Battle Bears

Oddly enough, the last two books I’ve read both featured children riding bearback on the covers: Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman and The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I was impressed by Gaiman’s American Gods, so I was curious about how he would handle a more traditional approach to Norse mythology. Odd and the Frost Giants bears little resemblance to American Gods beyond inspiration and authorship, but it was an entertaining afternoon read. After I read it I passed it on to a younger reader, and he also enjoyed it. Any tale that keeps the Northern Lights burning for future generations is admirable!

Northern Lights happens to be the original title of The Golden Compass, which I added to my list after reading “On Daemons & Dust”, an essay in Michael Chabon’s collection Maps and Legends. The appeal is undeniable: shape-shifting daemons which are oh so much more than mere animal familiars, and armored polar bears! As a former Bowdoin College football player I know a thing or two about the battles of armored Polar Bears, although we didn’t actually eat the hearts of our fallen opponents like the panserbjørne (Pullman pulls no punches in His Dark Materials, let young readers be forewarned). What really sealed it for me was finding out that all of the bears are left-handed blacksmiths – the great creatures of the north are all southpaws!

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