American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Discussion Thread
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The magic is here, the excellent writing is here, I just find it an emotionally cold read.
I felt the coldness too. I do think that it's a reflection of the emotions of the main character, but that doesn't make me like it any more :-P
I'll be very interesting to see what everyone thinks about the ending. I've never gotten a chance to talk to anyone about it.
Of course, since the book is related to Norse mythology, coldness is a very appropriate characteristic for its theme
I'm at the beginning of Chapter 8. This time through, I'm googling the deities as I go.
Czernabog--a West Slavic deity, know as the Black God, the god of woe, death and darkness. Was represented in Disney's Fantasia in the Bald Mountain number as the devil. Per Slavic dualism, is flip side of his brother (?) Bielebog, the White God, god of light.
The Zoryas: the Auroras who watch over the doomsday dog (Simargl) who is chained to the star Polaris in the Big Dipper and who will devour the universe if he escapes. Connected to the morning, evening, and midnight stars, marriage, protection and exorcisms. Their father, Dazbog, is the sun god. The midnight Zorya appears to be Gaiman's invention, connected to magic, death and rebirth.
Odin, also Woden and Wotan. Although Csernobog addresses him as Votan, Votan is actually a separate Mayan god.
The goddess who has no name, at least yet, could be Ishtar or a Hindu divinity.
Anansi is pretty well-known, a Trickster African deity, and features in the sequel Anansi Boys, which I love.
"This time through, I'm googling the deities as I go." - I'm glad I'm not the only person who needed to do that :-)
#5 - aulsmith: I think you may be right about my feelings of emotional coldness. My first two Gaiman reads were Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book, both of which featured very likeable and warm characters that you really rooted for. Shadow strikes me as more of a observer, cool and detached. I find myself picturing Shadow as looking very much like Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman seems to be very taken with trickster gods (there are tons of them - nearly all cultures seem to have one in some form or another), and I love what he does with them. I haven't gotten round to Anansi Boys yet, but I'm eager to do so soon.
Judith: I loved Mr. Jackel & Mr. Ibis too! Very typical of how Gaiman plays with mythology. Clever man.
As someone who studies ancient mythology, I have to say that I'm so pleased and happy with Gaiman for what he does with and to myth. When a myth stops changing, it dies, and so I love him for keeping all of these stories alive; not just re-telling them, textbook-style, but giving them new lives. There's a big difference. My students used to gripe and moan when Hollywood came out with another movie version of some classical myth, ranting that 'they screwed up another classic story by changing it'. Most of them completely hated Troy, and then they were all shocked when I didn't confirm their feelings. The Greeks and Romans changed their stories all the time. All. The. Time. That's what myths are for - they're meant to be changed and re-told and changed again to suit the purpose of the new teller (You know that famous ending to Euripides' Medea? Not the original ending to the myth. He changed it on purpose.). They would have had no issue whatsoever with what Hollywood does to their stories. And they would have *loved* Neil.
I am starting the last third of the book, and the action seems to be picking up. Boy, he must have had to do a lot of research to write this book!
In the meantime--I know I am dense about these things--but in Chapter 7 Shadow is talking with Sam about Herodotus, and says, "Loads of weird little details--like, did you know, in Egypt, if a particularly beautiful girl or the wife of a lord or whatever died, they wouldn't send her to the embalmer for three days? They'd let her body spoil in the heat first." Sam got it, but I didn't. Anyone?
Having said that, I've wondered whether I was unfair to the good things about the book. The comment about the storytelling verve is right on the money. I also like the idea of Googling the gods while reading it, something I didn't do. So I'm looking forward to the discussion as folks finish.
I liked Anansi Boys much better than this one and highly recommend it whether you liked American Gods or not.
Look forward to seeing what eceryone else thought.
I am however going to read the short story/novella in Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy called The Monarch of the Glen.
I think most or all that were reading American Gods are finished. Just in case I put a big "Spoilers" sign up.
Looks like we all had a similar reaction to American Gods. I am still in awe of both the research that went into this book and of his writing. Obviously he had a purpose in making Shadow so unemotionally unavailable to the readers, doesn't anyone have any ideas on why he did this?
My other question is about the car going out on the ice every year. I did see a connection between making a sacrifice to the gods and the leaving of the car on the ice, including the ritual killing of an innocent as an offering. But don't you think that after doing this year after year, the lake would be full of rusted out cars? Also I wondered why it wasn't protested by environmentalists. Nit-picking, I know, but the thought ran through my head.
Also for those who have been to the House on the Rock - is the carousel really just for looking at - no riding? I would guess that the connection between riding around in circles is the same principle that the whirling dervishes of Turkey embrace. I think they believe that this allows them to travel to a higher plane, in order to communicate with the gods.
I think all these little details that Neil Gaiman included in the book are fascinating. I am sure they were many that slipped past me.
I suspect that he named the character Shadow for good reason; my guess it that it may have something to do with him being a sort of representation of human nature/humankind. He is a pawn in the workings of the gods - he's necessary for things to work they way they do, but his reactions and thoughts and feelings are not. Maybe Gaiman is harkening back to Homer and the Greek ideas behind the relationship between gods and mortals (it's in more places than just Greek mythology, but that's one of the biggest and oldest, I guess, and my own bread-and-butter, so that why I'm using it as my example), in which mortals have not much say at all in how things work out in their own lives and the gods use them as pieces on the proverbial chess board (the Clash of the Titans scene works well as an analogy). So, it's not surprising that his character leaves some of you cold and unsatisfied - he wasn't meant to be exciting in that way, I think.
Now, where Gaiman gets exciting here, for me, is the role-reversal going on at the same time: the idea that the gods, who are so used to using and abusing their worshippers, are now in a fix, since those worshippers, those mortals, don't worship them any longer, revealing a power over the gods that they didn't (and still don't, really) know they had. Yes, he's a shadow, a shell, a pawn, a mortal - but, he's seminal to what's going down and those gods need him pretty desperately.
#26 "But don't you think that after doing this year after year, the lake would be full of rusted out cars?" - I hadn't thought of that but I am now...!
#27 "Now, where Gaiman gets exciting here, for me, is the role-reversal going on at the same time: the idea that the gods, who are so used to using and abusing their worshippers, are now in a fix, since those worshippers, those mortals, don't worship them any longer, revealing a power over the gods that they didn't (and still don't, really) know they had."
I found that really interesting too. Terry Pratchett's also written on that theme in his Discworld book Small Gods. I read the Pratchett first but I don't know whether one author had the idea first or whether it was a joint idea they came up with whilst collaborating on Good Omens. Both Small Gods and American Gods are very different books even though they share that idea.
Thanks for sharing your ideas about Shadow's role. Since finishing the book I've found I really want to find out what happened to him in the end. Where did he go? What did he do?
#28 I didn't read it that way but then I'm not from the US. I almost got the impression that it was the land itself rather than the people living there that made it hard for the gods to survive. Still not sure why though.
I just looked at the original paperback and none of what he says at the end of the audio is on there so maybe that is added into the 10th anniversary book too??