Which is better: the book or its TV adaptation? This is a question that has wreaked havoc with the likes of Game of Thrones, and the recent adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is no exception. Be that as it may, it must be said that the novel – published in 2001 – deserves as much popularity today as when it first hit our bookshelves.
Shadow Moon is released from prison with not a thing to his name – no friend, wife or money left. Set adrift, he is hurtled into the conflict of the warring new and old gods as he takes on the position of aide and henchman to a Mr Wednesday. In Gaiman’s world, our gods walk amongst us as long as we carry them in our minds and faith. Not only is this a goldmine for anyone with a love of mythology and legend, but it is an introduction into both popular and obscure mythological tales.
While Gaiman has no fear in modernising the worlds of the gods, he is as similarly unafraid to take us back and see the gods through the eyes of their worshippers. The plot is relatively linear but a few tangents are added, which give a brief, pleasant distraction from the main action as we are allowed to fully enjoy the world he sees.
Above all, American Gods is a love song to Norse mythology, with particular appearances from Odin, Loki, the tree Ygdrasil and many more references. Having recently published his own adaptation on the old legends, Norse Mythology, Gaiman’s love clearly runs deep and is reflected in characters who are not simple but complex immortals.
Despite their deity status, their profound human-like nature means we mere mortals can still sympathise with them at times, or even feel hate. Even if one were unfamiliar with the gods, Gaiman relates them to a type of person with which we can all identify.
But what makes this book exceptional on another level is the diverse collection of gods, from the pagan and Norse, to the individuals worshipped by thousands before almost moving into complete obscurity – all from everywhere across the globe. This is a depiction of America as it truly is; a melting pot of cultures, it churns a mix of slaves, Irish, Persians, Eastern Europeans and thousands of other peoples.
This is a dark exploration of the loved and forgotten figures of worship that many carry with them and a novel that pays homage to storytelling. The end feels a little anti-climatic and the plot is sometimes a little muddled, yet as summer ends and winter draws nearer, this is the perfect excuse of a book to fall into.
Whether a lover of mythology, Gaiman, or American culture, reading this novel is an undeniable joy.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
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