American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Discussion Thread

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Discussion Thread

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Redigerat: nov 7, 2011, 5:58 pm

As so many of us are currently reading American Gods right now, here is a place where we can discuss our thoughts and feelings about this book.

To return to the Neil In November Thread Click Here.

Redigerat: nov 7, 2011, 6:01 pm

I am just starting Chapter 6, and it is starting to capture my attention a little more.

The magic is here, the excellent writing is here, I just find it an emotionally cold read.

nov 8, 2011, 7:18 am

You know, I've been wondering if it's that emotional coldness that keeps most of the people who don't like this book from liking it. For me (I love the book, for the record), that coldness was a reflection of the main character and his own mental and emotional state throughout most of the book. Because of that, it took me awhile to really start liking him, but when it happened, wow.

nov 8, 2011, 8:52 am

(I read the book a few years ago so I'll be following along, but not saying much so I don't spoil anything)

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.

nov 8, 2011, 9:29 am

5: I wonder if the difficulty relating to the main character is worse for people who have read Gaiman's other books first? American Gods was my first foray into Gaiman and I found the main character quite engaging from the beginning. But then I wasn't expecting something like Graveyard Book or Stardust.

Of course, since the book is related to Norse mythology, coldness is a very appropriate characteristic for its theme

nov 8, 2011, 10:05 am

As some may know this is my first Gaiman so I'm not influenced by any of the others and have nothing of his to benchmark against. See your point Judy about emotional vacuity but on the other hand the story zips along mesmerisingly. Am reading it together with Flowers for Algernon and 84 Charing Cross Road (which I'm going to add to TIOLI #5) both of which are great, but Gaiman is exerting a pull on my time for sheer storytelling verve.

nov 8, 2011, 12:22 pm

I like Shadow, that wasn't my issue. I think for me it is the in-your-face crudeness (which is why it may have generated so much buzz among the American male readership at the time) of the details of his wife's death, the epitome of man-swallowing goddess, and the casual violence right from the get-go, plus the suspicion that Wednesday engineered the deaths to get Shadow to work for him. That resulted in an initial turn-off at my first reading--I'm looking to see if that turns around later in the book. I know Gaiman does a lot of violence in general, and was able to get around that later in The Graveyard Book and especially Neverwhere, so we shall see.

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.

nov 8, 2011, 3:25 pm

I was hoping to make some good progress with American Gods today but I fell asleep instead!

"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 :-)

nov 8, 2011, 5:59 pm

I am up to Chapter nine now, don't want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but I did really like Mr. Jackel and Mr. Ibis. I have to admit, I am eager to find out who (or what) he's going to meet next!

#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.

nov 8, 2011, 9:59 pm

Roni: I wonder if the violence is a reflection of the myths that he uses and alludes to: I'm most familiar with Greek and Roman mythology, with a smattering of Egyptian and Norse, but it seems to me that most mythologies tend to be quite violent, much more so than we might expect them to be.

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.

nov 9, 2011, 1:38 pm

>10 scaifea: Fascinating comments about myths changing, Amber!

nov 10, 2011, 2:33 pm

I am 6 hours(so 1/3 done)into the audiobook of this one and there is a lot more sex and talking of certain body parts than I expected.

nov 10, 2011, 4:38 pm

There's a lot less of it in the last 2/3, Susie.

nov 10, 2011, 4:43 pm

Thats good to hear!It's not that I'm a prude or anything but I really don't like reading about size shape and features if you know what I mean!

nov 10, 2011, 4:52 pm

Yes, that was a turn-off for me as well.

nov 10, 2011, 6:31 pm

I guess Gaiman is trying to show us how "earthy" the gods can be.

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!

nov 10, 2011, 10:23 pm

Again, there are tons of examples of sex - and sexual violence - in all kinds of mythology. Gaiman is maybe just trying to be true to his sources.

nov 10, 2011, 11:48 pm

I couldn't help it--I went ahead and finished last night. After I got past the beginning, things went pretty smoothly, but I've got some things to discuss when others have finished.

