Actually, it’s older from the literary standpoint, yet about the same from the historical. Or whatever, I’m splitting hairs here.
As someone who reads frequently, and whose reading is frequently from the fantasy genre or somewhere thereabouts, I have come to the conclusion that there are places where it is easy to imagine the line between fact and fable may blur. After reading so much of Neil Gaiman’s work, I feel he capitalizes on this very idea. Coraline has a door and a passage, Stardust has a gap in a wall governed by ancient rules, every story in Fragile Things at least hints at the tenuous connection between reality and myth, if they do not mix them outright. I like that a lot. Instead of being immersed in the completely different world of the “high fantasy” novel, where the fantastic is expected and status quo, these stories take the “real world” and BAM! out of left field comes something completely unexpected to shake things up. My head was already swimming with these ideas when I began American Gods. About halfway through the book, I began writing my own story. It is an exercise in creative license and the malleability of myths. Here is the thing: It is set in a place remarkably like one I know and explore every summer, and the story is about the connecting places between this world and the realm of fantasy. I cannot wait to see where it goes. Everything is fair game.
That being said, let me explain the title I chose for this post. The main focus of American Gods is on how humanity has brought gods along with them as ideas as they have traveled, specifically to the North American continent, and subsequently forgot and abandoned them in the United States (mostly) like so much debris. The pantheon that shows up most is that of Norse mythology. After that, it is a name-that-deity of world religions and beliefs throughout time. Gaiman even makes up some myths in the process, to stand in for those truly forgotten by time. Oddly enough, I do not think any of gods of the Greco-Roman pantheons make an appearance. Or they are small players in the grand scheme of the tale, and not worth mentioning here. It is really a great story idea, and the novel is well executed. Shadow, the protagonist, is a bit like his name: wispy, hard to pin down, reacting more than acting on his surroundings until the turning point of the novel, but that is what the story is about in the long run.
Aside from Shadow finding “agency,” I have two specific parts that are my favorites, but I cannot mention the one because it is a spoiler. The other is a point when Shadow gets to be a regular citizen for a little while, in the middle of the book, during a break in the chaos and machinations of his employer, Mr. Wednesday. He is browsing books at a library sale, and he finds something mundane, but historically important, and it turns out to be a key to a great mystery in the town he is currently hiding in. I like that. Rummage sales, library sales, antique and consignment shops are great places to find little treasures, in book form, that sometimes hold the key to great adventures. It is innocuous details like this that make me love American Gods so much as a whole. Gaiman puts little moments into the fabric of the story to make it seems more real, and often they turn out to be pivotal moments.
This is rambling, but these are my thoughts, and it is late at night, and this post is a week late, nearly. Goodnight.
For further reading on the importance of myth in fiction, check out the author’s speech on “Writing and the Imagination.” I will try to find a link to the text, but for now it can be found at the end of the e-book version of Stardust. It explains a lot.
I’ll be back on schedule with my final January post tomorrow afternoon/evening.