In his book of essays dealing with speculative fiction, The Fantastic Horizon: Essays and Reviews, critic Darrell Schweitzer (also author of The Neil Gaiman Reader) discusses the mythic appeal of American Gods, observing that “…it’s one of those not very common attempts to produce a myth – even a mythic epic – for North America and especially for the United States…It’s about a rootless man with a mysterious past…about…the tarnished remnants of the legendary past working out their differences in the present”. Tellingly, the old “legendary” gods of “Europe and Asia” are afflicted by struggle with the new gods of America: “gods of television, high-tech, commerce, automobiles, etc”. The new and the old, the global and the local, and the tension embodied by the clash of these worldviews forms the core of American Gods. And yet, are myths not, as Schweitzer writes, stories “…which tell the hearers who they are…”? Do they not, in other words, confer identity? Well yes, and that is precisely what Gaiman seeks to do in his novel. In Gaiman’s novel, America is defined by the struggle between new and old, the clash of the Old World and the New. While America is a place of Davy Crocket legends and ideologies of manifest destiny, it is also defined by its commonness; its received banality. Schweitzer observes that “It might be argued that there is something too practical and everyday, too prosaic in the American character for the creation of myth…” And yet Gaiman manages to mythologise America, almost (though not quite) as well as Tolkien mythologises Middle-earth; America’s landscape, its its people and its everyday commonality are all defamiliarised; not only the characters but also the readers are deliberately coerced into experiencing a sense of what Tolkien calls “wonderment”, a renewed sense of vision through which the previously familiar is transformed into something exotic, new and ultimately, enchanting.
This is America: A place of rootlessness, a mixing pot of cultures both old and new, and yet Gaiman fuses them all, producing a story a myth, an identity for America that is both compelling and disturbing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about American Gods, it was certainly a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to all of you out there in the cybersphere!
If anyone is interested in Schweitzer’s interesting book of essays and reviews dealing with fantasy and science fiction, here’s a link to a review on SF site (also linked through this blog): http://www.sfsite.com/05b/fh296.htm