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?

nov 11, 2011, 7:16 am

Roni: It's been too long since I've read it (I can't remember the context of the quote), but my guess is that it's a reference to more sexual violence? If she's too beautiful, she may be too tempting to the embalmers, even though she's dead? Or, if it's one of the passages where they're talking about relationships between the gods and men, he could be saying that the husband wanted to make sure she wasn't too tempting to the gods either... Again, I could be completely off, since I can't remember what's going on in that section.

nov 11, 2011, 8:11 pm

I caught that part (about the beautiful but dead wife) and I wondered about it. I thought they kept the body back so the embalmers wouldn't be tempted (ew!), but actually, Amber's point about not tempting the gods makes a lot of sense. I believe men thought it was best to be on good terms with the Gods but never have too much of their attention turned on yourself or your family.

nov 11, 2011, 8:13 pm

I've finished as well. Lots to discuss, but will wait for more to be done with the book.

nov 12, 2011, 8:49 am

I'm at the end of Ch 8 and the first book (Shadow). I also really liked the characters of Jacquel and Ibis and enjoyed spending some time looking up Egyptian gods on wikipedia. I'm hoping to read some more this weekend.

nov 12, 2011, 9:11 am

Your comment at >9 DeltaQueen50: resonates with me, Judy. This has been my least favorite Gaiman, and I think it's probably for the reason you give, the emotional coldness. The two you mention, Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book, are two of my favorites and, as you say, they have warm characters the reader pulls for. I missed that in this one. I had even been to bizarre House on the Rock before reading this, and wanted to like it more.

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.

nov 15, 2011, 3:10 pm

I've finished now. Although I did find Shadow hard to engage with and emotionally a bit cold as others have mentioned, by the time I'd got to the end of the book I was so drawn in by the story that I didn't mind so much. I ended up liking this a lot more than I thought I would after reading the first couple of hundred pages which is really unusual for me.

Redigerat: nov 16, 2011, 2:42 pm

I finished and I so wanted to Love this book its Neil Gaiman I really should love it but unfortunately this will not be on my list of favorite Gaiman novels. I did like the second half of this book better than the first, but it still didn’t make me fall in love with it and then the end (prologue) got confusing again. I still love Neil and not liking one book out of so many is in no way going to make me stop reading him or change the fact that he is one of my favorite authors.

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.

nov 16, 2011, 3:26 pm


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.

nov 16, 2011, 3:46 pm

(Preface to the following remarks: it's been a couple of years since I read this book, so I most certainly have forgotten details, and it could be that some of those forgotten details go against what I'm about to babble. I'd be happy for a reminder if you think of any.)

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.

nov 16, 2011, 3:53 pm

Did anyone else feel mildly offended at the implication that the US is too harsh an environment (compared to the rest of the world) for gods to live in?

nov 16, 2011, 3:54 pm

Re the carousel at House on the Rock, Judy: yes, when we were there maybe 10 years ago it, unfortunately, was just to look at, not ride.

nov 16, 2011, 4:19 pm

#25 I think The Monarch of the Glen is also in the Gaiman short story collection Fragile Things which I have on my TBR pile. Probably won't get to it this month but I would like to read it soon.

#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.

nov 16, 2011, 5:24 pm

#28 - I thought that he set the book in America as it best represents the idea of people coming from various places throughout the world, bringing their customs and religion with them, but due to the "melting pot" aspect of America these are gradually lost or morphed into something else over the years. America is also the best respresentative of a place where people from all other countries come for a new start. I actually felt that Gaiman was honoring America.

nov 16, 2011, 5:50 pm

At the end of the 10th anniversary edition Neil talks about how he had written about America before living here then after moving here he realized he was totally wrong about America & Americans and he has a deep respect for us he talks at length at the end of the audiobook ..
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??

nov 16, 2011, 5:50 pm

But if America is a melting pot where people from all different cultures come together, wouldn't that be good for the gods since supposedly all the different cultures believe in the same gods in the first place? And what about Native Americans who still believe in their gods, which are presumably the same as European/Asian/African gods?

nov 17, 2011, 4:21 pm

I just finished the book a couple of days ago, but I am still mulling over my thoughts about the book. I thought the premise of the book was fascinating, the fact that we, the worshippers actually have the power over the gods, and their fates are completely dependant upon our belief and faith in them. Where I got a bit lost and confused were all the gods that were introduced and all their histories. The jumping back and forth between time periods as the stories and histories of the gods was interesting, but at the same time jolting in terms of the flow of the narrative. Overall, it was a solid read, and I definitely want to look up Anansi Boys since that one seems to have a number of positive reviews and the name showed up in this book several times. Is there a connection between the two books?

nov 17, 2011, 4:31 pm

>#34-jolene--Anansi Boys is about Mr.Nancy's sons

nov 17, 2011, 5:03 pm

Ahhhh......*light bulb goes off* :)

nov 17, 2011, 6:30 pm

#33 - Norabelle, I guess what I meant by 'melting pot' is that people come to America with their culture and religion, but gradually lose both as the generations become more "Americanized". So they bring their gods with them, but eventually turn away or forget them.

maj 27, 2012, 8:03 am

Yes reading American Gods left me thinking that the Europeans that came to America eventually forgot about their Monarchy ruled society but eventually made up a new religion of gods but also based it on the old gods of the old country. So that's why America is so saturated with so many religions because through the generations they made up their own and modified it to fit their life style.