American Gods & Anansi Boys | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Neil Gaiman's American Gods / Anansi Boys omnibus

Barnes & Noble Edition

Imagine a world where all the gods of mythology are real. It doesn’t matter what mythological system, either—figures from Norse legends like Odin and Loki to African folk-gods like Anansi still roam.

Now imagine that they’re tied to their worshipers. The more devoted worshipers a god has, the stronger that god is. When the last worshiper dies, that deity is extinguished. This is the world that Neil Gaiman explores in his two novels, American Gods and the spin-off Anansi Boys.

Before I get into the novels, I should offer a brief note about the edition I’m reading from. In 2011, Barnes and Noble reprinted a number of important works with exquisite binding. This particular edition is leather-bound with an embossed cover. It even features a ribbon bookmark. After I finished reading the book, I found the spine as straight as the day I brought it home from the bookstore. If you’re interested in reading Gaiman, track down this edition.

Okay, enough gushing over the binding. On to the novels …

American Gods

The cover of Neil Gaiman's American Gods

First Edition Cover

Shadow is a tough prisoner who has spent his jail-time avoiding attention and practicing coin-tricks. As you might expect in a book called American Gods, his life gets caught up with all sorts of deities beginning with Mr. Wednesday. (Read this book if you can’t figured out who he is!)

In Gaiman’s world, when a person immigrates to America, they bring their deities with them. The US is littered with old-world gods from every tradition who fight for position with new upstart American gods like Technical Boy and Media.

The idea behind this story is brilliant—lifted and tweaked (admittedly) from Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories. It provides a fertile landscape for the sort of fantastic mystery story-telling Gaiman excels at. There’s no question why this book is still being reprinted.

Anansi Boys

The cover of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

First Edition Cover

Mr. Nancy, one of the deities from American Gods, is the protagonist of this spin-off novel. Or, to be precise, his “boys” are. Anansi is a West African Trickster god who frequently takes the form of a spider. He has a number of stories associated with his name.

Anansi crossed the ocean in the devotion of slaves on trade ships to Haiti. From there it was a quick jump to America where he found himself a home in Florida.

Since these two novels are published under one cover, it only seems fitting to compare them. Anansi Boys is shorter and nowhere near as epic in scope as American Gods. Don’t misread that as criticism, though. Anansi Boys is a different type of novel with a stronger sense of humor.

There’s a rumour going around that Gaiman is writing a full-fledged sequel to American Gods.  I’ll be the first in line.

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2 Responses to American Gods & Anansi Boys | Neil Gaiman

  1. Pete July 15, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    It has been a while since I read these novels, but I remember that I enjoyed the concept immensely. That, and Gaiman’s writing style, made for a great read.
    I couldn’t help feeling slightly guilty reading a book about other gods portrayed as real – if I tried to justify it saying that the gods are only as real as people’s beliefs, what does that say about “my” God? But I guess any book that makes me think deeply and defend my belief can be beneficial.
    Along the same literary lines, pick up any book by Terry Pratchett (the two actually collaberated on a book or two). His discworld books are a humorous take on everything from religion, politics, education, media and even Death (he likes kittens), all set in a fictional world filled with hilarious characters.
    -Pete

  2. Stephen Barkley July 15, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    Yes, as dangerous as it is to read truth statements from a work of fiction, the underlying philosophy is that all gods are only as real as their worshipers. That’s certainly been a criticism of religion in general.

    I’ve also been reading Jacques Ellul lately. He emphasizes the fact that there is a categorical difference between Religion and Christian Revelation. Religion is humanity’s striving toward God while Christian Revelation is God striving to reach us. According to Ellul’s ideas, American Gods would be a legitimate take on Religion, but Christian Revelation is utterly different.

    I’ve read a few Pratchett books—I do love the satire!

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