American Gods (2001) is a novel by English author Neil Gaiman. The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on the mysterious and taciturn Shadow. Several of the themes were previously alluded to in his The Sandman comic book series.
A special tenth anniversary edition, which includes the "author's preferred text" and 12,000 additional words, was published in June 2011 by William Morrow. Two audio versions of the book were produced and published by Harper Audio: an unabridged version of the original published edition, read by George Guidall, released in 2001; and a full cast audiobook version of the tenth anniversary edition, released in 2011. In March 2017, The Folio Society published a special collector's edition of American Gods, with many corrections to the author's preferred text version.
The central premise of the novel is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them (a type of thoughtform). Immigrants to the United States brought with them spirits and gods. The power of these mythological beings has diminished as people's beliefs waned. New gods have arisen, reflecting the American obsessions with media, celebrity, technology, and drugs, among other things.
Shadow, a taciturn convict reaching the end of a three-year prison sentence, is released from prison early when his wife, Laura (McCabe) Moon, and best friend Robbie Burton die in a car accident, leaving him alone in the world. Bereaved, he takes a job as a bodyguard for a mysterious conman, Mr. Wednesday, who seems to know more about Shadow's life than he lets on. Shadow and Wednesday travel across America visiting Wednesday's unusual colleagues and acquaintances until Shadow learns that Wednesday is in fact an incarnation of Odin the All-Father. Wednesday is recruiting American manifestations of the Old Gods of ancient mythology, whose powers have waned as their believers have decreased in number, to participate in an epic battle against the New American Gods - manifestations of modern life and technology, such as the Internet, media, and modern means of transport. Shadow meets many gods and magical creatures, including Mr. Nancy (Anansi), Czernobog, and a leprechaun named Mad Sweeney who gives Shadow a magical gold coin. Shadow tosses the coin into his wife's grave, inadvertently bringing her back from the dead as a semi-living revenant.
Shadow and Wednesday try to rally the Old Gods to fight the new, but most are reluctant to get involved. The New Gods abduct Shadow (utilizing a group of shadowy Men in Black led by the mysterious Mr. World), but Laura rescues him, killing several Men in Black in the process. Wednesday hides Shadow first with a few stray Egyptian gods (Thoth, Anubis, and Bast, here as Mr. Ibis, Mr. Jacquel, and a common brown housecat) who run a funeral parlor in Illinois, and then in the sleepy Great Lakes community of Lakeside. Shadow meets many colorful locals in Lakeside including Hinzelmann, an old-timer who spins tall tales, and Chad Mulligan, the workaday local chief of police. Lakeside is tranquil and idyllic but Shadow suspects something is not quite right about the town. While neighbouring communities turn into ghost towns, Lakeside is mysteriously resilient. Disappearances of children occur with unusual frequency. Shadow is unable to investigate further, busily traveling across the US with Wednesday, meeting the likes of Johnny Appleseed and the goddess Easter to solicit their help. They are pursued all the while by the Men in Black, particularly Mr. Town, who blames Shadow for the death of his friends.
Finally the New Gods seek to parley with Wednesday, but they murder him at the meeting. This act galvanizes the other Old Gods into action and they rally behind a common banner to face their enemies in battle. Shadow is bound by his contract with Wednesday to hold his vigil by re-enacting Odin's time hanging from a "World Tree" while pierced by a spear. Shadow dies and visits the land of the dead, where he is guided by Thoth and judged by Anubis. Easter later brings him back to life. During his time between life and death, Shadow learns that he is Wednesday's son, conceived as part of the deity's plans. He realizes Mr. World is secretly Low-key (Loki) Lyesmith and that Odin and Loki have been working a "two-man con". They orchestrated Shadow's birth, his meeting of Loki in disguise in prison, and Laura's death. As part of the con, Loki had ordered Odin's murder so that the battle between the New and Old Gods would serve as a sacrifice to Odin, restoring his power, while Loki would feed on the chaos of the battle.
Shadow arrives at Rock City, the site of the climactic battle, in time to stop it. He explains that both sides have nothing to gain and everything to lose, with Odin and Loki as the only true winners. The US is a bad place for Gods, Shadow tells them, and he recommends they return home. The Gods depart, Odin's ghost fades, and Laura impales Loki on a branch of the World Tree. She finally dies after Shadow takes the magical coin from her.
Shadow returns to Lakeside, where he finally stumbles on the town's secret. The missing children have been abducted by Hinzelmann, who is a kobold. Hinzelmann blessed and protected the town, making it prosper despite the hardships plaguing the rest of the region, in exchange for the town's unwitting sacrifice of their young. After a confrontation with Shadow, Hinzelmann is killed by Chad Mulligan.
