By Zoë Goldsborough
The theme of the Fall Introweek 2015, Greek gods and heroes, was one of epic proportions. Gods especially are usually associated with a certain greatness as well as knowledge and abilities that are bigger than life itself. Based on the title and sheer thickness of the novel, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods appears to fit right in this category. Containing over 600 pages and written over the course of several years, it truly is the highlight of Neil Gaiman’s writing career, which includes famous titles such as Coraline and Neverwhere.
To firstly come back to the title, what gods does America have? As a relatively young country, most of the religion practiced by its inhabitants was brought by them from their home countries. Perhaps, Neil Gaiman argues, these gods were taken with them by their worshippers, finding themselves stuck in an unknown country. After all, belief is what sustains a god. Without anyone believing in them, worshipping them or revering them, a god cannot exist. On top of that, nowadays new gods have come into existence. Gods of technology, TV and media, to whom we dedicate our time and resources.
The protagonist of the novel is a man named Shadow who, after being released from prison, is swept up by a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday in a wild trip through America. Along the way, they encounter various gods and ideas that came to America in old days of glory but are now left to their last breaths. When described like this, American Gods sounds incredibly epic. On the one hand, it is, but on the other, it’s not epic at all. Neil Gaiman portrays gods as beings that desperately need to be believed in. Beings that only possess immortality as long as they are actively worshipped. To quote the book: “Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”
It is not often that an idea is referred to as something that can be killed, but I do agree that it could. It is only recently that we have started recording everything, and for example gods that were worshipped before that practice started can easily have been forgotten entirely. Additionally, it is fascinating how Neil Gaiman portrays gods in American Gods. The form they take on is greatly diminished. They still hold their powers and their ancient wisdom, but with it they carry a fragility and crippling fear of death that cannot be described as anything else but human. Recognizing all the gods and references to them in the book proved to be immensely difficult, but was also one of the most entertaining aspects of reading American Gods. Neil Gaiman put a tremendous amount of effort into disguising the gods in such a way that only a trained eye (or a Google user) can identify them.
Lastly, the most exciting news any fan of this book could get. Despite the novel coming out in 2001, a TV-show is now in the making. Produced by Bryan Fuller, mostly known for the beautiful and haunting Hannibal, with several episodes written by Neil Gaiman himself, it truly sounds like a project that can’t go wrong. To many, what would make this show so interesting is not only the imaginative story and nice pacing, but also the diversity of the cast. In the world of American Gods there is an incredibly wide range of gods from different ethnicities. The series adaptation is planning to stick to the novel in this aspect, which would result in a series with only two white roles. I personally believe a show like this is long overdue and they could not possibly cast the characters in a different way. Series adaptations are not often successful, but I have high hopes for American Gods and am greatly looking forward to its release.
I do not often proclaim favorites, but for American Gods I make an exception. Shadow’s journey was strange and gripping and filled with a mix of epic and plain that I had not encountered before. I applaud Neil Gaiman for his creativity and dedication, and I hope that the ideas that he has come up with in this wonderful novel will never die.
Zoë Goldsborough, Class of 2017, is a biology and cognitive science major from Leeuwarden, the Netherlands.