American Gods (Gaiman)

American Gods
Neil Gaiman, 2001
HarperCollins
560 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062059888



Summary
Winner of the following awards: 2002 Hugo Award for Best Novel; 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel; 2002 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel; 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novel; 2003 Geffen Award for best Fantasy Book.

A storm is coming . . . Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

Relevant and prescient, American Gods has been lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World) and as a modern phantasmagoria that “distills the essence of America” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). It is, quite simply, an outstanding work of literary imagination that will endure for generations. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1960
Where—Portchester, Hampshire, England, UK
Education—N/A
Awards—See below
Currently—Lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


Early life
Gaiman's family is of Polish and other Eastern European Jewish origins; his great-grandfather emigrated from Antwerp before 1914 and his grandfather eventually settled in the Hampshire city of Portsmouth and established a chain of grocery stores. His father, David Bernard Gaiman, worked in the same chain of stores; his mother, Sheila Gaiman (nee Goldman), was a pharmacist. He has two younger sisters, Claire and Lizzy.

After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born in 1960, the Gaimans moved in 1965 to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead where his parents studied Dianetics at the Scientology centre in the town; one of Gaiman's sisters works for the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. His other sister, Lizzy Calcioli, has said, "Most of our social activities were involved with Scientology or our Jewish family. It would get very confusing when people would ask my religion as a kid. I’d say, 'I’m a Jewish Scientologist.'" Gaiman says that he is not a Scientologist, and that like Judaism, Scientology is his family's religion.

Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said...

I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they'd hand out schoolbooks, and I'd read them-which would mean that I'd know what was coming up, because I'd read it.

One work that made a particular impression on him was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from his school library, although it only had the first two books in the trilogy. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him to finally acquire the third book in the trilogy.

For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. Years later, he said...

I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you.... I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.' I liked the power of putting things in brackets.

Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the 1956 Carnegie Medal won by the concluding volume. When he won 2010 Medal himself, the press reported him recalling, "....It had to be the most important literary award there ever was" and observing, "if you can make yourself aged seven happy, you're really doing well – it's like writing a letter to yourself aged seven."

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was another childhood favourite, and "a favourite forever. Alice was default reading to the point where I knew it by heart." He also enjoyed "Batman" comics as a child.

Gaiman was educated at several Church of England schools, includging Fonthill School in East Grinstead, Ardingly College (1970–74), and Whitgift School in Croydon (1974–77). His father's position as a public relations official of the Church of Scientology was the cause of the seven-year-old Gaiman being blocked from entering a boys' school, forcing him to remain at the school that he had previously been attending. He lived in East Grinstead for many years, from 1965–1980 and again from 1984–1987. He met his first wife, Mary McGrath, while she was studying Scientology and living in a house in East Grinstead that was owned by his father. The couple were married in 1985 after having their first child, Michael.

Early Writings
As a child and a teenager, Gaiman read the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Dunsany and G. K. Chesterton. He later became a fan of science fiction, reading the works of authors as diverse as Alan Moore, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, H. P. Lovecraft, Thorne Smith, and Gene Wolfe.

In the early 1980s, Gaiman pursued journalism, conducting interviews and writing book reviews, as a means to learn about the world and to make connections that he hoped would later assist him in getting published. He wrote and reviewed extensively for the British Fantasy Society. His first professional short story publication was "Featherquest", a fantasy story, in Imagine Magazine in May 1984, when he was 24.

When waiting for a train at Victoria Station in 1984, Gaiman noticed a copy of Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore, and carefully read it. Moore's fresh and vigorous approach to comics had such an impact on Gaiman that he would later write; "that was the final straw, what was left of my resistance crumbled. I proceeded to make regular and frequent visits to London's Forbidden Planet shop to buy comics".

In 1984, he wrote his first book, a biography of the band Duran Duran, as well as Ghastly Beyond Belief, a book of quotations, with Kim Newman. Even though Gaiman thought he did a terrible job, the book's first edition sold out very quickly. When he went to relinquish his rights to the book, he discovered the publisher had gone bankrupt.  After this, he was offered a job by Penthouse. He refused the offer.

He also wrote interviews and articles for many British magazines, including Knave. As he was writing for different magazines, some of them competing, and "wrote too many articles", he sometimes went by a number of pseudonyms: Gerry Musgrave, Richard Grey, "along with a couple of house names". Gaiman ended his journalism career in 1987 because British newspapers can "make up anything they want and publish it as fact."

In the late 1980s, he wrote Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion in what he calls a "classic English humour" style. Following on from that he wrote the opening of what would become his collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the comic novel Good Omens, about the impending apocalypse.

