Divines Amongst Us: American Gods, and Fantasy Beyond Fantasy

Just this Sunday gone was the season finale of American Gods, and oh boy, did I enjoy that!!

I have noticed, however, that the series is still a bit low-key in the audience markets I am familiar with: the UK and Spain – and actually, from what I hear, it has not really made much of an impact in Europe yet. This has got me wondering and coming back to something I talked to you guys a while back, about modern fantasy and the certain decline we are experiencing these days. I wonder if perhaps American Gods has fallen a bit out of the radar because of that. But of course, here we have another problem to factor in, which is the network that distributes the show: STARZ. STARZ are the fellas that brought us the wonderful Black Sails, and I feel American Gods is having the same distribution issues. We do not get this network here in the UK, so it may become more popular when probably Sky decides to strike a deal for its consumption. Nevertheless, at the moment the only place where you can watch it in the UK is through Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime have been very clever about their deals particularly in what regards high budget TV shows of a geeky content: Vikings, Black Sails, Gotham, Lucifer, etc…So, we are having some of the coolest TV shows one can have these days, but thanks to network shenanigans, some of you folks are, sadly, missing them.

However, please do not let the wait deter you. If you are one of those cool people who are familiar with the book by Neil Gaiman, I do really think you will not be disappointed. Of course, it is not a direct translation –remember that adaptations cannot be such thing; different media, different products, different audiences, different narrative devices and character development. But in any case, this is all super good stuff! The acting is truly superb. The casting of Ian Mcshane as Mr Wednesday was spot on: now that I have seen it, I cannot unseen it, because it is just perfect in so many levels: gravitas, looks, speech, interaction, attitude; just everything. And who was going to tell you guys, that chap who was god knows how many years ago in Hollyoaks (this is a long running UK soap opera not particularly known for being you know, good), was going to make such a brilliant Shadow Moon? Well, there you go! Some of you may have already pondered and read some stuff about Laura and her unapologetic awfulness which has been rather striking and refreshing. But if you are a bit like me, the people you may have enjoyed the most are the “others”. Anansi’s depiction with his jazzy aggro style is supreme, as well as Gillian Anderson’s performance, which has shown how incredibly malleable she is. And of course, who does not enjoy the Slavic god of darkness that talks as if just taken from a field somewhere in the Russian steppes with such a cool, brutal and bleak attitude to life? What I am trying to say is: these are not your ordinary characters. Of course there are archetypes, certainly there are lay motives, but as like many things done by Gaiman, there is always something else, and that is evolution. They demonstrate this greatly with Sweeney, who in my opinion is great. But this is not really what American Gods is about though, is it? Evolution I mean…

Well, I guess it kind of is about the eternal struggle of the ever changing nature of life and the remaking of such concepts. But what this story really is about is the human condition. What makes us human and what makes the divine, and why. It is as much a philosophical thesis as it is a retelling of old tales forgotten to many and brought back to life by the crafty, ingenious ability of dare I say one of the most amazing authors of our times. And this is a very current issue. In a world were technology rules the waves, our interaction with things like the internet, gadgets, Google…Is that worship? Is that faith? Is it something similar? Do we not go to these resources in search for answers? So that we can be better, so that we are more prepared, so that we can salvage the issues of life…So that we can create life or even reach mortality if you are in the trendiest side of robotics and cybernetics…How does believe fit in all of this? And to whom or what will we turn to if it all goes pear shape in a scale imaginable to our little, confused minds? That is essentially what the finale of this season proposes: what ya gonna do when things turn south? Will you then pray? And who will you pray to?…And why? This journey is very easy for the viewer to follow because we have Shadow making it with us – or even for us. Shadow is as confused and bewildered as we are. And he is curious too. But there is one characteristic that Shadow seems to exude and that I believe crucial for all of us to develop: being open minded. What if things are surreal? It doesn’t make them fake, or less possible. By keeping open to these strange possibilities he manages, alongside other characters in the series, to understand who he is, what he is, and what role he has to play in this wide and tangled universe.

So, sorry… did I say American Gods is modern urban fantasy? I mean, yeah, alright; you got me. Of course, in its most basic form, it is. But the thematic and title of this story are already indicating this is not JUST fantasy. It is almost like a revitalised new production of a mythology long distorted and misunderstood by 20th and 21st century society. Moreover, it is also a story about migration; tale of opportunity and chance. Internationalism. Globalism. What else? Only in America you could have the Egyptian gods of death serving side by side to ancient Germanic deities, whilst mysterious Djinns lurk in the margins of society. In a world where orange skinned clowns pretend they can close off their neighbours, stories like this highlight that, in fact, you can’t; because your neighbour and many other peoples from further away are already part of what we are. Furthermore, I’d propose to you, as I have done many times: what is fantasy, but a mystical reinterpretation of a past we have long departed from? Isn’t this just a new version of medievalism/classicism/romanticism, and whatever other isms you want to call it? Isn’t this a reflection on ideology too? Isn’t this just a more universal type of politics? For sure, it is all of the above.

So, if you are willing to get gripped by a deep and complex plot, with amazing dialogue, well performed scenes, and a lot of juice for the brain, stay tuned give it a watch or just go down to your closest bookstore – as the series is out, the book has been rebranded and edited more times than it is probably necessary…Or…Actually…Scratch That!! Turn away from your screen, from my words, from your TV; your book even, and simply open your eyes to the world around you. And when you see that little spider dangling on the corner of the room allow yourself to think: “why is this spider here… And what does it want from me?”.

 

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