Neil Gaiman is undoubtedly an incredible writer, and his modern fame is a testament to that. However, many people say his writing is something you'll either love or hate- especially in his 2001 novel "American Gods". This was my first Neil Gaiman book and I can say that although it wasn't the most amazing thing I had ever read, it was extremely profound and thought-provoking. In fact, I highly suggest that any twenty-something-year-old read it at least once. I'm not sure if Gaiman wrote it with the intent to speak to so many of the internal conflicts people our age struggle with now, but it certainly ended up doing just that. For me, I found the story and it's subject matter to resonate most with my questions and feelings on religion.
Before I continue, let me go ahead and say that I am not a super religious person, so this isn't some article about how this novel strengthened my bond with God or anything like that. On the contrary, it brought me to a place of personal acceptance with not being all that religious at this point in my life and what it even means to put your faith into things that aren't always entirely there.
"American Gods", put simply, is the story of an ex-convict named Shadow who finds himself working for a strange man named Mr. Wednesday. The book chronicles Shadow's experience working for Wednesday and all of the strange people he meets along the way while preparing for an impending war between the 'old gods', like Wednesday, and the 'new gods'. These 'old gods' are the remnants of a budding America, built from the ground up by various immigrants over hundreds of years who brought these gods with them. But now, America has changed. There are new gods- the gods of the internet, trains, planes, and automobiles. Both sides believe there is no place for the other and Shadow has now found himself caught up in a relentless conflict between the two for the power, worship, and devotion that fuels their existence.
Beyond the obvious fantastical aspects of the story, the meaning behind what it means to be a god and what it takes to make one is what really captivated me. Although there is an obvious difference between the new and old gods, it is the underlying similarity that both are only constructs of human belief and faith really interested me. It is emphasized many times throughout how the gods are only able to subsist on the power our minds give to them. Without us, what purpose is there for them to the exist? How does the concept of Jesus continue if not only because people choose to keep worshiping and believing in the idea of him? Is it really any different than our belief and devotion to the internet that we all so heavily rely on now? We give hours of our time and our minds to both. These are the types of questions the novel begged me to ask as I'm sure it did for many others.
In the context of my life, these questions really made me think about what it is I believe and find faith in. I stopped praying and fearing God a long time ago, and these theories from "American Gods" make it seem almost sensible for me to have done so. What point is there in giving time to an idea if it is one that is really only powered by us, the people? There are many answers to that question. Religion is what people find purpose and comfort in, and I agree with that. I still find myself believing in a higher power of some sort because the thought of being utterly alone scares me. However, how real can religion and the gods we conjure to lead it be if we are the ones who put them into existence and that position of power in the first place? Yes, deities like Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus were real people at some point, but what proof do we have to worship them and what they have all supposedly done besides the fact that we simply continue to believe it happened? They only have power because people choose to give it to them.
In conclusion, Gaiman's novel helped me feel empowered. It gave me a greater feeling of solace in acting as an independent being. It made me realize that the amount of control we have over our lives is really dependent on how much we decide to believe is in the hands of other people or things.
TL;DR- read "American Gods" because it will make you think a lot about life.