“Think of us as symbols - we’re the dream that humanity creates to make sense of the shadows on the cave wall.”
Yet again I find myself reading about a“Think of us as symbols - we’re the dream that humanity creates to make sense of the shadows on the cave wall.”
Yet again I find myself reading about alternative worlds - parallel realities adjacent to the ‘real’. This novel wins my award for a wonderful fully-rounded concept. In American Gods we discover that the gods of old ‘religion’ and belief from around the world are alive and are present in society alongside humans. It is a veritable lesson in religious studies, where we learn that the plethora of old and new gods are approaching a war to take on the power that the belief of a nation yields. It is also very historical in nature, where different flashbacks depict the arrival - and departure - of different belief structures, and America as a fully immigrant nation is uncovered. I greatly appreciated how alternative histories - and myths - of America were depicted throughout the novel, be it ancient Egyptians discovering the Mississippi river (extremely unlikely!), or Nordic travelers in 813 AD journeying to the land in the West and leaving sacrifices to their Gods there (that did actually happen). Finally, it also speaks deeply to the Native American experience, even going back to the original moment of human migration across the ice during prehistoric times. Although Native peoples are presented with importance, explaining the forced migration to reservations and portraying the direct repercussions of this, it is refreshing that Gaiman extends beyond to catch a glimpse of the continent before man.
I’m also going to give kudos to Gaiman for choosing to write a road trip novel. As a format to present a depiction of real Americana, it is ideal as perhaps the quintessential American experience. Through the genre, it carefully places itself within the library of American literature. To me, American Gods presents as almost the antithesis of the famous -- some might say infamous -- road trip novel, On the Road. Where Kerorac’s characters are hooked in a repetitive cycle of certain monotony, where there is little purpose or plot, American Gods is fuelled by action and excitement. Whilst the first novel maps routes coast to coast, Gaiman mainly sticks to the Midwest and South regions - possibly as an attempt to represent the also somewhat mythical ‘Middle America’. Here the characters mainly traverse back and forth the North-South routes rather than the East-West, dissecting the country through natural boundaries along its main artery, the Mississippi river. Gaiman refuses to give the reader the Western concept of Manifest Destiny, and instead opts for the organic rather than the artificial, mainstream constructs.
I was only saddened to read in the appendix notes, that Gaiman had included a section about Jesus Christ whilst Shadow was hanging - almost crucified - on the tree. That passage would touch on true genius for me and would have brought it to a 5* rating. Deemed too scandalous to be included, the omission removes much of the overall philosophy of the novel to me. Here Gaiman finds himself essentially defeated by the most established religion in the United States - the greatest of the American Gods - which speaks as much to him as a writer as to the Americana he depicts. Clearly not all Gods are equal in Gaiman’s America.