The Story’s the Thing: American Gods
Right, so, I was supposed to write the story review for last week, but someplace along the way I got kidnapped by a host of unruly gods and by the time I got away from them, it was Thursday. In other words, I started reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and that was the end of Wednesday…and if you’ve read the book, you’ll know I mean that in more than one way.
If you haven’t read the book, you’ve got a serious treat in store.
A gruff but good-hearted convict called Shadow is released from jail only to discover that the life he thought was waiting for him, isn’t. When he is offered a job by a mysterious stranger called Wednesday, things get strange in a hurry. Shadow finds himself swept up into a world of old gods and ancient mysteries, and ultimately, the heart of America.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love mythology. I’ve been absorbing the stories and myths of cultures all over the world since I was old enough to listen to them. Part of the fun of American Gods for me was meeting old friends again. But these weren’t quite the gods and heroes I’ve had so many adventures with in the past. Certainly they are recognizable, but changed and distorted by their circumstances–made fiercer and more desperate.
And here’s where Gaiman’s brilliance really shows. These aren’t just any gods, these are American Gods. They’ve come here from all over the world, carried in the hearts and minds of the people who came, or were brought, to America over thousands of years. They’ve been transplanted from their own homes, the lands that gave birth to them, the cultures whose beliefs kept them strong and alive. Plot aside, it’s the story of America, and of the people who built it and lost it and made it what it is today.It’s the story of how America became what it is. It tells of the people who have come here from time out of mind, and of what they found, and what they left behind. It isn’t a pretty story, or even a hopeful one, but for all its basis in myth and fantasy, it is a true one. And it is an important one.
As America today argues over immigration rights, it becomes even more important. It reminds us of the strength and courage of those who came, and who still come, to these shores. It reminds us that they brought with them more than the need for jobs and healthcare that we hear about so much; they brought their dreams and their hopes, and yes, even their gods. And it is these that have made us the country we are today, and will continue to shape our present and our future increasingly as the world becomes more connected.
American Gods is a splendid story. The plot and the characters will keep you turning pages until time itself seems irrelevant. But perhaps the real beauty of this story lies in what it has to say about America today. In Gaiman’s fantastic story of old gods vs. new, we see our own arguments mirrored and catch a glimpse of all that we stand to lose by forgetting our past.
All that said, can’t somebody write a story where Loki comes out well?