American Gods

Last updated on 15 August 2017

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.

The book was published in 2001 by Headline in the United Kingdom and by William Morrow in the United States. It gained a positive critical response and won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2002.[1]

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.[2]

In April 2017, Starz began airing a television adaptation of the novel. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green serve as showrunners,[3] and Gaiman is an executive producer.[4]

American gods.jpg
American gods.jpg

Plot summary

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,[5] 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 con man, 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.


  • Shadow Moon – An ex-convict who becomes the reluctant bodyguard and errand boy of Mr. Wednesday.
  • Laura Moon – Shadow Moon's wife who died in a car crash at the beginning of the novel a few days before Shadow is due to be released from prison.
  • Samantha "Sam" Black Crow – A hitchhiking college student Shadow meets during his journey.
  • Chad Mulligan – A kind-hearted chief of police in the town of Lakeside.

Old Gods:

  • Mr. Wednesday – An aspect of Odin, the Old Norse god of knowledge and wisdom.
  • Czernobog – The Slavic god of darkness, twin brother to Belobog, the god of light.
  • The Zorya Sisters – The Zorya Sisters, relatives of Czernobog, are sisters representing the Morning Star (Zorya Utrennyaya), the Evening Star (Zorya Vechernyaya), and the Midnight Star (Zorya Polunochnaya). In Slavic lore, they are servants of Dažbog who guard and watch over the doomsday hound, Simargl, who is chained to the star Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor, the "little bear". If the chain ever breaks, the hound will devour the world.
  • Mr. NancyAnansi, a trickster spider-man from African folklore. He often makes fun of people for their stupidity, a recurring aspect of his personality in his old stories.
  • Mr. IbisThoth, the Ancient Egyptian god of knowledge and writing. He runs a funeral parlor with Mr. Jacquel in Cairo, Illinois. He often writes short biographies of people who brought folkloric beings with them to America.
  • Mr. JacquelAnubis, the Ancient Egyptian god of the dead and mummification. He is an expert at preparing bodies for the wake at funerals.
  • EasterĒostre, the Germanic goddess of the dawn.
  • Mad SweeneySuibhne, a king from an old Irish story. Though not portrayed as such in his story, he calls himself a "Leprechaun," and is foul-mouthed, a frequent drinker, and taller than expected.
  • Whiskey JackWisakedjak, a trickster figure of Algonquian mythology. He lives near a Lakota reservation in the badlands with John Chapman, where he is mistaken for Iktomi, a trickster of their culture.
  • John ChapmanJohnny Appleseed
  • Low-Key LyesmithLoki, the Old Norse god of mischief and trickery.
  • HinzelmannHinzelmann, a kobold who was formerly revered as a tribal god by ancient Germanic tribes. He protects the town of Lakeside, in the guise of an old man, by sacrificing one child each year.
  • BilquisQueen of Sheba, as mentioned in the Bible.
  • Mama-JiKali, the Hindu goddess of time and destruction.

New Gods:

  • The Technical Boy – New god of computers and the Internet.
  • Media – New goddess of television. She appears in the form of Lucy Ricardo from the well-known show "I Love Lucy" and a female news anchor.
  • The Black Hats – Mister Road, Mister Town, Mister Wood and Mister Stone represent beliefs in conspiracy theories taking the form of men in black. They work as spooks for the new gods.
  • The Intangibles – New gods of the modern stock market, the personification of the "Invisible hand of the market".


The novel's dedication reads "For absent friends – Kathy Acker and Roger Zelazny and all points in between".[6]

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.[7]

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”.[8]

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.

Website tie-in

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, 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.[9]


The book won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, Locus,[1] SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards, all for Best Novel, and likewise received nominations for the 2001 BSFA Award,[10] as well as the 2002 World Fantasy,[1] International Horror Guild and Mythopoeic, and British Fantasy[1] 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.[11]

Publishing history

The book was published in 2001 by Headline in the United Kingdom and by William Morrow in the United States.

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.[2] The tenth anniversary edition marks the first time the author's preferred text has been available in wide release outside the UK.[12]

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'.[2]


Starz developed a TV series from the novel with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green.[13] The series debuted in April 2017.

