American Gods, written by Neil Gaiman, is muti-genre fantasy novel set in the turn-of-century America where Gods walk the Earth with the mortals.
Modern world inhabited by the immortal Gods who look like regular human beings. America has been a melting pot of cultures from around the world. The ancient Gods worshipped by people from around the world have fallen out of favor from the people. The ancient Gods are replaced by new ‘Gods’ like the Media, Television, and the new kid on the block, the Internet. Normal human beings are unaware that the Gods are living among them. The Gods do odd jobs like driving cabs, tell fortunes and even escorts to earn their livelihood.
It appears that the Gods survive on people’s faith. Faith is the currency of the Gods, both old and new. Gods survive by working regular jobs because faith in them has dwindled and they can’t seem to find a place in the new turn of the century America, where people obsess over technology and mass media.
Wednesday, an American version of the Norse God Odin, has taken upon himself to wage a war against the new Gods. He hires Shadow, a reformed convict, to help him with the war. Together they travel around America, seeking help from the ancient Gods, who have retired, and lead a normal human-being-like life. It is not clear what killing the new Gods alludes to, perhaps a Luddite revolution.
Wednesday( who is a reincarnation of the Norse God, Odin) reaches out to several Gods from different pantheons. They are reluctant to join Odin’s mission. Meanwhile, the new Gods of Media, Town et al. capture Shadow. Shadow is eventually rescued by his wife Laura, who is in a zombie-like state. Odin is killed by the new Gods, and the enraged old world Gods engage in a final showdown with the new Gods. Shadow learns that the whole war is actually a ploy by Odin and Loki to regain their stronghold. He interrupts the war and convinces them that the conflict is futile.
The main story is inter cut by vignette about how mythic beings work odd jobs to survive, and some origin stories about how the Gods made their way to America which is an allusion to how the American Migrants made their way into the geographical area we now call America. Hint: it goes back a long way before Anno Dimini.
The novel is littered with allusions. There are many allusions to the World Mythology. I was fascinated with Comparative Mythology ever since I read Joseph Campbell’s excellent Masks of God series. The central characters Wednesday is an obvious allusion to the Norse God - Odin. Shadow meets several Gods from different pantheons.
Neil is describing America. America and mainly cosmopolitan American Cities are melting pots of culture, potpourri of faiths and beliefs from cultures and religions. The Gods, who can be interpreted as thought forms, have to change and adapt; so much so that some of these mythic beings have to eke out their living through the American Way. It is an allusion to the American Way of Life - everyone’s a small fish in the big pond, God or not, and “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. The Gods have resigned to a life where they do not depend on their worshippers any longer. They are content with whatever oblations, little or negligent, they receive from their followers.
The new Gods represent Media and Automation. The Gods of the future, people rely on them, live by them and revere them They are not abstract Gods. These are essential tools for modern living. Neil tells their story through references to Popular culture.
Overall, I found the premise interesting. There are layers to each description and plot twists. I enjoyed the references and the I-see-what-you-did-there moments.