Comics and Graphic Novels
After forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore, Gaiman started writing comic books, picking up "Marvelman" after Moore finished his run on the series. Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham collaborated on several issues of the series before its publisher, Eclipse Comics, collapsed, leaving the series unfinished. His first published comic strips were four short "Future Shocks for 2000 AD" in 1986–7. He wrote three graphic novels with his favorite collaborator and long-time friend Dave McKean: "Violent Cases", "Signal to Noise", and "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch". Impressed with his work, DC Comics hired him, and he wrote the limited series "Black Orchid". Karen Berger, who later became head of DC Comics's Vertigo, read "Black Orchid" and offered Gaiman a job: to re-write an old character, The Sandman, but to put his own spin on him.

"The Sandman" tells the tale of the ageless, anthropomorphic personification of Dream that is known by many names, including Morpheus. The series began in December 1988 and concluded in March 1996: the 75 issues of the regular series, along with an illustrated prose text and a special containing seven short stories, have been collected into 12 volumes that remain in print.

In 1989, Gaiman published "The Books of Magic" (collected in 1991), a four-part mini-series that provided a tour of the mythological and magical parts of the DC Universe through a frame story about an English teenager who discovers that he is destined to be the world's greatest wizard. The miniseries was popular, and sired an ongoing series written by John Ney Rieber.

In the mid-90s, he also created a number of new characters and a setting that was to be featured in a title published by Tekno Comix. The concepts were then altered and split between three titles set in the same continuity: "Lady Justice, Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man, and Teknophage".They were later featured in Phage: Shadow Death and Wheel of Worlds. Although Gaiman's name appeared prominently on all titles, he was not involved in writing of any of the above-mentioned books (though he helped plot the zero issue of Wheel of Worlds).

Gaiman wrote a semi-autobiographical story about a boy's fascination with Michael Moorcock's anti-hero Elric of Melniboné for Ed Kramer's anthology Tales of the White Wolf. In 1996, Gaiman and Ed Kramer co-edited The Sandman: Book of Dreams. Nominated for the British Fantasy Award, the original fiction anthology featured stories and contributions by Tori Amos, Clive Barker, Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams, and others.

Asked why he likes comics more than other forms of storytelling Gaiman said “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now. And you go, well, I don’t know that I’m as good as that and that’s two and a half thousand years old. But with comics I felt like I can do stuff nobody has ever done. I can do stuff nobody has ever thought of. And I could and it was enormously fun.”

In 2009, Gaiman wrote a two-part "Batman" story for DC Comics to follow "Batman R.I.P." It is titled "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" a play off of the classic Superman story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore. He also contributed a twelve-page "Metamorpho" story drawn by Mike Allred for Wednesday Comics, a weekly newspaper-style series.

Novels
In a collaboration with author Terry Pratchett (best known for his series of Discworld novels), Gaiman's first novel Good Omens was published in 1990. In recent years Pratchett has said that while the entire novel was a collaborative effort and most of the ideas could be credited to both of them, Pratchett did a larger portion of writing and editing if for no other reason than Gaiman's scheduled involvement with "Sandman".

The 1996 novelization of Gaiman's teleplay for the BBC mini-series Neverwhere was his first solo novel. The novel was released in tandem with the television series though it presents some notable differences from the television series. In 1999 first printings of his fantasy novel Stardust were released. The novel has been released both as a standard novel and in an illustrated text edition.

American Gods became one of Gaiman's best-selling and multi-award winning novels upon its release in 2001. A special 10th Anniversary edition was released, with the "author's preferred text" 12,000 words longer than the original mass-market editions. This is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition that was released by Hill House Publishers in 2003. This is also the version released by Headline, Gaiman's publisher in the UK, even before the 10th Anniversary edition. He did an extensive sold-out book tour celebrating the 10th Anniversary and promoting this edition in 2011.

In 2005, his novel Anansi Boys was released worldwide. The book deals with Anansi ('Mr. Nancy'), a supporting character in American Gods. Specifically it traces the relationship of his two sons, one semi-divine and the other an unaware Englishman of American origin, as they explore their common heritage. It debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In late 2008, Gaiman released a new children's book, The Graveyard Book. It follows the adventures of a boy named Bod after his family is murdered and he is left to be brought up by a graveyard. It is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. As of late January 2009, it had been on the New York Times Bestseller children's list for fifteen weeks.

