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War is Coming: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

On April 30th 2017, the world was graced by the premiere of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed novel, American Gods. Originally written between 1999 and 2001, Neil set out to write a novel that “was big and odd and meandering,” he says in his introduction to the uncut edition. He certainly succeeded in that judging by the book’s accolades, winning itself the Nebula award, the Hugo, the Bram Stoker award, and the Locus award, covering science fiction, horror, and fantasy. It would seem Neil succeeded so valiantly in his vision for the novel, nobody could decide which genre to slot it into, instead accepting it into all. Anyone who has read the book will understand this completely.

I first read the book sitting primarily by a pool in Cuba on my honeymoon in the summer of 2017. I had seen some of the hype on the internet surrounding the show and, having known of Neil through other writers I am a fan of, I decided that sitting by a pool for 10 days was probably the ideal opportunity to give him a go. I could not have been less disappointed, devouring all 640 pages plus the bonus novella The Monarch of the Glen, way before I had to get back on the plane and head home. I enjoyed it so much that I consider American Gods to be one of my absolute favourite novels of all time. It goes without saying then, that I couldn’t wait to get home and sink my teeth into the Starz TV version, which i was yet to watch.

I remember watching all eight episodes over two days, having to rewatch at least one of them after drifting off in a jet lagged delirium. The story, in a nutshell, is about a journey. The journey of a mortal man, Shadow Moon, and an ancient god, Mr. Wednesday, otherwise known as Odin. War is brewing between the old gods and the so-called “new gods,” brought into being through modern society’s belief in such marvels as technology, social media, and the press. Wednesday employs Shadow, who is fresh out of prison, to be his personal chauffeur as he races across America, rallying up the old gods as they prepare to fight for their very existence.

Mr. Wednesday and Shadow

The first thing that struck me was the style of the show. Neil is renowned for first becoming a household name for his graphic novel The Sandman, and somehow, the show seemed to have some kind of gritty comic edge to it. It was dark, it was brutally violent, and some of the characters felt like they had that over-exaggerated comic book personality about them. Mad Sweeney jumps to mind here. The art direction is absolutely superb and so different from anything else I had seen before, completely befitting of Neil’s style. Hardly surprising that the show was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding main title design and outstanding special visual effects.

Some of the things I really enjoyed about the first season were the show’s determination to stay faithful to the source material as well as not being afraid to drift from it a little. One thing that pops into my mind here is the interludes scattered throughout the show where Mr. Ibis, one of the old gods, recounts the tales of how some of the Gods came in to being through the history of man and the United States. These passages are littered throughout the prose between chapters, serving as small respites with snippets of backstory and it was incredibly pleasing to see the show utilising them in the same way.

The show is pegged as an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel but after eight episodes, we are only really about a fifth of the way through the journey according to the book. Two of the things the series expands massively on are the stories of Mad Sweeney the leprechaun and Shadow’s late wife, Laura. In the novel, Sweeney is criminally under-utilised for such a hilarious character, and thankfully, in the series, the writers deemed it necessary to bulk out his story a little bit and make him more of a pivotal character, tying him in with Laura Moon, who appears very sparingly in the novel. This duo makes for some fantastically hilarious and touching television, which, in terms of the book is a huge step sideways, playing on material that never actually existed, but somehow feeling like it could very easily have been a deleted set of pages forever lost in the depths of Neil’s writing room. The fact that Neil serves as executive producer probably played a big part in this new material playing out so well in relation to the established story, and I’m very happy that he has stayed so close to the show for the new season.

Neil Gaiman

Talking of the new season, I think there is a lot to be excited about here too. The trailer suggests that the story should leave off pretty much where it ended with, Shadow and Wednesday finding their way to the House on the Rock, whereby the war between the old gods and the new really starts to pick up pace.

From the trailer for season 2, it looks to me as if the writers have included new passages showing us more of some of our favourite gods, outside of what we see in the novel. The backstory of Wednesday and the goings-on of others such as Salim and the Jinn alongside the main story line look to flesh out the story in a big way and help us delve much deeper into the journey.

The show itself went through some big challenges in its transition between seasons. It has been two years since the first season premiered despite the show being renewed for a second season less than a month after it first aired. In November 2017, Fuller and Green departed the show on bad terms after a nasty disagreement over the budget, having already written most of the scripts for the show’s upcoming season—unfortunately taking Gillian Anderson, who plays one of the new gods, Media, with them.

Most of the old cast is returning, thankfully, with only a couple of changes to existing characters. Big hitters and main characters such as Shadow, Wednesday, Ibis, Technical boy, Mr. world, Mad Sweeney, and the fantastic Czernobog are all reprising their roles amongst so many others, as well as Gaiman serving again as exec producer.

It been a long two years since we got our first steps on the journey planted into the rolling blacktop of America’s back roads, but at the same time it doesn’t feel that long at all. Sure we are going to see some new faces and maybe the style will change a little owing to the show being run in new hands, but the story behind it is never going to change, and neither are the characters. Jesse Alexander was hired not long after the departure of Fuller and Green and ran the show throughout 2018 before departing himself. Jesse was by no means an amateur though, and I’m sure his work on the show has been great, having credits such as LOST and Hannibal under his belt, I’m sure he did a stellar job of writing and steering the ship in his brief time at the wheel. Things did look bleak for a time though; with no show runner and unfinished scripts, the show was in quite a state. It’s somewhat of a miracle in fact that the show has been completed so soon.

Cast of American Gods, with Neil Gaiman

If there’s one thing I have taken away from social media over the past two years though is that, despite the show only having a single season and after being put through so much turmoil, the remaining cast and crew seem to have already formed their own little family unit. The relationship between them all fills me with big hopes and a big heart for the new season, which hits our screens in just a few short days (March 10). I for one, despite all the hiccups and potholes in the road, can’t wait to jump into Betty’s back seat and burn some rubber with Shadow and Wednesday this coming Sunday!

 


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Written by Ben Locke

Ben is a staff writer here at 25YL and a huge Stephen King fan. Ben is also a fiction writer, writing Thrillers, Fantasy and Westerns and has been featured on whowritesshortshorts.com.
Ben lives in Yorkshire, England with his wife and their 3 cats.

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