Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Everything that is, casts a shadow."

I've been so bad at this. Life is crazy but I'm planning to make regular blog posts every month or two from now on, I promise!

Next up: The Diamond Throne by David Eddings

Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2011, Harper Collins

Shadow Moon has had a rough time of it lately. He’s just been released after a three year stint in prison for physically assaulting someone who had stolen from him. With only a day or two left to go before his scheduled release, he is called into the warden’s office and informed that he will be released early, due to the sudden death of his wife in a terrible car accident. Struggling to process and just going through the motions, Shadow finds himself on the plane back home, sitting next to a strange man who calls himself Wednesday. The man knows more things about Shadow and his life than he should.

The stranger offers him a job and, after much consideration and realizing he has nothing left to go back to, he accepts. So begins a cross-country journey as Shadow works as chauffeur, errand boy and muscles for Wednesday. As they travel around the country, meeting with several of Wednesday’s associates, Shadow begins to notice a few very strange things about his new boss and his friends. Time goes by and soon Shadow learns the truth: Wednesday and his friends are old gods brought over to what would become the United States, riding over in the hearts and minds of immigrant believers.

Shadow soon learns that war is coming to the states. As popular culture, technology, media, sex and drugs become more important to Americans, these ideas are being manifested into new gods. Technology is an overweight, pale looking teenager who smells vaguely of motherboards and computer chips. Media comes in the form of a woman who can speak to Shadow through characters on his TV screen, offering to flash him while in the guise of Lucille Ball. The new gods have declared war upon the old ones, deciding there’s no room in this new world for their ancient rituals and ideas.

As a manifestation of Odin, Wednesday travels around the country, getting in touch with the other manifestations of old gods, asking them to join the battle and fight to preserve their existence. Shadow finds himself in the middle of a war between powerful, cunning and manipulative deities, each of them vying for his support in the coming battle. When his dreams begin getting stranger and stranger and his dead wife starts coming to him at night, Shadow has to start wondering: is there more to him than there seems?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the works I have read and/or seen by Neil Gaiman. The man is a genius with a fantastic streak of weird running through everything he creates. He has a kind of Tim Burton-esque darkness that appeals to my former goth self.

Have you seen Mirrormask? If not, you should.

I’ve wanted to read American Gods for ages and, with the new TV show and encouragement of a friend, I finally picked up a copy. I am so glad that I did! It is a fun and imaginative journey into the world of the deities from a variety of different cultures around the world, while simultaneously being a solemn commentary on what’s important to society nowadays.

Gaiman takes readers into the hidden world of the gods who were dragged across the oceans and now reside in the United States, trying to make their way in a land that was never their own. Some have prospered while others have struggled and his depictions of these gods can really pull at your heartstrings, as you discover the state in which some of them have been living. Gaiman pulls from several different cultures to bring his gods to life, drawing characters from Norse mythology, Slavic folklore, Egyptian mythology, Germanic legends and lore, Hindu mythology, as well as the Christian faith and American legends and folklore. While reading, the true identity of some characters isn’t always immediately obvious and, being fortunate to know a few things about different mythologies, I found myself looking for clues with each introduction. As I read it became a game: how quickly could I identify the new characters? This added another layer of fun to the reading of this fantastic novel.

At the same time, I felt Gaiman did a wonderful job on writing his social commentary into the story. The new gods were created from the minds of humanity, a humanity obsessed with computers, smart phones, television and social media. We are, all of us, looking for our next fix, whether it be the most recent episode of a television show, another “like” on a posted photo, another drink, another hit, another roll around in bed. The list is endless. When was the last time we unplugged, left our phones in the car and took a walk in the park? When did we last connect with nature and the planet on which we live? When did we last read a book on a particular religion or enjoy the tales of another culture?

As an English grad student, I can appreciate that last one, especially. I recently enjoyed a wonderful course on Medieval literature, which included ancient Viking sagas on the list of readings. Throughout the course, I got to thinking about these stories and their survival. If we stop reading our legends, sagas and folklore, they will die, replaced by the newest app and the remaining elements of those cultures will disappear from history. The same is true for religion - as society moves more toward technology and instant gratification of whatever their desire may be at the time, drifting further and further away from the church, temple or synagogue, the current major religions will one day become like the Viking sagas or the Greco-Roman pantheons - mythology and legend, barely remembered.

While incredibly entertaining, American Gods gives us a look into what our society has begun to consider as important and what we are losing because of it. I highly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone! Lovers of fantasy, modern fiction, history and social studies, as well as those who just appreciate the general weirdness that is Neil Gaiman, will absolutely love this novel. Go buy it!

Now, it’s time for me to watch the show and see if it lives up to the original!

** Blog title taken from the book.

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