Reviews of American Gods (2001) and related work
- Spin-off: Anansi Boys (2005)
American Gods (2001)
Neil Gaiman (writer).
Read in 2017.
Theological thoughtforms and other magical thinking. America is inherently attractive to gods and other mythological creatures, having been prehistorically settled by practically every people from the rest of the world. Although people’s beliefs supposedly shape these creatures, they deviate by adapting to their time, having to live in part as humans do. For instance, Odin becomes a shabby, near-psychopathic grifter. Jesus is a marginal figure, while the other big Cristian gods (Mary, Yahweh and Satan) are absent, all for no apparent reason. Supposedly the modern Americans prefer gods of plastic and such, represented as humans. There is no public awareness of any of this, for no good reason, except ambiguously in Iceland.
I went about Neil Gaiman’s work the wrong way, reading Stardust (1999), “A Study in Emerald” (2003), Anansi Boys (2005) and Norse Mythology (2016) in that order before reaching this, his most famous literary work to date. Perhaps it was just the low expectations I’d developed, but it seems relatively strong.
There’s a painful level of fabulism in this contemporary primary-world fantasy, but there are also moments where Gaiman tries to make the story work, both in practical terms and in a certain level of respect for how brutal and terrible the old folk religions of the world actually were. By his own admission, he originally intended for the old gods to be less complicated good guys, and fortunately, he failed. He should have failed harder. For example, in American Gods there doesn’t seem to be any association between the worship of the US version of Odin and US white supremacists who are practically the only open worshippers of Odin in the country.
According to one interview, Gaiman sees no central idea in the novel. The thoughtforms are just a glue that holds his picaresque plot points and competent character writing together. He wasn’t trying to devise an internal logic for them. If you like the notion of people embodying-while-shaping popular beliefs and would have preferred to see it treated with respect, the TRPG Unknown Armies (1998) does better worldbuilding. If you just want to read something more entertaining and beautiful along similar lines, try The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999).
Of all the roundabout comments on society, I most appreciated how Jacquel/Anubis, being Egyptian, participates in the horribly wasteful conventional (post-Civil War) US burial industry, putting formaldehyde in the ground. I wanted to see more than one sentence about the car gods.
‣ Anansi Boys (2005)
Neil Gaiman (writer).
References here: American Gods (2001).