In Iceland, Shadow meets another incarnation of Odin who was created by the belief of the original settlers of Iceland, and is therefore much closer to the Odin of mythology than Wednesday was. Shadow accuses Odin of Wednesday's actions, whereupon Odin replies that "He was me, yes. But I am not him." Shadow gives Odin Wednesday's glass eye, which Odin places in a leather bag as a keepsake. Shadow performs a simple sleight-of-hand coin trick, which delights Odin enough that he asks for a repeat performance. Shadow then performs a small bit of real magic, pulling a golden coin from nowhere. He flips it into the air and, without waiting to see if it ever lands, walks down the hill, away from the god and out into the world.
The book also features many subplots and cutaway scenes detailing the adventures of various mythical beings in the US: The Queen of Sheba works as a prostitute, staying young and powerful by preying on the men she sleeps with; a salesman from Oman meets a cab-driving Ifrit; the first Viking explorers to come to the US bring their gods, including Odin, with them; a Cornish woman turns fugitive in the new world, inadvertently populating it with the pixies and fairies of her native country; slaves from Africa populate the Caribbean Islands and the US with their tribal gods; and in 14,000 BC the gods of the very first American immigrants are born.
Various real-life towns and tourist attractions, including the House on the Rock (and its "world's largest carousel") and Rock City, are featured in the book. Gaiman says in an introduction that he has obscured some actual locales.
According to Gaiman, American Gods is not based on Diana Wynne Jones's Eight Days of Luke, "although they bear an odd relationship, like second cousins once removed or something". When working on the structure of a story linking gods and days of the week, he realised that this idea had already been used in Eight Days of Luke. He abandoned the story, but later used the idea when writing American Gods to depict Wednesday and Shadow meeting on the god's namesake day.
About John James's novel Votan, Gaiman stated: “I think probably the best book ever done about the Norse was a book that I couldn’t allow myself to read between coming up with the idea of American Gods and finishing it. After it was published I actually sat down and allowed myself to read it for the first time in 15 years and discovered it was just as good as I thought it was”.
The novel shares a number of themes and images with Gaiman's comic book series The Sandman. For instance, in American Gods Shadow dreams of thunderbirds and a mountain of bones. This is similar to The Sandman's "A Dream of a Thousand Cats", in which a cat tells of a dream in which she is wandering a mountain of bones and being circled by a bird. In addition, one chapter features a young girl, described in a way similar to The Sandman's character Delirium. Also, the device of traveling around America to visit old gods was used in the "Brief Lives" storyline.
While Gaiman was writing American Gods, his publishers set up a promotional web site featuring a weblog in which Gaiman described the day-to-day process of writing, revising, publishing, and promoting the novel. After the novel was published, the web site evolved into a more general Official Neil Gaiman Web Site. as of 2010[update] Gaiman regularly adds to the weblog, describing his daily life and the writing, revising, publishing, or promoting his current project.
On 28 February 2008, Gaiman announced on his journal that for one month, the complete text of American Gods would be available to the public on his publisher's website.
The book won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, Locus, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards, all for Best Novel, and likewise received nominations for the 2001 BSFA Award, as well as the 2002 World Fantasy, International Horror Guild and Mythopoeic, and British Fantasy awards. It won the 2003 Geffen Award.
In May 2010, American Gods was selected in an online poll to be the first "One Book One Twitter" book.
A special tenth anniversary edition, which includes the "author's preferred text" and 12,000 additional words, was published in June 2011 by William Morrow. The tenth anniversary text is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition released in 2003 by Hill House Publishers, and to the edition from Headline, Gaiman's publisher in the UK since 2005. The tenth anniversary edition marks the first time the author's preferred text has been available in wide release outside the UK.
Two audio versions of the book were produced and published by Harper Audio: an unabridged version of the original published edition, read by George Guidall, was released in 2001. A full cast audiobook version of the tenth anniversary edition, including the author's preferred text and 12,000 additional words, released in 2011.
In March 2017, The Folio Society published a special collector's edition of American Gods, with many corrections to the author's preferred text version. Gaiman described it as 'the cleanest text there has ever been'.
Gaiman's subsequent novel, Anansi Boys, was conceived before American Gods and shares a character, Mr. Nancy. It is not a sequel but appears to relate to the same fictional world. Anansi, the spider god of African legend, appears in both American Gods and Anansi Boys, implying a connection. Gaiman regularly alludes to works by other authors and to mechanics and themes in his own books. The characters and themes are not necessarily being used for the same ends.
In an interview with MTV News published on 22 June 2011, Gaiman said that he had plans for a direct sequel to American Gods. He had plans for a sequel even while writing the first book. He said he is likely to focus on New Gods in the sequel.
In addition to the planned sequel, Gaiman has written two short-story sequels featuring Shadow Moon. "The Monarch of the Glen", first published in Legends II, takes place in Scotland, two years after American Gods. The second short story, "Black Dog", was collected in Gaiman's Trigger Warning. It takes place a year later in Derbyshire's Peak District.
The Terry Pratchett novel Small Gods explores a similar origin of deities. While Gaiman says that he did not read Pratchett's work, he thought they shared a world view to Pratchett due to their same geographic origins and, more importantly, daily phone conversations. He had also sought advice from Pratchett on resolving plot elements of American Gods. 
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