If you’ve not read any Neil Gaiman, you’re missing out. He tells stories delightfully, blending whimsical fantasy with honest portraits of injured and incomplete human beings. American Gods follows the story of Shadow, who having been recently released from prison is quickly recruited by a con-man. Despite his apparent criminality Shadow is an easy character to sympathize with. Shadow helps American Gods to feel more like a thriller than a fantasy novel. As Shadow meets gods we meet them too and I was grateful to be introduced to Gaiman’s strange world through a protagonist who started off knowing no more than I did.
At the beginning of the book I had favorite gods, and the idea of these myths walking in real life was exciting. Gaiman shattered my modern ideas of the old gods by depicting them as they were first imagined: powerful and petty. The ancient gods of Rome, Ireland, and Africa are human, and as such they are messed up. They are as likely to be helpful as they are to be cruel; they are caricatures of the humanity, afflicted with the human condition.
American Gods also paints a startling portrait of culture in the United States. Just as old world gods are real in Gaiman’s novel, the new gods of convenience and technology are real as well. They look silly next to the old gods, but ultimately are not different. They are no more or less corrupt or corrupting. They hit closer to home. I know no one who has ever sacrificed a child to an old god. We all know of friendships that have been sacrificed to ambition, lust, or selfishness. These modern gods are real. In Gaiman’s world, and also in ours, anything that a person worships with time, attention, and energy is a god.
I do want to say that American Gods is for adult audiences; there were points in the novel which vividly depicted monstrous gods of sexuality and of death exacting sacrifice. Their sacrifice is disturbing. These scenes were not many, and I they serve the novel's purpose of portraying how we can loose ourselves in devotion to our gods. I mention it so that you do not read anything you cannot unread. Overall the book was excellent, but that sort of thing is not for everyone.
I want to say that Neil Gaiman was incredibly considerate towards Christians, Jews, and Muslims when he absented the Lord from his pantheon of mythical gods and goddesses. Jesus does not appear; neither does the God of Israel, nor Allah. A monotheistic God could have introduced problems into the world Gaiman wrote. Besides the narrative problems God would cause, the books would have offended a lot of people if Gaiman had treated the God(s) of the world’s dominant religions like he treated his trickster gods. That sort of offensive writing might have sold a lot of books, and I appreciate that Gaiman didn’t exploit that route. Thanks Neil, if you're reading this.
Ask God to show you if you have served other gods. Whatever your god has been it cannot satisfy the thirst of your soul. The gods of this world only steal life. False gods demand sacrifice, but the true God sacrificed himself. He loved us while we were still enemies so that we could experience life to its fullest. Read Romans 5:8-10. Jesus death meant our forgiveness. Jesus resurrection meant our adoption. God is alive. God loves you. Enjoy.