On June 19, 2001, the world was first introduced to Neil Gaiman’s colorful cast of unforgettable characters in his fantasy road trip novel American Gods. Our story begins when Shadow Moon is released from a stint in prison to find that his beloved wife Laura has died in a car accident with her secret lover. Shocked and miserable, Shadow doesn’t quite know what to do with himself until he meets a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday who offers him a job as a bodyguard. Shadow agrees simply because he has nothing else in his life and soon becomes embroiled in a mystery equal parts magical and terrifying.
The basic premise behind American Gods is that whenever someone immigrates to America, they bring their various gods with them. These gods include well known deities like Loki, Bilquis, and Anubis. Over the years they have reached a tenuous peace among themselves but as America becomes less religious and more tech savvy, a group of shiny new gods emerge with names like Technical Boy, Media, and Mr. World. Fearing that they will soon be obsolete, the old gods must band together to fight this new threat though some will take more convincing than others. Shadow accompanies Mr. Wednesday on a trip across the country as he seeks out the old gods and tries to win them to his cause. When his dead wife appears to be less dead than she initially appeared, things only get more complicated for poor Shadow. The book won both the Hugo and the Nebula award in 2002 and received primarily rave reviews.
Gaiman followed American Gods up five years later with a sequel called Anansi Boys which tells the story of “Mr. Nancy”, an incarnation of the West African spider god Anansi who Gaiman first introduced in American Gods. A few of the characters also appear in a novella in Gaiman’s “The Monarch of the Glen” from Legends II: Shadows, Gods, and Demons and in short story form in “Black Dog” from Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances.
In 2017 American Gods got a stylish new show on Starz from creator Bryan Fuller who took Gaiman’s work and updated it for the modern day. Despite beautiful visuals and a talented cast, the show never achieved the narrative prowess of its source material but it is an enjoyable watch just the same. The third season is set to air sometime this year.
Gaiman’s novel is a thoughtful examination of American belief and obsession which also manages to be both beautifully written and a whole heaping lot of fun. It is still a surprisingly accurate representation of Americans and their addiction to technology, with fewer dated elements than one might expect given how fast technology has progressed in the past two decades. I, for one, would like to send Gaiman my heartfelt gratitude for giving the world this gift nineteen years ago today.