One of the things I loved most about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, was the way he referenced and made use of mythological creatures from a multitude of pantheons. Greek, Norse, Irish, Egyptian and more: the blending of these mythologies, and the premise that all of them existed in some way in our world, I found it immensely pleasing. As a student of classics I appreciated the way the whole series played in the tradition of a great Greek Tragedy.
So when I discovered American Gods, I was immediately sold on the clever idea of gods being brought to America by all the people who have settled there over the centuries, only to be forgotten with time. The theme of gods surviving on the belief of people and their power diminishing over the centuries as they are forgotten is touched upon in the Sandman graphic novels, amidst all the other themes and plots, but in American Gods it is allowed full rein. I found it a fascinating and enjoyable subject.
The ancient gods, heroes and other mythological beings that make an appearance are depicted in very human ways. The Queen of Sheba, for example, has been reduced to living as a prostitute, in order to procure the form of belief she needs. There are Ifrits driving taxis, Egyptian gods working in a funeral parlour, and the head of the Norse pantheon making his living as a hustler.
The Norse god Odin is known as Mr Wednesday in the novel, as the word Wednesday comes from Woden, another name for Odin. Gaiman uses his own extensive knowledge of mythology to weave layers of reference and cultural pointers in to his work. You are very rarely told which god or hero you are meeting. They go by assumed names, but most can be identified if you know a bit about the god in question. Mr Ibis and Mr Jacquel, for example, are the ancient Egyptian gods Thoth and Anubis; Thoth is often depicted with the head of an ibis, and Anubis has the head of a jackal.
American Gods is full of fascinating, quirky characters -- human, deity or other. It is brimming with intrigue, mystery, plot twists, cultural legends, and amusing observations of some uniquely American traditions.
Gaiman has a rich imagination… and an ability to tackle large themes – Philip Pullman
Neil Gaiman has managed to tell the tallest of tales in the most heart rending and believable fashion, despite the story's truly mythic scale. It is an important, essential book. – Jonathon Carroll
Neil Gaiman, a writer of rare perception and endless imagination, has long been an English treasure; and is now an American treasure as well – William Gibson
Here we have poignancy, terror, nobility, magic, sacrifice, wisdom, mystery, heartbreak – Peter Straub