Cover of first edition (hardcover)
|Publication date||June 19, 2001|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 21|
|LC Classification||PR6057.A319 A84 2001|
|Followed by||Anansi Boys, "The Monarch of the Glen" (Fragile Things)|
American Gods is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman. The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on a mysterious and taciturn protagonist, Shadow. It is Gaiman's fourth prose novel, being preceded by Good Omens (a collaboration with Terry Pratchett), Neverwhere, and Stardust. Several of the themes touched upon in the book were previously glimpsed in The Sandman graphic novels.
A signed and numbered limited edition has been released by Hill House Publishers. It is 12,000 words longer than the mass market editions and represents Neil Gaiman's preferred edition. This is the version now in print from Headline in the UK.
Gaiman's subsequent novel Anansi Boys was actually conceived before American Gods, and shares a character, Mr. Nancy. It is not a sequel but could possibly be of the same fictional world. Although Anansi the spider god of African legend appears in both American Gods and Anansi Boys, implying a connection, one of Neil Gaiman's signature touches is the use of allusion, both to works by other authors and to mechanics and themes used in his own books. The novella, "Monarch of the Glen" (from the Legends II anthology, later collected in Fragile Things), continues Shadow's journeys. This latter anthology also features the characters of Mr. Alice and Mr. Smith, a pair of dubious men who also appeared in a Gaiman short story called "Keepsakes and Treasures", suggesting that this tale is a part of the American Gods universe as well.
On February 28, 2008, Gaiman announced on his journal that for one month, the complete text of American Gods would be available to the public on his publisher's website.
The central concept is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought dwarves, elves, leprechauns, and other spirits and gods with them, but their power is diminished as people's beliefs wane. New gods have arisen, reflecting America's obsessions with media, celebrity, technology, and illegal drugs, among others.
The book follows the adventures of ex-convict Shadow, who is released from prison a few days earlier than planned on account of the death of his wife, Laura, in a car accident. He discovers at the funeral that the car crashed because Laura was performing oral sex on Shadow's late friend Robbie, who was driving. Even before learning of the death of Robbie, who was to give Shadow a job, Shadow has been repeatedly offered work as a bodyguard by a confidence man called Mr. Wednesday. Shadow accepts Mr. Wednesday's offer and they both travel across America visiting Wednesday's unusual colleagues and acquaintances. Gradually, it is revealed that Wednesday is an incarnation of Odin the All-Father (the name Wednesday is derived from "Odin's (Woden's) day"), who in his current guise is recruiting American manifestations of the Old Gods of ancient mythology, whose powers have waned as their believers have decreased in number, to participate in an epic battle against the New American Gods, manifestations of modern life and technology (for example, the Internet, media, and modern means of transport), which appear as a Secret Services organisation (according to the goddess Eostre, similarly to the old gods, the new gods exist because "everyone knows they must exist"). Shadow's wife Laura comes back in the form of a sentient animated corpse due to a special coin Shadow had acquired and placed on her coffin at her burial, unknowing of the effect it would have.
Mythological characters prominently featured in the book include Mr Wednesday (Odin), Low-Key Lyesmith (Loki Lie-Smith), Czernobog, the Zorya, the Norns, Mr Nancy (Anansi), Easter (Eostre), Mama Ji (Kali), Whiskey Jack (Wisakedjak) Mr Ibis (Thoth), Mr Jacquel (Anubis), Horus, and Bast. In addition to the numerous figures from real-world myths, a few characters from The Sandman and its spinoffs make brief cameos in the book. Other mythological characters featured in the novel are not divine, but are legendary or folk heroes, such as Johnny Appleseed. Shadow himself is implied to be the Norse god Balder, which is confirmed in the follow-up novella, "Monarch of the Glen". The story also features, in its most erotic chapter, a succubus-like re-invention of the Queen of Sheba, who while posing as a prostitute literally swallows a man through her sexual organs. "Bilquis", as she is called here, is later killed by one of the New Gods. Sexuality as a rule plays a part in the plot and subplots; Mr. Wednesday uses his magical powers to bed several young virgins on the journey across America ("And I need her, not as an end in herself, but to wake me up a little. Even King David knew that there is one easy prescription to get warm blood flowing through an old frame: take one virgin, call me in the morning.") while Shadow is seduced in his dreams by a humanoid version of Bast, Egyptian goddess of fertility.
