindle. However, the silver does give an appropriately cool feel to this wintery tale. Riddell’s highly detailed line art remains consistently excellent.

It might stretch credulity that a human boy is called on to solve a problem that has stumped three Norse gods. But Gaimain has an interesting take on the gods; as immortals their natures are fixed, their personalities immutable. The frost giants have exploited those weaknesses to seize Asgard.  As a mortal, Odd is not just clever—Loki, obviously, is plenty clever—but he is also able to learn, change, and adapt, enabling him to tackle a problem that has stumped the immortals. He makes for an endearing protagonist, both resourceful and determined.

Early in the story, Odd injures his leg trying to cut wood after his father dies. He ends up with a limp and uses a crutch, but still strives to maintain his independence, especially since his new family can be cruel, calling him a cripple and an idiot.  A common trope in fantasy fiction featuring characters with disabilities is for them to be magically cured as result of their heroic deeds. A partial version of that takes place here, when Odd is rewarded by the goddess Freya. She heals his leg as best she can, taking away his pain, though he still ends the story with a limp, a cane, and one leg that will never be as strong as the other. Feelings about whether this is good disability representation could go either way.

The story here remains unchanged from the original, making this a beautiful new edition of a fun children’s adventure into Norse myth. And it will no doubt help whet the appetite of fans who are excited for Gaiman’s Norse Mythology collection, due out in February 2017.

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More by Neil Gaiman:

Cover Image for The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Fortunately, the Milk 

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The Sleeper and the Spindle/ Hansel and Gretel

hansel-and-gretel-and-the-sleeperWritten by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Chris Riddell/ Lorenzo Mattotti

ISBN 978-1-4088-5964-3/ 978-1-935179-62-7

In the past week, Neil Gaiman has released two new picture books—Hansel and Gretel in the United States, and The Sleeper and the Spindle in the United Kingdom. Neither one is available on the opposite side of the pond yet, but both can be purchased online. Each work reimagines well-known fairy tales, though The Sleeper and the Spindle pulls from more than one source. Gaiman’s retellings are hauntingly well-written, as well as notable for featuring active and resourceful female protagonists. The settings remain medieval, but the context is decidedly more modern; Gaiman gathered inspiration for Hansel and Gretel from his visits to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. Meanwhile, The Sleeper and the Spindle has drawn attention in the press, which has latched onto this image of the Queen kissing the sleeper to wake her:

 

wake-the-sleeper-chris-riddellDespite this striking illustration, The Sleeper and the Spindle is no lesbian love story; the Queen has a handsome prince waiting to marry her back home, though he is never pictured. This misleading attention is the only respect in which readers may find themselves let down by this story, which is not what early coverage of this title may have led you to believe.

With Gaiman’s strong writing working so seamlessly, in both books it is easy for the art to take centre stage. The Sleeper and the Spindle is illustrated by Chris Riddell, who also did the drawings for the UK edition of Fortunately, the Milk last year (the US edition was illustrated by Skottie Young). However, the mood is entirely different from the zany images Riddell produced for that book. The black and white drawings here are graceful and minutely detailed, subtly accented by shimmering gold highlights.  The story features a young Queen, whose kingdom is endangered by the spreading sleeping sickness that plagues a neighbouring realm, and threatens to spill over into her own land.  Assisted by three dwarves, she passes under the high mountain range that separates the two nations, and sets out to rescue the sleeper from a castle encased in thorns. This epic quest gives Riddell broad scope for his powers, and he more than delivers. Indeed, the entire book is an exquisite work of art, with beautiful end papers, metallic ink accents, and a translucent dust jacket that allows vines and roses to overlay the sleeper on the cover.

into-the-woods-lorenzo-mattottiPainted in lush, dark India ink, Lorenzo Mattotti’s work in Hansel and Gretel is also black and white, and yet could not be more different in style from The Sleeper and the Spindle. Whereas Riddell’s work is delicate and detailed, Mattotti is boldly minimalist, relying on a masterful use of positive and negative space to create his images. There are a number of beautiful double-page spreads in The Sleeper and the Spindle, but in Hansel and Gretel, text and image alternate constantly, so that every illustration is able to take up two full pages. However, even the text-only pages are beautiful, featuring flowering vine motifs in the corners, and bold, red dropped capitals that are the only hint of colour in the entire story. The book’s design has a modern minimalism, but is no less beautiful than its more opulent sibling in its own way.

Like the illustrations, the text of the story is deceptively simply, but the starkness is chilling. The woodcutter’s dilemma is created by war and famine, leaving the man unable to provide for his children. As in the original Grimm’s tale, the woman who advocates for the abandonment of the children is their mother, not their stepmother, making the tale that much more disturbing. However, Gaiman retains the reluctant father, who his persuaded by his wife to do something terrible; in Grimm’s, both parents are complicit in the decision. These narrative choices strike a nice balance, creating a tale that is at once haunting and hopeful.

The Sleeper and the Spindle is the longer and more complex tale, perhaps better suited to a somewhat older audience that has the patience to sit through a lengthier story. But as usual, Gaiman’s works defy easy categorization for age groups, appealing to adults and children alike.

Fortunately, the Milk

Cover images for Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman Author: Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Skottie Young (US) / Chris Riddell (UK)

ISBN 978-0-06-2224077-1 (US) / 978-1-4088-4176-1 (UK)

I think there should have been some nice wumpires,” said my sister wistfully. “Nice, handsome, misunderstood wumpires.”

“There were not,” said my father.

Mum has gone off to a conference to present a paper on lizards, and Dad is left alone with his two kids. He thinks he has the situation under control, but after making tea and hot chocolate, there’s no milk left for breakfast cereal, or worse, for that essential morning cup of tea. Dad goes out for milk, and returns much later, spinning a wild tale about being kidnapped by aliens, held captive by pirates, traveling through space and time with a stegosaurus, and nearly being eaten by wumpires before finally making it home. Or possibly he got caught up talking with Mr. Ronson from over the road. But whatever happened, fortunately, the milk made it home, too.

Playfully told by Neil Gaiman and comically illustrated by Skottie Young (US edition) or Chris Riddell (UK edition), Fortunately the Milk is an imaginative lark through space and time. Dad’s adventure is filled with shameless exaggeration and matter-of-fact ridiculousness. Parents will appreciate the lengths to which Dad will go to spin his story, and kids will delight in the way his children try their best to catch him out. The plot has a slightly Whovian feel, albeit the sort that you might find from a Dad telling his kids a story about the legend of the Doctor, as opposed to an episode of the show itself.

The American edition is illustrated by Skottie Young, whose exaggerated art style lends itself excellently to Gaiman’s over-the-top narrative. Look especially for Sister’s imagining of “nice, handsome, misunderstood wumpires.” Young also wins extra points for depicting bottled milk, while Riddell opts for a carton.

The Dad of Chris Riddell’s book is reminiscent of Gaiman himself, although the hair isn’t nearly wild enough. If you are reading the UK edition, don’t skip the afterword on the artist; keep a special eye out here for the wumpire Pale and Interesting Edvard. There is also a fantastic fold out page in the middle of the book, featuring Splod, the “god of people with short, funny names.”

The good news is that no matter where you live and which edition you will be getting as a result, Fortunately, the Milk is an excellent tongue-in-cheek adventure. Though different, both artists bring their own sense of humour to bear to complement Gaiman’s writing.

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Also by Neil Gaiman:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Chu’s Day

The Graveyard Book

Sandman Volume 1

Click-Clack the Rattlebag