Wednesday, July 31, 2013

American Gods- A Review

    Author: Neil Gaiman

 A friend recommended this book to me because it features the Norse gods as characters. The premise is that when Europeans (and other undocumented peoples from other parts of the world) started coming to North America, they brought their gods with them. They offered sacrifices and prayers to their gods for a safe voyage home and left an incarnation of the god or goddess, who had been worshipped, behind. Then those gods were slowly forgotten or not.
     If the people, who originally brought them, over came back sometimes they carried new gods to compete with the old for devotion. The Norse had converted to Christianity after they stopped visiting Newfoundland and many people began to worship new gods like technology and television. The old gods refuse to wither and die quietly and the new gods want them gone so they could have all the power that comes from a healthy following. A war is coming between the old and the new.
     The story is told from the perspective of an ex convict named Shadow. He is very large and not overly bright with a good heart. While he was in prison, he spent alot of time with another convict named Low Key Lyesmith (Loki). When Shadow is only a few days from being released, his wife is killed in a car accident along with his best friend, whom she had been performing fellatio on when the vehicle went off the road.  Shadow was released early to go to the funeral and meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday(Odin) along the way who offers him a job. Shadow has nothing to go home to and agrees.
     They criss cross the countryside as Wednesday tries to recruit other gods from other pantheons to join him in a battle for the survival of the old gods. Jesus of Nazareth is one god/incarnation of a god who was not included in the story. There are forces trying to change Shadow's allegiance to one side or the other that contact him in his dreams or through tv. Along the way his dead wife, who has been kept animated because of a magical coin,  protects him and tries to offer him guidance.
     When Mr. Wednesday is killed by the modern gods, someone must hold the nine day vigil for him on the ash/world tree.  Shadow volunteers to do so although it might kill him because he promised that he would. The killing of Mr. Wednesday is the catalyst that convinces the old gods to gather together   for the final confrontation against the new at the center of the United States, a no-god's land where no god has power. Who will win? Which is better - the old ways or the new? It takes Shadow's sacrifice and humility to reveal what is really driving this conflict and, for once, it is not Loki's treachery.
     I thought at first, from the description of Shadow, he was Thor but, from the comment Loki made about throwing mistletoe at him, he was intended by the author to be Baldur. The descriptions about human sacrifice to Odin, plus the likelihood that the Baldur story is an allegorical tale about kings sacrificing their son to their gods, also alludes to Shadow being Baldur and that he is meant to be killed by Mr. Wednesday.
     There are a couple of problems with Shadow as Gaiman represents him. Baldur was never a human and Shadow is clearly not a god, barely even a demi-god. Shadow's mother is some nameless human that Mr. Wednesday once courted with the object of producing such a son. In the Eddas, Baldur's mother was the supreme of the Norse goddesses, Frigg, Odin's wife. Thor's mother, on the other hand, may have been a human, because her name Jord means 'earth.
    Thor did not appear in this book because he committed suicide long ago. I find this a disappointing and unconvincing outcome for Thor who I do not believe is introspective enough to want to commit suicide and, since his cult, is going strong to this day, has no reason to commit suicide under the premise this book is going by. Any author who does not include Thor in a story about the Norse gods is making a huge mistake.
    That being said, the version of American Gods that I read was a revised edition called the 'author's preferred text'. I had considered reading the book years ago before it was revised so editing must have helped since I enjoyed the book in spite of the errors in facts and the absence of Thor. Therefore, I recommend the book and think most people will not even notice that the author has taken some liberties with the 'facts'.


Anachronist said...

No Thor? That's an outrage!

The Red Witch said...

I know! Especially as his cult (in part thanks to Marvel Comics) is going stronger than ever. Thor should have come in at the end, smacked a few people with his hammer and quietened things down like he always does.