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American Gods

American Gods
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 480 pages
ISBN ISBN 0-380-97365-0
OCLC 46393953
813/.54 21
LC Class PR6057.A319 A84 2001
Followed by Anansi Boys, "The Monarch of the Glen" (Fragile Things)

American Gods is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning[1] novel by 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 graphic novels.

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, with the "author's preferred text" and including an additional 12,000 words, was published by William Morrow in June 2011. The text is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition that was released by Hill House Publishers in 2003. This 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 a very extensive sold-out book tour celebrating the tenth anniversary and promoting this book in 2011.[3]

There are two audio versions of the book, the first one an unabridged version of the original published edition, read by George Guidall, released in 2001 and a full cast version of the tenth anniversary edition with the author's preferred text including the 12,000 additional words, released in 2011. Both were produced and published by Harper Audio. The full cast audio project also was announced on Neil Gaiman's blog with a contest in which people 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]


  • Plot summary 1
  • Characters 2
  • Influences 3
  • Website tie-in 4
  • Reception 5
  • Adaptation 6
  • Sequel 7
  • Translations 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Plot summary

The central premise of the novel is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them (a form of thoughtform). Immigrants to the United States brought with them spirits and gods. However, the power of these mythological beings has diminished as people's beliefs wane. New gods have arisen, reflecting America's obsessions with media, celebrity, technology, and drugs, among others.

Shadow is a taciturn convict who is released from prison early when his wife, Laura (McCabe) Moon, and best friend die in a car accident, leaving him alone in the world. Bereft, he takes a job as a bodyguard for a mysterious conman called 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 (the name Wednesday is derived from "Odin's –Wōden's – day"), who in his current guise 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 (for example, the Internet, media, and modern means of transport). Shadow meets many gods and magical creatures, including Mr. Nancy (a manifestation of the spider god/trickster figure Anansi), Czernobog (here an elderly East European immigrant), and a leprechaun named Mad Sweeney, who gives Shadow the gift of 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 (utilising a group of shadowy Men in Black (MIB) led by the mysterious Mr. World), but Laura rescues him, killing several MIBs in the process. For his protection, Wednesday hides Shadow, first with a few stray Egyptian gods (Thoth, Anubis, and Bast, here as Mr. Ibis, Mr. Jaquel, and a common brown housecat) who run a funeral parlor in Illinois, and then finally in the sleepy Great Lakes community of Lakeside. Shadow meets many colourful 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. The town's children seem to disappear with unusual frequency. But he cannot investigate further, busily travelling across America with Wednesday, meeting the likes of Johnny Appleseed and the goddess Easter to solicit their help in the brewing conflict. They are pursued all the while by the Men in Black, particularly Mister Town, a jaded MIB who blames Shadow for the death of his friends (actually murdered by Laura).

Finally the New Gods seek to parlay with Wednesday–but in fact they murder him. This act galvanises the other Old Gods into action, and finally they rally behind a common banner to face their enemies in battle. Shadow is bound by his compact 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, obeying orders that she does not fully understand. During the period between life and death, Shadow learns that he is Wednesday's son, conceived as part of the deity's plans. He realises that Odin and Mr. World have been working a "two-man con", and Mr. World is secretly Loki Liesmith, his former cellmate who he knew as "Low Key Lyesmith". 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 caused 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, site of the climactic battle, just after the battle had started but in time to stop it, explaining that both sides had nothing to gain and everything to lose, with Odin and Loki the only winners. America is a "bad place for Gods", Shadow tells them, and recommends they go home and make the best of what they can get. The Gods depart, Odin's ghost fades, and Laura impales Loki on a branch of the World Tree, and finally dies after Shadow takes the magical coin from her.

In the aftermath of the climax, Shadow returns to Lakeside, where he finally stumbles on the town's secret: The missing children are abducted by Hinzelmann, who is in fact a kobold, an ancient Germanic household god. 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. Shadow brings about Hinzelmann's demise, even though he knows this may doom the community.

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." After a short talk, 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, succubus-like, 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; even going back all the way to 14,000 BC and the gods of the very first American immigrants.


  • Shadow Moon – An ex-convict who becomes the reluctant bodyguard and errand boy of Mr. Wednesday, an incarnation of the Old Norse god Odin. It is revealed in the short story The Monarch of the Glen that Shadow is the reincarnation of Baldr, the Norse god of light.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 SweeneyShuibhne, 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 - 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.

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 still 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.
  • 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".[4]

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.[5]

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”.[6]

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 Neil 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 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. The novella, "Monarch of the Glen" (from the Legends II anthology, later collected in Fragile Things), continues Shadow's journeys. This latter anthology also features the characters of Mr. Alice and Mr. Smith, a pair of dubious men who also appeared in a Gaiman short story called "Keepsakes and Treasures", suggesting that this tale is a part of the American Gods universe as well.

The novel also shares a number of themes and images with Gaiman's graphic novel 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

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 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.[7]


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,[8] 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.[9]


In July 2014, it was announced that Starz would be developing the series with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green.[10]


In an interview with MTV News published in 22 June 2011 Gaiman announced he had plans for a direct sequel to American Gods. Gaiman was apparently planning to write a sequel even as he was writing the first book. The second book is likely to focus more on the New Gods.[11] In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012, he would begin work on what is essentially American Gods 2.[12]


  • 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 963-9441-53-8
  • 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
  • 美國眾神 (Chinese), ISBN 978-986-7399-84-7
  • 美国众神 (Chinese), ISBN 978-753-6459-50-2
  • Ο Πόλεμος των Θεών (O Polemos ton Theon/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


  • Gaiman, Neil (1 March 2007). "More Mysteries of the Oracle". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Retrieved 3 January 2007. 
  1. ^ a b c d "2002 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 5 August 2009. 
  2. ^ Official Website of Neil Gaiman's UK Publishers 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. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ *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. 
  6. ^ Interview with Neil Gaiman 2005
  7. ^ *Gaiman, Neil (28 February 2008). "Kids! Free! Book!". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 29 February 2008. 
  8. ^ "2001 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 5 August 2009. 
  9. ^ 'One Book, One Twitter' launches worldwide book club with Neil Gaiman The Guardian 4 May 2010
  10. ^ Lesley Goldberg (1 July 2014). "'"Starz, Bryan Fuller Board Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods. The Hollywood Reporter. 
  11. ^ Neil Gaiman Reflects On 'American Gods,' 10 Years Later MTV News 22 June 2011
  12. ^ "Neil Gaiman – The Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas". The Wheeler Centre. 22 December 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 

External links

  • from the publisher, HarperCollinsAmerican GodsThe first five chapters of
  • only the gods are real, a listing of all the gods and mythical beings featured in American Gods
  • Internet Speculative Fiction Database – Top 100 lists: American Gods ranks second on the 'Balanced' and 'Popular' lists, and third on the 'Critical' list
  • "And the One Book, One Twitter Winner Is ..., Wired, 29 April 2010, John C Abell. part of the "One book, One Twitter (#1b1t)" contest, selection April 2010 "
  • Full-length Commentary on American Gods
  • American Gods Cover Art History – international cover art gallery
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