Trailer Tuesdays: American Gods

I must say that, after reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I found that I didn’t totally love it. It didn’t leave me as bursting with excitement about the upcoming TV adaptation as I had hoped. However, I decided to check out the trailer anyway, and it actually got me pretty pumped for the show!

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American Gods Review: A Fascinating Glimpse at Gods Walking the Earth

american-gods-coverI’m not generally a fan of horror, and while Neil Gaiman perhaps isn’t specifically writing horror, his fantastical worlds are often quite scary. However, I love literary explorations of mythology, faith, life, and death, and most of his writing, from The Sandman to The Graveyard Book, deals with these themes in one way or another. As such, I’ve been meaning to read American Gods for a rather long time. With the TV adaptation of this book fast approaching, I finally picked it up. Gaiman succeeds, as always, at setting the perfect atmosphere and at creating mysterious characters. However, although I love the exploration of mythological and religious themes, there are also a couple of things that prevented me from completely falling in love with this book. I will delve into all of it below.

Spoilers for American Gods (the author’s preferred text version) to follow.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Faith-Fueled Gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Sandman

Most religious people believe in a god or gods that exist independently of humans, and that do not need anything in particular from humans in order to keep on existing. Some people believe their god or gods predate the existence of sentient life, or even of the universe itself. Neil Gaiman likes to play around with this idea of belief in deities. In particular, in his comic series The Sandman and in his book American Gods, he posits a surprising (to people of faith) scenario: what if gods exist only because people believe in them?

This has some fascinating implications for human (and, in Sandman, other sentient being) agency. It essentially grants superhuman strength to human belief, empowering us to control our own destinies. On the other hand, this premise also opens a whole bunch of cans of worms. It directly contradicts many faiths’ theology and causes issues with causality. Perhaps most chillingly, however, it introduces a degree of moral relativism that could (and in the stories, does) lead to unjust consequences.

Mild spoilers for the Sandman series and American Gods below.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Old Gods and the New

Historically speaking, humans have had a real knack for identifying superficial differences in people and separating them into categories based on those differences. This system is a very effective means of discrimination, because once it is clear that two groups are different, it becomes easier to make arguments (ridiculous though they may be) about which group is superior. Differences in religious belief have caused some of the more dramatic incidents of division and discrimination throughout the course of civilization—I’m looking at you, Crusades—but separating religions themselves into categories can have more subtle and long-term effects on culture.

Gettin' real homogenous up in here.

Gettin’ real homogenous up in here.

With each new generation of believers, there is a slow evolution of “old” and “new” beliefs. Once-thriving religions, especially Pagan religions, are now either shunned into the realm of mythology or considered to be hokey counter-culture territory. This is a distinction we see mimicked in fantasy worlds. Even in alternate universes or histories where magic is plainly observable and actual deities occasionally turn up in unquestionable physical form, there is often a distinction between the “old” and “new” religion, and with that distinction comes a division of people: those who follow the old gods, and those who follow the new. This distinction typically comes with some indication of which religion is supposedly superior: in some narratives the old gods are benevolent and powerful, and the new gods are forcing them out of their rightful dominion, and in others the old gods are wicked and archaic, and the new religion eclipsing them changes the world for the better. Continue reading

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

oceanI love Neil Gaiman. I am a big fan of his novels, short stories, comic books, movie and television contributions, and his writing in general. His contribution to nerd/geek culture (you know Who), not to mention the fantasy genre in literature, can hardly be matched. My second favorite book out of the hundreds I’ve read in my lifetime is currently American Gods (a book I have reviewed here). I simply adore the man and would pay to read his grocery list if it became available for Kindle.


You are all within my power.

That being said, I’m not quite sure what to say about Gaiman’s latest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The plot of the novel seems simple enough; it’s about a young, ordinary boy put in extraordinary circumstances. However there are so many layers and complex themes it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly the story is trying to convey. Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Trickster: Loki in Pop Culture

Are you humming the Avengers theme music now? Because I am.

I’m pretty sure the Avengers is still in theaters, and if you haven’t seen it already get your ass there or we can’t be friends anymore.

