In the author’s preferred text edition of American Gods, Neil Gaiman includes an introduction wherein he mentions the possibility of opening up Shadow Moon’s world to the modern era. Written as an exploration of American culture, American Gods is a journey through an unexpected life. Although the story is heavily influenced by mythology, as can be seen through the presence of old gods such as Odin, Loki and Czernobog, there are new gods as well, gods of media and technology. The point being that gods exist because we believe in them.
While it can be argued that gods do not actually exist, the point is that society shapes our beliefs. When taken in the context of American Gods, the new gods have gained power due to a technological revolution of sorts. The new gods exist, and have power, because of society’s reliance on, and obsession with, media and technology.
One day, I hope, I will go back to that story. Shadow is ten years older now, after all. So is America. And the Gods are waiting.
– Excerpt from Neil Gaiman in “An Introduction to the Tenth Anniversary Edition” of American Gods
When American Gods was published back in 2001, there was no way that Gaiman could have known how society would change. Aware of the possibility of rapid change, the ending of American Gods is left open. In 2011, when the author’s preferred edition of the text came out, Gaiman touched on the possibility of a sequel, as a lot can change in a short period of time. In addition to massive changes in technology including the obsession with smartphones and computers, social media and the internet, a lot has changed in sixteen years. Although an actual sequel to American Gods has not been published, Starz’ recent television adaptation of the novel is a sequel in many ways. Or rather, a rewrite of American Gods. While it does not follow a new journey in Shadow’s life, the television series has been able to reflect on society as it is today, which makes it a spiritual successor of sorts.
Earlier in the year, when asked what my favorite adaptation of 2017 would be, I would have answered A Series of Unfortunate Events. Even though it came out quite early in the year, it was an absolutely brilliant representation of the YA novels. Quite honestly, it was one of the best adaptations I have seen in years. Although I was looking forward to American Gods, I had a few reservations. Going in, I expected the series to be one season long. Quickly, my expectations were shattered and I found myself blown away by how incredibly accurate the first few episodes (The Bone Orchard, The Secret of Spoons, and Head Full of Snow) were.
Much like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Starz blew me away with American Gods, which took the pages of Gaiman’s novel and breathed life into them. If you were to ask me the same question now, I would be conflicted, as American Gods proved to be something much more than an adaptation. The series quickly transitioned from one of the best adaptations I have ever seen, to a rewrite of sorts, as viewers were not only given a look at Shadow’s life, but the lives of those around him. If anything, Starz managed to add more to American Gods in a way that fits in wonderfully, unlike other series (take The Magicians, for example), who have tried to do so, and failed in the attempt.
Starz’ latest drama is not actually a sequel, rather, it is a rewrite, as it continues to follow Shadow. Furthermore, it follows the chronological events of Gaiman’s novel. However, Gaiman has worked with producers, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, and added to the story in a way that provides an incredible amount of depth, while fitting into the world that he created sixteen years ago.
The expansion of the world of American Gods truly begins half way through the season, transforming the show from an adaptation to a rewrite, beginning with an entire episode (Git Gone) dedicated to Shadow’s wife, Laura. In American Gods, Gaiman reveals very little about Laura. In the novel, not much is known about her besides the fact that she was unfaithful to Shadow while he was in prison, resulting in her eventual death. She is not present much throughout the novel, aside from the occasional, mysterious appearance after she returns to life, thanks to Mad Sweeney’s coin.
In Starz’ adaptation, so much more is revealed about Laura. Her motivations (as depressing as they might be), her life before and after Shadow, their relationship, and her actions before and after her death. In a similar vein, the same treatment is given to Mad Sweeney, who only appears every so often as well. Instead of being two characters that hang around in the background, the recent series has given life and meaning to two characters who are actually connected to one another in a way that we did not get to experience in Gaiman’s novel. For example, although the novel depicts Sweeney fruitlessly searching for his coin, the show reveals that Sweeney knows exactly where the coin is. The coin brings Laura and Sweeney together, who would not have a relationship otherwise.
The drama takes it one step further, by giving a few of the gods detailed backstories as well. Told throughout the novel as “Coming to America” and “Somewhere in America” stories, almost every episode of American Gods takes time to develop backstories for the old gods including Anansi (The Secret of Spoons), the Jinn (Head Full of Snow), Mad Sweeney (A Prayer for Mad Sweeney), and Bilquis (Come to Jesus), just to name a few. Not only do these short stories (or in the case of Mad Sweeney, a full-length episode), provide an incredible amount of backstory and depth, but they introduce the gods as living, breathing characters. At the same time, they make it incredibly clear that gods exist only because people believe in them. When they are forgotten, they can easily die as they are not immortal.
In addition to the short origin stories on the gods, as well as the focus on multiple characters, as opposed to just Shadow and Wednesday, a few new gods are introduced, including Vulcan, god of fire and weaponry. As if the small changes made to represent society’s obsession on technology were not already enough, such as Bliquis’ use of social media and dating apps to gain power and influence with the help of the new gods, the new god is introduced to represent the side of America that is obsessed with politics and guns.
The season takes a drastic turn when Shadow and Wednesday visit a town in Virginia, showing just how much America has changed since the writing of American Gods. In an episode (A Murder of Gods) that strays completely from the novel, the series fully transitions from adaptation to rewrite as Vulcan is introduced as an old god that has gained power due to the town’s obsession with guns. By creating a rather political episode, Gaiman was able to work with producers to adapt to the times, commenting on the unnecessary violence and prejudice in America.
Although there are a number of other small changes made throughout the later episodes in the series that point towards a rewrite, the show remains faithful to Gaiman’s original work. Not only does it follow similar events, namely the recruitment of the gods, but it brings the novel to life. So many episodes include dialogue that is word for word from the novel. If the series continues in this direction, it will, without a doubt, end up being one of the best adaptations of all time. I can’t wait to see what the second season has in store, as there are currently multiple stories vying for attention as the gods start showing up at their destination, the House on the Rock.