Title: Iduna and the Magic Apples

Publisher: MacMillan

Writer: Marianna Mayer

Artist: Laszlo Gal

Pages: 40 pp

ISBN: 0-02-765120-7

Price: Varies (out of print)

In Asgard, they called her garden "Everlasting." Iduna, beautiful and sweet-tempered, watched over the trees and flowers and fruits of the garden and, under her gentle care, nothing withered, nothing died. Indeed, the apples which she harvested there and stored in a golden chest kept the Gods ever young, hearty and hale. When the giant Thiassi learned of Iduna and her wondrous apples, he tried to steal the Goddess away. But, so long as she remained within the walls of Everlasting, Iduna was safe. And so Thiassi devised a terrible and cunning plan .... All he needed was the chance to implement it .... And when Odin and Loki left the walls of Asgard and set out into the world, Thiassi saw his chance ....

First, the art. Gal's artwork -- created with resin wash and egg tempera -- has a medieval feel. Scenes of Iduna in her garden are soft and bright, while those of Thiassi's castle are cold and grey and uninviting. Thiassi's pursuit of Loki and Iduna is spread across two pages, creating a dramatic, desperate tension, while the giant's death scene is a frenzy of wild flames and black feathers. Some pages are definitely frameable.

As for Mayer's text: the tone varies appropriately from lyrical and sweet when Iduna is in her garden to frightening when the Goddess is kidnapped and carried away. The final scene -- when the plants of Everlasting burst into bloom at her return -- is almost a prose poem.

Now for the caveat: like the tales of Demeter and Persephone, and Isis and Osiris, that of Iduna is at least vaguely known even to non-Heathen audiences. Goddess, apples, immortality, check. It is that general audience which is the target here, not a Heathen or Pagan one. As such, there is no subtlety of plot or characterization. This is a straightforward retelling with very clearly-defined good guys and bad guys: Thiassi is the villain, Loki is a selfish trickster (and something of a coward), Odin is wise, and Iduna is brave and loving.

That simplistic rendering may annoy some Heathen parents. The Aesir and Jotun are far more complex beings than they are depicted as being here -- however, that holds true for most children's books. Picture books such as this are the literary equivalent of training wheels; introduce children to the Gods and myths first, then move on to the lessons in morality and ethics and honor. In the case of Iduna and the Magic Apples, I suggest a question-and-answer session after the reading: why did Thiassi want Iduna? Did he have the right to take her? What of Loki's action? Were the Gods right and just in killing Thiassi?

Beautifully-illustrated and well-told, Iduna and the Magic Apples is an exciting, sometimes scary, sometimes gentle retelling of a classic Norse myth. Recommended to Heathen families looking for a good picture book, or anyone with an interest in Goddess literature.