American Gods

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American Gods
American gods.jpg
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Neil Gaiman
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Fantasy novel
Publisher William Morrow, Headline
Publication date
19 June 2001
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 465 pages
Awards Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2002)
ISBN 0-380-97365-0
OCLC 46393953
813/.54 21
LC Class PR6057.A319 A84 2001
Followed by Anansi Boys

American Gods is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning[1] 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 touched upon in the book were previously glimpsed in 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. 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 text is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition released in 2003 by Hill House Publishers. This[which?] version of the text has also been in print 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. Gaiman also did an extensive sold-out book tour celebrating the tenth anniversary and promoting the book in 2011.[3]

There are two audio versions of the book, both 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, including the author's preferred text and 12,000 additional words, released in 2011. The full cast audiobook project also was announced on Neil Gaiman's blog, along with a contest in which participants could submit audio auditions and the winner would get an all expense paid trip to New York City, to record a part for the audio book.[3]

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'. [4]

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

Plot summary[edit]

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 America's obsessions with media, celebrity, technology, and drugs, among other things.

Shadow is a taciturn convict who 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 America 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 House on the Rock, 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. America 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 America: 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 America 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 America 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 who becomes his confidant and who may have mythological connections of her own.
  • Chad Mulligan - A kind-hearted chief of police who befriends Shadow during his stay in the town of Lakeside.

Old Gods:

  • Mr. WednesdayOdin, the Old Norse god of knowledge and wisdom, aspects which he uses to his advantage as a confidence artist. He spends most of the story trying to get other old gods to join him in the inevitable war. The weekday Wednesday means Odin's day.("Wōdan's Day")
  • Czernobog – The Slavic god of darkness, twin brother to Bielebog, 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. JaquelAnubis, 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," perhaps referring to how Irishmen are seen in America: a foul-mouthed, frequent drinker, who is 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.
  • Hinzelmann - Hinzelmann, 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.
  • Bilquis - Queen of Sheba, as mentioned in the Bible. Also, believed to be half-jinn. She plays a prostitute who devours men via her vagina.
  • Mama-Ji - Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and destruction. Reluctant to believe in Wednesday's ideals but becomes an ally.

New Gods:

  • The Technical Boy – New god of computers and the Internet. He is adamant that the new gods should prevail over the old gods. As the personification of the internet, he resembles the stereotype of a fat, arrogant, basement-dwelling internet poster, who dresses like characters from The Matrix because he thinks it makes him look cool. He looks like a teenager with bad acne, because he is young even compared to the other new gods (though he has quickly become one of the most powerful of them). Other characters derisively call him "the fat kid".
  • 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 World, Mister Town, Mister Wood and Mister Stone exist out of America's obsession with black helicopters and the 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". They would prefer not to directly confront the old gods, because they "are pretty much in favor of letting market forces take care of it."


The novel's dedication reads "For absent friends – Kathy Acker and Roger Zelazny and all points in between".[5]

Various real-life towns and tourist attractions, including the House on the Rock (and its "world's largest carousel") and Rock City, are featured through the course of the book. Gaiman states in an introduction that he has obscured the precise location of 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.[6]

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”.[7]

The novel also 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. Similarly, in The Sandman's "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" a cat speaks of a dream in which she is wandering a mountain of bones and being circled by a bird similar in description to the thunderbirds of American Gods. In addition, one chapter features a young girl, described in a way similar to The Sandman's character Delirium. Also, the device of travelling around America to visit old shabby gods was used in the "Brief Lives" storyline, where Dream goes on a roadtrip to visit old shabby gods.

Website tie-in[edit]

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, and as of 2010 Gaiman still regularly adds to the weblog, describing the day-to-day process of being Neil Gaiman[citation needed] and 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.[8]


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,[9] 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.[10]


In July 2014, it was announced that Starz would be developing the series with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green.[11] The series debuted in April 2017.

Related works[edit]

Gaiman's subsequent novel, Anansi Boys, was actually conceived before American Gods and shares a character, Mr. Nancy. It is not a sequel but could possibly be of the same fictional world.

Although Anansi, the spider god of African legend, appears in both American Gods and Anansi Boys, implying a connection, one of Gaiman's signature touches is the use of allusion, both to works by other authors and to mechanics and themes used in his own books. Though some elements from American Gods are mentioned in Anansi Boys (such as Nancy's telling a group of women that he fought in a war), none of the gods of the latter mention the importance of people's belief in them, and only deities of African and Caribbean folktales are seen or mentioned.[original research?]

In an interview with MTV News published on 22 June 2011, Gaiman announced he had plans for a direct sequel to American Gods. He was apparently planning to write a sequel even as he was writing the first book. The sequel is likely to focus more on the New Gods.[12] In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012, he would begin work on what is essentially American Gods 2.[13]

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", written for Gaiman's short story collection Trigger Warning, takes place a year later in Derbyshire's Peak District.[citation needed]

The Terry Pratchett novel Small Gods explores a similar thoughtform origin of deities, while Neil Gaiman says he did not read the novel he explains he had a similar world view to Pratchett due to their same geographic origin and daily phone conversations, he also sought advice from Pratchett on resolving plot elements of American Gods. [14]


  • 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
  • 美国众神 (Simplified Chinese), ISBN 978-753-6459-50-2
  • 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. ^ {{cite web|url= |website= |title= Index|] Archived 9 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 13 June 2009.
  3. ^ a b *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. 
  4. ^ "Is Nothing Sacred?". Archived from the original on 6 September 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2017. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ *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. 
  7. ^ Interview with Neil Gaiman 2005 Archived 21 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ *Gaiman, Neil (28 February 2008). "Kids! Free! Book!". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 29 February 2008. 
  9. ^ "2001 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 5 August 2009. 
  10. ^ 'One Book, One Twitter' launches worldwide book club with Neil Gaiman Archived 2 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian 4 May 2010
  11. ^ Lesley Goldberg (1 July 2014). "Starz, Bryan Fuller Board Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods'". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  12. ^ "Neil Gaiman Reflects On 'American Gods,' 10 Years Later". MTV News. 14 June 2012. 
  13. ^ "Neil Gaiman: Books, Writing, Ideas". The Wheeler Centre. 22 December 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  14. ^

External links[edit]