by T. Mack
American Gods is a book by Neil Gaiman, first published in 2001. It is also a television series based on the book which aires on the STARZ network. Both iterations tell the story of Shadow Moon, a felon who is released three days early from prison due to a family tragedy. On the way to the funeral, Shadow meets Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job as a chauffeur, valet, and overall manservant. This encounter sets in motion events in Shadow’s life that are amazing, devastating, tragic, and triumphant. It sends him on a journey of discovery, whether he wants to go or not. In the end, Shadow could end up a hero, a martyr, back in jail, or the King of America.
Like all Neil Gaiman books, American Gods is well-written and imaginative. It features an intriguing concept and poses existential questions: What is belief? What is it that we truly believe? And does our belief in something make that thing real? Does belief equal worship? If so, what are the things that we worship in this modern age? What if gods were real? What if it was our belief that made them so? And what if our lack of belief could be their undoing?
These questions and more are explored as a foundation of this story about Shadow Moon. And while all this deep thinking and existentialism lurks beneath the surface of the tale, the reader is entertained by intriguing characters, curious events, and a mystery that we don’t realize we’re trying to solve. It all blends together to create a strange and engaging experience for the reader.
Of course, this could be said of nearly all Gaiman’s work. What makes American Gods stand out from the others is that it has a foundation in myths, legends, and deities that people used to believe in, and possibly still do. It is grounded in the collective experience of our world and tells a history of the people and places that have made America what it is today. American Gods is the story of Shadow, but it’s also the story of hundreds of cultures that came together to create the country we have now. It is the story of millions of immigrants who came to the “new world” to build new lives. With them came their stories, their beliefs, and their legends. Over time, many of those have fallen away, warped beyond recognition or forgotten completely. However, they still have an influence. They are still part of our history, and in a way, part of us. American Gods speaks to this truth and weaves a fantastic tale that sheds a light on things that most people never think about.
American Gods has a large cast of characters that are as thought-provoking as they are entertaining and as funny as they are tragic. Readers can expect to experience an entire spectrum of emotions during the course of this book. However, I very much doubt boredom will be one of them. With this book, Neil Gaiman proves once again that he is a master of the writing craft and one of the greatest story tellers of the current age. Everyone who enjoys reading should read this book. It’s definitely worth your time and attention. It comes with my highest regards.
RATING: 5 SHIELDS!
The TV Show
The STARZ television series is based heavily on the aforementioned book. Some movies and television shows based on source material will veer far from the source. This series has chosen not to do that. Recognizing the genius of the source material, the show has stayed closely aligned with it. The names, characters, and story foundation all remain firmly in place. The feel and integrity of the story are also present. Shadow remains on pretty much the same journey he takes in the book. However, there are changes that may allow the story to go further than the original narrative. By episode four, the show begins to drift slightly in a manner that would allow some characters to be fleshed out and possibly play greater roles in the seasons to come. This is not a bad thing. There are great characters in this story and some of them were dismissed from the book narrative much sooner than I liked. It’s nice to see them stick around longer in the TV show.
The new medium also allows for a new aspect of this tale to be enjoyed. STARZ has made the show a visual spectacle, beautiful and delightful to watch, even when what we are watching is slightly horrific in nature. The show has a dark visual tone and often feels like we are watching a dream, which is a perfect compliment to the story. This is because Shadow is often not certain if what is happening is in waking or dreaming.
Neil Gaiman was heavily involved in the creation of the series and it shows. The series completely honors the feeling of the book, but allows Gaiman to take the story in a slightly new direction and add elements that he was forced to leave out before. There is a mystery that courses through the book that does not make an appearance in Season 1 of the show. However, everything that does show up is so intriguing that I didn’t really mind losing that element of the story.
The show’s casting is brilliant, with incredible performances from nearly every member of the cast. The chemistry between Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane as Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, respectively, is especially delightful. Demore Barnes and Chris Obi are fantastic as Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacqual. Pablo Schreiber and Peter Stormare are hysterical and wonderful as Mad Sweeney and Czernobog. I also find Orlando Jones’s portrayal of Mr. Nancy and Gillian Anderson’s turn as Media particularly wonderful. Kristin Chenoweth is perfectly lovely as Easter, though one does feel a bit cheated that she only appears in a single episode of the first season.
I have nothing negative to say about this show. It is based on a terrific book that is grounded in a wonderful premise and immaculately woven. The creators of the show stayed true to the author’s vision while bringing new story elements that give even fans of the book a feeling of suspense. The series is a visual spectacle and a feast for the senses. I can only give this show my highest recommendation. If you have not yet checked out the first season, now is the perfect time to catch up before the second season begins on Sunday.
RATING: 5 SHIELDS!
Have you read or watched American Gods? Take to the comments and tell me how you feel about it/them. Who is your favorite character? Who do you like least? I’d love to hear from you.