One of Neil Gaiman’s best-known pieces of fiction, a topic of fascination and discussion for his sizeable fanbase, is the novel American Gods. It’s a high-concept doorstopper of a book, with both a universe-shattering frame story, and a series of thematically similar but otherwise unconnected vignettes. The frame story follows protagonist Shadow Moon as he accompanies the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (a barely disguised Odin from Norse tradition) as he rallies other half-forgotten deities from various mythologies and cultures. The focal antagonists are new “gods” based in the worlds of modern technology, like television and the Internet, and all are hard at work trying to capture Shadow to get him to fight for their side. The vignette stories mostly show us who the other gods are in this fictional universe, to flesh out the mythology and show us how these ancient beings might navigate a modern setting.
The reason American Gods is getting a fresh wave of attention recently is because of the television adaptation currently airing on Starz. The series is helmed by the visionary producer/director team of Bryan Fuller and David Slade. The pair previously worked together on NBC’s Hannibal–probably my favorite TV series of the past ten years. The result is highly stylized, dreamlike, and brutal, much like the source material. Only a few episodes in, the creators manage to build a vivid universe that’s as true to the page as it possibly could be, which is mind-blowing if you’ve read the book and understand how asburdly difficult some of the scenes must have been to film. The episodic nature of the book lends itself well to a serialized format, and makes it easy to separate the main plot from the vignette stories.
If you’re curious about where this story came from, or want to delve a little deeper into the backgrounds and origins behind the characters in the show, check out the book–and its sequel, Anansi Boys, which focuses on my favorite character, Mr. Nancy–here at the Chesapeake Public Library.