Giants in the Earth: A Norwegian Horror Story

Note: There are no spoilers included in this book review.

The author of Giants in the Earth, O. E. Rölvaag, was born in Norway in 1876. He lived in Norway for 20 years before immigrating to America to further his education. He studied at Augustana College in South Dakota, St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and the University of Oslo in Norway. Rölvaag began writing Giants in the Earth in 1923 after he learned that Johan Bojer, a famous Norwegian author, was planning to visit the United States. Bojer wanted to personally gather information about immigrating to America. Rölvaag felt that someone who had had this experience would be most qualified to write such a novel.

Giants in the Earth is set between the years 1873 and 1881. It is concerned with the lives of Per Hansa, his family, and his fellow immigrants who moved from a fishing village in Norway to a life of farming in a settlement 52 miles from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was translated from the original Norwegian text by Lincoln Concord, the author, and the help of several other friends who are credited by Rölvaag in his foreword.

The definition of “horror,” according to The New Oxford American Dictionary of English: “an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. . . a literary or film genre concerned with arousing such feelings.” Let’s evaluate Giants in the Earth as a horror story based on that definition.

Could Giants in the Earth arouse feelings of fear? If you are a time traveler with unreliable equipment, perhaps, but living in 19th-century rural South Dakota, not so much. We can rule fear out as an aspect of this novel.

What about disgust? The ending of the book certainly disgusted me: I turned the page, saw there were no more pages, and thought, ‘There’s no way this novel is going to end properly.’  However, my disgust was aimed more at the decision of the author to end the story than at the actual characters. I do not think the author’s intent was self-deprecation, rather, it was my finickiness about how a book should end. The disgust implied by the horror genre is not entirely applicable to Giants in the Earth.

Having eliminated these possibilities, the last part of the definition of horror involves shock. The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines shock as “a sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience. . . [to] offend the moral feelings of; outrage.” This novel is chock full of surprising events, many of which are upsetting. Deaths, births, insanity, backstories–Giants in the Earth has it all. The moral feelings of the reader are strained and manipulated throughout the book when the author places the characters in difficult situations, providing strange solutions. The characters are portrayed honestly, which makes them almost unlikable. It’s not particularly fun to read about sinful human beings like yourself. The cultural differences between the modern reader and the Norwegian settlers are also surprising. Many foreign ideas and traditions are alluded to. One of the most shocking parts of the book is that it’s not entirely fictional. Real people suffered and survived through the situations like those described, from natural disasters to personal problems. Giants in the Earth surprised and shocked me many times as I read. I was completely unprepared for the series of events, all the way to the end. This novel is an interesting read, however, the majority of the surprises and plot twists the author has included are unpleasant.


About the Author:

Name: Anastasia Curtis

Age: 15, 9th grade

How many years have you been apart of TPS?

This is my first year as a part of TPS.


What classes are you taking with TPS this year?

I’m taking French II Language and Culture.


What are a few of your hobbies?

I play piano and organ and I also enjoy reading.


How did you hear about Clay Magazine?

I got an email over the summer about applying for a writing or editorial position with Clay.



The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “O. E. Rölvaag: American Novelist.” Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 May 2017. Web. 10 January 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/O-E-Rolvaag>

Rölvaag, O. E. Giants in the Earth. Translated by Lincoln Concord and O. E. Rölvaag, 1927.  HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.


  1. Oh hey Anastasia! This was a fun review. 🙂

    • Anastasia Curtis

      Thanks! I’ve loved your articles all year, but haven’t told you for some reason. 😀