As of 2008, Gaiman has several books planned. After a tour of China, he decided to write a non-fiction book about his travels and the general mythos of China. Following that, will be a new 'adult' novel (his first since 2005's Anansi Boys). After that, another 'all-ages' book (in the same vein as Coraline and The Graveyard Book). Following that, Gaiman says that he will release another non-fiction book called The Dream Catchers. In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012 he would begin work on what is essentially, American Gods 2.

Literary Allusions
Gaiman's work is known for a high degree of allusiveness. Meredith Collins, for instance, has commented upon the degree to which his novel Stardust depends on allusions to Victorian fairy tales and culture. Particularly in The Sandman, literary figures and characters appear often; the character of Fiddler's Green is modelled visually on G. K. Chesterton, both William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer appear as characters, as do several characters from within A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The comic also draws from numerous mythologies and historical periods. Such allusions are not unique to Sandman; Stardust, for example, also has a character called Shakespeare.

Clay Smith has argued that this sort of allusiveness serves to situate Gaiman as a strong authorial presence in his own works, often to the exclusion of his collaborators. However, Smith's viewpoint is in the minority: to many, if there is a problem with Gaiman scholarship and intertextuality it is that "...His literary merit and vast popularity have propelled him into the nascent comics canon so quickly that there is not yet a basis of critical scholarship about his work."

David Rudd takes a more generous view in his study of the novel Coraline, where he argues that the work plays and riffs productively on Sigmund Freud's notion of the Uncanny, or the Unheimlich.

Though Gaiman's work is frequently seen as exemplifying the monomyth structure laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Gaiman says that he started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces but refused to finish it: "I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is."

Awards
British Fantasy Award
British Sci-Fi Awards (2)
Bram Stoker Awards (4)
Carnegie Medal
Eisner Awards (19)
Geffen Awards (3)
Hugo Awards (4)
International Horror Guild Award
Locus Awards (5)
Nebula Awards (2)
Newberry Medal
Mythopoeic Awards (2)

(From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
Titans clash, but with more fuss than fury in this fantasy demi-epic from the author of Neverwhere. The intriguing premise of Gaiman's tale is that the gods of European yore, who came to North America with their immigrant believers, are squaring off for a rumble with new indigenous deities: "gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon." They all walk around in mufti, disguised as ordinary people, which causes no end of trouble for 32-year-old protagonist Shadow Moon, who can't turn around without bumping into a minor divinity. Released from prison the day after his beloved wife dies in a car accident, Shadow takes a job as emissary for Mr. Wednesday, avatar of the Norse god Grimnir, unaware that his boss's recruiting trip across the American heartland will subject him to repeat visits from the reanimated corpse of his dead wife and brutal roughing up by the goons of Wednesday's adversary, Mr. World. At last Shadow must reevaluate his own deeply held beliefs in order to determine his crucial role in the final showdown. Gaiman tries to keep the magical and the mundane evenly balanced, but he is clearly more interested in the activities of his human protagonists: Shadow's poignant personal moments and the tale's affectionate slices of smalltown life are much better developed than the aimless plot, which bounces Shadow from one episodic encounter to another in a design only the gods seem to know. Mere mortal readers will enjoy the tale's wit, but puzzle over its strained mythopoeia. Verdict: Even when he isn't in top form, Gaiman, creator of the acclaimed "Sandman" comics series, trumps many storytellers. Momentously titled, and allotted a dramatic one-day laydown with a 12-city author tour, his latest will appeal to fans and attract mainstream review coverage for better or for worse because of the rich possibilities of its premise.
Publishers Weekly


Shadow Moon, recently released from prison and dealing with his wife's death, accepts a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. Together they travel across America gathering up Mr. Wednesday's creepy friends. Soon Shadow discovers this road trip involves the upcoming epic battle between the old gods of the immigrants and today's new gods credit cards, TV, and the Internet. He also experiences repeat visits from the reanimated corpse of his dead wife, Laura. Shadow's personal tale and the details of American small-town life are well developed compared with the not-well-defined plot. The focus shifts from the gods' Armageddon to Shadow's life, to subplots about secondary characters. The book has wit but is too busy and not very engaging and includes some graphic language, sex, and disturbing events. George Guidall's clear, well-articulated narration contributes to a positive listening experience. Fans will no doubt enjoy the subject matter and the mythic scope. —Denise A. Garofalo, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY
Library Journal