When the New Gods murder Wednesday – thus galvanizing the Old Gods into action – Shadow obeys Wednesday's order by holding his vigil. This is accomplished by re-enacting the act performed by Odin of hanging from a "World Tree" while pierced by a spear. Shadow eventually dies and visits the land of the dead, where he is guided by Thoth and judged by Anubis. Eostre later brings him back to life, obeying orders that she does not fully understand. During the period between life and death, Shadow learns that he is Wednesday's son, conceived as part of the deity's plans. He realizes that Odin and Loki have been working a "two-man con." They orchestrated Shadow's birth, his meeting of Loki in disguise as his prison cellmate "Low Key Lyesmith" and Laura's death. Loki, secretly "Mr. World", the leader of the New Gods, orders Odin's murder so that Shadow's vigil will serve as a sacrifice to Odin, restoring his power. They have been playing both sides off each other, and plan a great battle between the New Gods and the Old Gods. Odin would feed on the gods' deaths, while Loki would feed on the chaos of the battle.
Shadow arrives in time to stop the battle, explaining that both sides had nothing to gain and everything to lose, with Odin and Loki the only winners. America is a "bad place for Gods", Shadow tells them, and recommends they go home and make the best of what they can get. The Gods depart, Odin's ghost fades, and Loki is impaled on a branch of the World Tree by Laura, who finally dies after Shadow takes the magical coin from her.
In an extensive subplot, Shadow follows a clue given to him by the Hindu god Ganesha to discover that a man called Hinzelmann, who had been Shadow's neighbor for a time, is a kobold who annually sacrifices children to empower himself and prevent the small town of Lakeside from succumbing to the economic decay that has claimed many similar towns. Shadow confronts Hinzelmann, who is then shot by a local policeman whose father Hinzelmann had previously killed to keep his secret.
After this, Shadow attempts to confront Sam Black Crow, a girl of Native-American descent whom he had met several times in the past. Though he thinks he loves her, he sees her with a girlfriend, and decides that she is happier with her than she'd ever be with him. It is not clear why the two lovers don't see him as they walk past him, though it is possible that Shadow is inadvertently "backstage", a state of existence only Gods can enter. Unbeknownst to Sam, he slips flowers into her hands and leaves with a ruefull "What the hell, we'll always have Peru. And El Paso. We'll always have that."
Following the final confrontation between the gods, Shadow visits Iceland, where he meets another incarnation of Odin who was created by the belief of the original settlers of Iceland, and is therefore much closer to the Odin of mythology than Wednesday is. Shadow accuses Odin of Wednesday's actions, whereupon Odin replies that "He was me, yes. But I am not him." After a short talk, Shadow gives Odin Wednesday's glass eye, which Odin places in a leather bag as a keepsake.
Various real-life towns and tourist attractions, including the House on the Rock (and its 'world's largest carousel') and Rock City, are featured through the course of the book. Gaiman states in an introduction that he has obscured the precise location of some actual locales.
According to Gaiman, American Gods is not based on Diana Wynne Jones's Eight Days of Luke, "although they bear an odd relationship, like second cousins once removed or something". When working on the structure of a story linking gods and days of the week, he realised that this idea had already been used in Eight Days of Luke. He abandoned the story, but later used the idea when writing American Gods to depict Wednesday and Shadow meeting on the god's namesake day.
Gaiman said John James's novel Votan was an influence on American Gods, saying “I think probably the best book ever done about the Norse was a book that I couldn’t allow myself to read between coming up with the idea of American Gods and finishing it. After it was published I actually sat down and allowed myself to read it for the first time in 15 years and discovered it was just as good as I thought it was”.
While Gaiman was writing American Gods, his publishers set up a promotional web site featuring a weblog in which Gaiman described the day-to-day process of writing, revising, publishing, and promoting the novel. After the novel was published, the web site evolved into a more general Official Neil Gaiman Web Site, and as of 2010 Gaiman still regularly adds to the weblog, describing the day-to-day process of being Neil Gaiman and writing, revising, publishing, or promoting his current project.
The book won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula,, Locus,, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards, all for Best Novel, and likewise received nominations for the 2001 BSFA Award,, as well as the 2002 World Fantasy, International Horror Guild and Mythopoeic,, and British Fantasy Awards. It won the 2004 Geffen Award.
American Gods is a 2001 novel by Neil Gaiman. The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on a mysterious and taciturn protagonist, Shadow.