I’ve mentioned my fancy for folklore before, how there is much to be learned about a culture from the old stories they tell. This book pandered directly to that fancy. Seriously, I knew most of the gods who appeared as characters in this as well as their tales, so I could enjoy it all the better.
There have been many books written about America and the immigrant experience and this is another one of them, but seen through a whole new lens. It takes the concepts of immigration, of incarnations, the definition of faith, and how stories technically only ever exist so long as they are told. Stop telling a story, give it time, and it will be forgotten. They will have existed in a time long past, but no more in the present, where there is no one to remember that they are real.
And thus are the gods who came to America.
In the central premise of this, gods and creatures of myth and legend exist because people believe in them. It goes past the human question of whether god is real or if gods are just stories we tell ourselves, and goes to the idea that they exist because they are stories we tell and entities we invoke for luck or blessing or whatever we invoke the gods for. So long as people believe in them and worship them, they exist. Gods can die in the same way that stories can. In this book (and in the current TV series, in which I am only up to episode 7), when people immigrated to America, they brought their gods with them and as the years passed and people changed and acclimated to the world around them, the power of these old gods began to diminish as the prayers to them waned. In their place, new gods have sprung up based on American obsessions, including media, technology, celebrities, etc.
It begins when an ex-convict, Shadow Moon, is released three days early from prison on news that his wife and best friend died in a car crash. Left with nothing in the world, he falls into the service of a Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious smooth-talking conman, who seems to know more than he ever lets on. Shadow and Wednesday travel across America, visiting the latter’s strange colleagues and associates, until Shadow learns that his employer is an incarnation of Odin the All-Father, the Norse god of the gallows, and that he is doing more than just visiting old friends. He is recruiting them for a war, one last stand where the Old Gods will battle the New Gods, and re-establish their place in the hearts of the people who were forgetting them.
The show has taken a bit of a departure from the books and has fleshed out some characters, added new storylines and the like. It has its pros and cons. I like what they’re doing with the prologues for each episode, going into the cutaway scenes that Gaiman inserted in sections of the book. Like the first Vikings who came to America, that amazing scene on the slave ship with Anansi, Anubis and his scales, the forgotten tale of Nunyunnini, and the tale of Essie McGowan and the leprechaun, which extended through a whole episode. Ian McShane is an excellent Mr. Wednesday. Gillian Anderson is a triumph. I wasn’t sure about Mad Sweeney, but he’s growing on me.
However, I am in two minds about Laura Moon. I’m not fond of Ricky Whittle’s Shadow, though in his defense, book Shadow had so much of himself going on in his head that I’m surprised they were able to translate him to screen at all. People swear wayyy too much. I mean, I’m okay with swearing, but after at least five hundred times, it starts to sounds meaningless. Also, that’s not how blood works. That’s really not how blood works.
I recommend this book to everyone and I’m going to keep an eye on the series, see how it goes. I do hope they bring in Samantha Black Crow sometime. She was a delight.
A few fun facts:
- I do not like the title font. Don’t get me started on the title font. Ignore the title font.
- The characters in the center are Shadow (I went with Ricky’s Shadow for simplicity’s sake), with Laura Moon (his undead wife as I imagined her in the book, not Emily Browning) on the right, and Low-Key Lyesmith (as he is described in the book) on the left.
- The left side has the New Gods. Left to right are Media (in her Lucy Ricardo form), Technical Boy (as described in the book, not the skinny punk with the attitude problem), and three of the Black Hats, presumably Mr. Town, Mr. Wood, and Mr. Road.
- The right side has the Old Gods. On the extreme right is Mr. Wednesday (with Huginn and Muninn). In front of him from down up are Anansi (an African trickster god in the form of a spider), Czernobog with his hammer (Slavic god of night and darkness), Eostre (or Easter, Germanic goddess of the dawn), Kali (Hindu Tantric mother goddess), and Anubis (Ancient Egyptian god of the dead and mummification). There are a looooot of other gods in this, but I couldn’t possibly have fit them all. Detailing all of these in itself kinda killed my hands.
- Oh, and those three stars on the side of the Old Gods? Props to whoever figured out that they’re the Zorya sisters.