Shadow, a strong, silent, Steven Seagal type, has kept his head down while doing time for creaming the guys who ran off with his share of a heist. He is about to be released, ticket home in hand, thanks to his lovely wife; then his departure is pushed up a few days-unhappily, so that he can attend her funeral. Weather forces his flight down in St. Louis, and he winds up on a short hop seated next to a mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who informs him that his once and, he had hoped, future boss is also dead. Would he like to work for Wednesday, instead? The guy is too creepy by half but, as it happens, hard to refuse. And after Shadow meets some of Wednesday's equally creepy friends, becomes an accomplice to a clever bank robbery, and gets coldcocked and kidnapped by black-clad heavies, he acquires a certain job loyalty, if only to find out what he has signed on for--an upcoming battle between the old gods of America's many immigrants' original cultures and the new gods of global, homogenizing consumerism. The old gods are trying to live peaceably enough in retirement, which is the predicament Wednesday (i.e., Wotan, or Odin) must overcome to rally them. After two sterling fantasies, the dark Neverwhere (1997) and the lighter, utterly charming Stardust (1999), Gaiman comes a cropper in a tale that is just too busy and, oddly for him, unengaging. His large fandom may make it a success, but many of them, even, will find it a chore to get through. —Ray Olson
Booklist


An ex-convict is the wandering knight-errant who traverses the wasteland of Middle America, in this ambitious, gloriously funny, and oddly heartwarming latest from the popular fantasist (Stardust, 1999, etc.). Released from prison after serving a three-year term, Shadow is immediately rocked by the news that his beloved wife Laura has been killed in an automobile accident. While en route to Indiana for her funeral, Shadow meets an eccentric businessman who calls himself Wednesday (a dead giveaway if you're up to speed on your Norse mythology), and passively accepts the latter's offer of an imprecisely defined job. The story skillfully glides onto and off the plane of reality, as a series of mysterious encounters suggest to Shadow that he may not be in Indiana anymore—or indeed anywhere on Earth he recognizes.... Gaiman layers in a horde of other stories whose relationships to Shadow's adventures are only gradually made clear.... Only an ogre would reveal much more about this big novel's agreeably intricate plot. Suffice it to say that this is the book that answers the question: When people emigrate to America, what happens to the gods they leave behind? A magical mystery tour through the mythologies of allcultures, a unique and moving love story—and another winner for the phenomenally gifted, consummately reader-friendly Gaiman.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. American Gods contains both the magical and the mundane, a fantastic world of divine beings and bizarre happenings and a world of prisons, rundown roadside attractions, and quaint small towns. How is Gaiman able to bring these worlds together in the novel? How does he manage to make their coexistence believable?

2. What is the cultural significance of the war between the gods of old and the "new gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon"? In what ways have Americans transferred their devotion from spiritual to material and technological gods? What are the consequences of such a shift?

3. Gaiman, who now lives in the U.S., is originally from England. How might his perspective as a relative outsider affect his view of America? In what ways can American Gods be read as a satire or critique of American life?

4. What makes Shadow such a compelling protagonist? What are his most appealing qualities? At what crucial points in the novel does he demonstrate courage, compassion, intelligence, a willingness to sacrifice himself? What does his relationship with Laura reveal about him? What is the significance of his obsession with coin tricks?

5. What role do dreams play in American Gods? What are some of Shadow's more vivid and unusual dreams? Why does the Buffalo Man tell him in a dream to "believe everything"?

6. The narrator, discussing how we relate to the suffering of others, writes that "Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out thorough other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page and close the book, and we resume our lives." What does American Gods reveal by letting readers see through the eyes of a collection of down-at-heel and nearly forgotten divinities? What vicarious deaths does it allow us to experience?

7. After shortchanging a waitress, Wednesday tells Shadow that the American people "don't sacrifice rams or bulls to me. They don't send me the souls of killers and slaves, gallows-hung and raven-picked. They made me. They forgot me. Now I take a little back from them. Isn't that fair?" What are the implications of a god like Odin becoming, essentially, a con-man? What is the biggest con he tries to pull off in the novel?

8. What do the old gods need to stay alive and vital? What means do they use to get what they need? What is Gaiman suggesting about the nature of divinity, sacrifice, and devotion?

9. Late in the novel, the narrator says that "Religions are, by definition, metaphors.... Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world." Would you agree with this assertion? What are the gods in American Gods metaphors for? What is the difference between a world view based on worship, sacrifice, and belief in the divine and a world view based on the accumulation of material wealth and comfort?

10. Who are some of the more colorful and vividly drawn secondary characters, human and divine, in the novel? What do they add to the overall impression of the book? How do they affect Shadow?

11. What does the novel imply about the reality of life in small-town America? What darker truth lies behind the pleasant idyll of Lakewood, Wisconsin?

12. At the end of the novel, Shadow thinks to himself: "People believe.... People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen." Would you agree that what people believe in are largely projections of their own needs and desires? In what ways does the novel itself confirm or refute this idea?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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