Related works

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.[14]

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. [15]


  • Amerikāņu dievi (Latvian), ISBN 978-9934-0-2282-1
  • Ameerika jumalad (Estonian), ISBN 9985-62-181-6
  • Amerykańscy bogowie (Polish), ISBN 83-89004-10-0
  • Zei Americani (Romanian), ISBN 973-733-070-6
  • אלים אמריקאים (Elim Amerikaim) (Hebrew)
  • American Gods (Italian), ISBN 88-04-52083-3
  • Deuses Americanos (Portuguese), ISBN 85-87193-59-7
  • Američtí bohové (Czech), ISBN 80-85911-98-1
  • Americkí bohovia (Slovak), ISBN 978-80-556-0754-2
  • Unohdetut jumalat ("Forgotten Gods") (Finnish), ISBN 951-1-18055-X
  • Amerikai istenek (Hungarian), ISBN 9786155049705
  • American Gods (Spanish), ISBN 84-8431-627-0
  • Američki Bogovi (Croatian), ISBN 953-220-126-2
  • Ameriški bogovi (Slovenian), ISBN 978-961-274-129-7
  • Aмерички Богови (Serbian), ISBN 86-7436-039-4
  • Американские Боги (Amerikanskie bogi) (Russian), ISBN 5-17-019844-2
  • Amerikos dievai (Lithuanian), ISBN 9986-97-101-2
  • Amerikan Tanrıları (Turkish), ISBN 978-975-10-1904-2
  • American Gods (German), ISBN 3-453-40037-2
  • Amerikanska gudar (Swedish), ISBN 91-37-12227-4
  • Amerikanske guder (Norwegian), ISBN 978-82-93059-50-9
  • Amerikanske guder (Danish), ISBN 978-87-71375-44-2
  • 美國眾神 (Traditional Chinese), ISBN 978-986-7399-84-7, ISBN 9789863593492
  • 美国众神 (Simplified Chinese), ISBN 978-753-6459-50-2, ISBN 978-7-5502-9714-2
  • Ο Πόλεμος των Θεών (O Polemos ton Theon/ The War of the Gods) (Greek)
  • American Gods (French), ISBN 978-2-290-33041-8
  • Американски богове (Bulgarian), ISBN 954-585-519-3
  • 신들의 전쟁 (상), 신들의 전쟁(하) (Korean), ISBN 978-89-6017-268-5, ISBN 978-89-6017-269-2
  • Amerikaanse Goden (Dutch), ISBN 90-245-4261-8, ISBN 978-90-245-4261-1
  • ამერიკელი ღმერთები (Georgian) ISBN 978-9941236631
  • アメリカン・ゴッズ (Japanese), ISBN 978-4047916081, ISBN 978-4047916098
  • Американские боги (Russian), ISBN 978-5170454716, ISBN 978-5971354659


  1. ^ a b c d "2002 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 5 August 2009.
  2. ^ a b c "American Gods: Is Nothing Sacred?". Archived from the original on 9 May 2009. Retrieved on 13 June 2009.
  3. ^ "Neil Gaiman gives verdict on American Gods TV series". The Independent. 2017-03-20. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
  4. ^ Croll, Ben (2017-06-12). "Even Neil Gaiman Was Surprised by the Reaction to ‘American Gods’". Variety. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
  5. ^ "American Gods Summary -". eNotes. Retrieved 2017-06-12.
  6. ^ Dornemann, Rudi; Kelly Everding (Summer 2001). "Dreaming American Gods: an Interview With Neil Gaiman". Rain Taxi Online Edition. Rain Taxi, Inc. Retrieved 28 September 2009.
  7. ^ Gaiman, Neil (25 September 2001). "Neil Gaiman – September 2001". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Archived from the original on 10 December 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2007.
  8. ^ "Interview with Neil Gaiman". 2005. Archived from the original on 21 October 2016.
  9. ^ Gaiman, Neil (28 February 2008). "Kids! Free! Book!". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 29 February 2008.
  10. ^ "2001 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 5 August 2009.
  11. ^ Flood, Alison (4 May 2010). "One Book, One Twitter' launches worldwide book club with Neil Gaiman". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 June 2012.
  12. ^ Gaiman, Neil (5 May 2011). "Neil Gaiman's Journal – May 2011". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Archived from the original on 24 June 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  13. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (1 July 2014). "Starz, Bryan Fuller Board Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  14. ^ Marshall, Rick (22 June 2011). "Neil Gaiman Reflects On 'American Gods,' 10 Years Later". MTV News. Archived from the original on 14 June 2012.
  15. ^ "Neil Gaiman Responds". Slashdot. 3 November 2003.

External links

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