Saturday, June 7, 2014
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
If you like: Odin * war * road trips
American Gods is the tale of a battle between the old gods and new who reside in North America. Gods can take many forms and exist in the places where they are a carried in the hearts and minds of their worshipers. They arrived with each new group that inhabited America. Over time, they are forgotten and their strength wanes. In their place are the new gods of the things we worship: media, technology, and their kind. In the battle for the devotion of people, the two sides begin to believe there is no room for all to survive. Rather than gain followers themselves, they prepare for an epic battle that will decide which generation of gods will retain a position of power.
Shadow is recruited to the service of one god, Wednesday, who has placed himself at the center of the battle. Wednesday believes the old gods must rally together in order to create a force powerful enough to destroy the new gods. He hires Shadow to provide muscle for difficult jobs. Over time, Shadow begins to realize that Wednesday intends for him to play a much greater role. Having spent time in prison, Shadow knows how to survive in a world full of powerful, aggressive people who are used to getting their own way. Rather than get caught up in the magic of working with gods, he aims to keep his head down and get the job done. At heart, he never intended to do more than fulfill the agreement he made when Wednesday hired him. He cannot just let things lie, though, or walk away when there are signs of trouble. Rather than just complete his task, he begins to unravel the secrets behind the beginnings of the war, and how it will truly end. Slowly he acknowledges the role he must play in the end of the altercation and what he must do in order to save the people he has come to call friends.
Obligation and truth are the heart of American Gods. The gods have come to America out of the obligation to arrive where people worship them. All it takes is one person to bring them to a new place, but when that person is gone they are powerless and stranded. The gods have no affiliation with truth, however, and many are willing to use any trick in order to feed off the power of their worshipers. Benevolent or malicious, it does not matter. In the end each god seeks those who will worship and restore them to the height of their power. Now that the new gods have had a taste of this, they have powerful desires to obtain it all for themselves. This is where Shadow plays a far more intricate part in maintaining the world’s balance than he ever expected. A powerful individual with ties to one side or another could shift the tides in a their direction. Each person he meets can see his physical prowess, and see that Shadow has a power all his own, though he is no god. Walking the line between making friends that will help him understand this previously unknown world, and not being taken advantage of is difficult for Shadow at times. He is the type of man who keeps his word. He gets the job done without complaint and and does not compromise his objectives. Once he has given his word, each individual can have faith that what Shadow has agreed to will be done. This makes him a precious commodity in a world where what is desired is taken, and the pure gain from this has only furthered the cycle. It would be very easy for a lesser man than Shadow to be sucked in by the draw of the power around him, especially because Wednesday holds significant power, and influences many powerful friends. Instead, Shadow withdraws from the life and only seeks to keep everyone safe while trying to avoid the end of the world with protection from the gods. In the end, it is Shadow’s steadfast nature that leads him down the correct path. He never compromises his promises, and he seeks to do right by everyone he can.
If you do not know which god you pray to, read American Gods.
Gaiman, Neil. American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition. William Morrow, 2011. Kindle Edition.