…You’re back. Did you enjoy it? Damn straight you did. Now you may have noticed the guy in the silly hat and the green and gold armor that did all that bad stuff.  Loki has gone from a figure in Norse mythology to a full-on badass villain in the Marvelverse, but you can see him or variations of his trickter god character elsewhere too. Spoilers for both American Gods and Supernatural below.

American Gods:

The Loki of this story bears little resemblance to the Marvel villain, at least as far as daddy issues are concerned. In this book by Neil Gaiman, the characters Low-Key Lyesmith and Mr. Wednesday (secretly Loki Liesmith and Odin) cook up an elaborate, decades-spanning scheme to sacrifice the gods of the new world (media, the Internet, etc.) and the gods of the old world (Anansi, Bast, Ganesh) at once to restore themselves to the power they once knew.


When does Supernatural not feature in an OMPCJ discussion? It’s just so rife with unpackable religious imagery! Anyway, the main trickster in Supernatural turns out to be not Loki, but (spoilers for S5) Gabriel, but he plays the trickster game up until (and a little bit after) the big reveal; even the other non-Judeo-Christian gods who appear in season five’s “Hammer of the Gods” believe him to be Loki, inviting him to their anti-Apocalypse pow-wow and referring to him with the Norse god’s name.

Where else do the trickster gods lurk? I was tempted to include the kooky-sounding anime Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok but having not actually watched it I feared doing it injustice. Let me know in the comments, and as always, tune in next time to get some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Pantheon: Gods Alive!

Many stories circle around one particular religion or mythology. However, I think it can be equally interesting when a book or show addresses multiple mythologies simultaneously—when a story posits that all the gods and goddesses from various religions exist and interact. What are the politics like between these groups? The power dynamics? Let’s look at a few examples.

Percy Jackson/The Red Pyramid:

The original Percy Jackson quintet doesn’t touch on any sort of gods outside the Greek pantheon, and on its face, The Kane Chronicles (of which I’ve only read The Red Pyramid) is entirely about Egyptian mythology. However, there was one really interesting moment in The Red Pyramid when the two main kids are hiding out in New York and they look over to Manhattan, seeing thunder and lightning over the Empire State Building (new home of Mt. Olympus in the Jackson books). When they ask their mentor about it, they are told that Manhattan is Greek territory and Egyptian deities don’t go there. This suggests a world where all the pantheons of previous civilizations still exist, are aware of each other, have at some point agreed upon divisions of American territory between themselves, and respect each other’s power. This one throwaway line made me wonder what other pantheons Riordan will eventually delve into—Norse? Aztec? Hindu? I’m excited to see.


Lady Geek Girl touched on the fail of Supernatural where it concerns Hinduism last week, but I’d say that it fails concerning pretty much any non-Christian religion. The idea that the show appears to work from is that the gods of all other traditions, including ancient ‘pagan’ (the name they give to any sort of Druidic or less-well known gods, mostly Anglo-Saxon) traditions, still exist, but their power is derived from their worshippers, and they no longer have as much clout in the modern world because of the rise of Christianity. LGG pointed out that in this mindset, the Hindu and other Asian gods should be much more powerful than they are portrayed, but most deities of non-Christian mythologies, although more powerful than the average ghost or demon, can usually be killed with a fancy stake or bled-upon ram’s horn. Nothing from a non-Christian pantheon can come close to the power of the angels or other Christian powers, and the non-Christian deities are portrayed as having to band together to protect themselves from complete destruction.

American Gods:

American Gods is a wonderful book by Neil Gaiman.  It also works from the idea that gods are only as powerful as the population of their worshippers can make them, but takes this concept in a far different direction from Supernatural. This story posits that the gods of the Old World immigrated to the US like so many other groups in the last two centuries, and have lost much of their power. Now, the old gods are banding together, and they are massing to make war against the New Gods of America—not Jesus or the Judeo-Christian God, but rather powerful personifications of Media, Celebrity, Drugs, and other fascinations of modern culture. The focus of this story is on Norse myth, but many other traditions’ gods are portrayed, in what I think is a realistic way: they all are aware of each other’s powers and are justifiably suspicious of each other, but have grudgingly put aside their differences to defend their place in America.

What stories have I missed? Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comes to mind, but I figured I’d focus on the more topical of Gaiman’s works here. Anyway, let me know in the comments, and, as always, tune in next time to get some religion!