Before I read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane I had never read anything by Neil Gaiman despite knowing his work and telling myself “you should read that.” American Gods is the definitive work of his I had been telling myself to read for years.
A dominant catalyst in my desire to read American Gods comes from the table-top RPG Scion, which cites American Gods as a major influence. I have always had a fascination with Norse mythology along with sagas, legends and folklore in general so combine that with a pen and paper RPG emphasizing storytelling and I was on board.
American Gods hung around in the back of my mind for several years after that as Scion wound up in a box somewhere that December when I shipped for Navy boot camp. Once I read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane though, reading American Gods shot up toward the top of my list. I finished it in October 2013 but in my almost signature manner I haven’t written about it until now.
First things first I read the “Author’s Preferred Text” which Neil explains is the original, untrimmed version of American Gods (it was cut down before it won approximately all the awards and sold over a million copies) combined with the original edited version and the original printed version. Mix and match them together and you get the version I read.
The basic premise of American Gods is that every deity in the world, whether it’s Egyptian gods, Norse gods, the loa, Native American spirit guides and so on and so forth, existed because they were believed in. Think of belief as an energy source, the more believers you have the more powerful you are. The inverse is true as well, once you have been forgotten you cease to exist.
It gets more complicated than that. Different parts of the world have their own variations of the gods. This story, if you hadn’t guessed, focuses on the American versions.
The over-arching plot is a war brewing between the new and the old. Old gods being Norse gods, Egyptian gods etc and the new gods being ideas personified, such as The Technical Boy (computers and the Internet), Media and the Black Hats (stemming from America’s obsession with government conspiracy etc).
The novel explores a man named Shadow’s role in the upcoming conflict and follows him as he works with and encounters various gods, old and new, all over America.
American Gods is an underrated book that more people should read. I myself should have read it earlier. After finishing I concluded it deserves every award it received, even though they were convoluted in and of themselves: it won the Nebula and Hugo (mostly science fiction awards), the Bram Stoker Award for horror, and the Locus Award for fantasy.
I am just as perplexed as the awards when it comes to labeling American Gods.
Other than to name it a damn fine read.