*SPOILER WARNING: Going in-depth about the existing American Gods book may inadvertently spoil plot points in the show — or not. Who knows?
Of all the currently assembling their , none has me as excited as Starz’s new series American Gods. Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, it’s full of the same dark sensibilities as the author’s other adapted works, such as Coraline, MirrorMask and Fox’s Lucifer. However, it seems quite likely that American Gods will be the darkest adaptation yet, unhindered by the rules of network television (if you watch Outlander, you’re well aware just how much freedom audacious Starz gives its series.).
What makes American Gods especially , despite being published in 2001, is the way it takes age-old mythology and pits it against the current technological, consumer-driven, media-obsessed culture we now embrace. The book uses the many gods of numerous cultures to not only point out the incredible diversity of America and those who founded this nation, but also to juxtapose them with the modern New Gods, i.e., those apparent deities that the people of America now worship, whether they realize it or not.
The story of American Gods follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a warm-hearted and quiet convict released from prison, only to discover his wife and best friend have been killed in a car accident. Since being reunited with his wife was all that carried him through his prison sentence, Shadow finds himself without purpose and thus takes a job with a mysterious older man named Wednesday (Ian McShane).
Wednesday is in fact Odin, the Norse god of war, death and wisdom, and he’s on a mission to unite the many Old Gods residing in America in a war against the New Gods, determined to wipe them out to collect all the worship for themselves. Together and apart they travel through forgotten parts of the US, hitting some bizarre and interesting landmarks, and attempt to rally a bevy of Old Gods living on the last fumes of belief and devotion in a world that is quickly forgetting them.
To get us excited for the show, here is a look at just some of the gods portrayed in the book. A few are confirmed to make appearances (I’ve included actor names for those) and a few are not, but the sheer amount of referenced mythology in Gaiman’s novel makes this show ripe with possibility.
The Old Gods
Mr. Wednesday/Odin The All-Father (Ian McShane)
King of the gods in Norse mythology and called Woden in Old English. Thus, Woden’s Day = Wednesday, while Thor’s Day = Thursday. A master manipulator and lover of the long con, Wednesday is charming but conniving.
Zorya Vechernyaya/The Evening Star (Cloris Leachman)
Sister to Zorya Utrennyaya/The Morning Star and Zorya Polunochnaya/The Midnight Star, the three Slavic Goddesses of the Dawn were tasked with guarding a chained dog that continually tries to break loose and eat the constellation Ursa Minor, the bear. If successful, this act would end the universe. Zorya Vechernyaya likes to come out at night, and particularly bonds with Shadow.
Czernobog/Chernobog (Peter Stormare)
The Slavic god of the dead, the night and chaos. He’s quite keen on violence, yet he’s strangely likable.
Bilquis/Queen Of Sheba (Yetide Badaki)
Featured in both the Bible and the Koran, she was intimate with King Solomon and possibly a half-Jinn. In the book she gains her worship through sexual acts where she requires the, ahem, ultimate sacrifice.
Mad Sweeney/Suibhne The Leprechaun (Pablo Schreiber)
Technically, he’s more of a vertically challenged, hard-drinking, hot-tempered Irishman — most likely an Irish king of lore — but he refers to himself as a leprechaun and carries gold coins, one of which Shadow wins off of him and uses in a significant way.
The Jinn/Ifrit (Mousa Kraish)
A fire-eyed version of what we’d call a genie, but much more malevolent. In the book this character is more of a side story. Curious what more the show will do with him.
Mr. Jacquel/Anubis (Chris Obi)
Ancient Egyptian lord of the dead. He maintains a related job in the modern age: funeral home embalmer.
Ancient Egyptian god of knowledge and writing. He keeps the funeral home with Mr. Jacquel and, as a natural storyteller, he’s the one to fill Shadow in on much of the lore he’s being exposed to.
From African folklore, he’s a trickster who often takes the form of a spider. He often makes fun of people for their stupidity, a trait we see often in his lore. He gets much more attention in Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys.
The Germanic goddess of the dawn. She has to deal with the fact that though there is a holiday in her name, it has become all bunny rabbits and Christian rituals, none of which have to do with her true pagan roots.
A native Algonquian tribal god, he exposes the dangerous and the ridiculous and reminds humans of their mortality, which is why they often don’t like to be around him. He proves very helpful to Wednesday and Shadow when they travel through the Badlands.
The Forgotten God
This would be an interesting god if Bryan Fuller and the show’s writers choose to incorporate him into the plot. Because those who meet him almost immediately forget him after, Shadow never thinks to ask Wednesday about him, thus we never truly understand who he is. Though there are plenty of .
The New Gods
Technical Boy/God Of Computer And The Internet (Bruce Langley)
In the book, The Technical Boy is a fat, acne-prone teenager. He’s younger than the other New Gods — presumably as new as technology — and he rides around in his limo.
Mr. World (Crispin Glover)
The leader of the New Gods and joined by his goons Mister Town, Mister Wood and Mister Stone, all born of America’s obsession with “men in black,” or conspiracy theories.
Media/Goddess Of Television (Gillian Anderson)
The public face of the New Gods, acting as a sort of news anchor, she thrives on public attention and often shows up inside television shows.
The Intangibles/Gods Of The Consumer Market
The personification of consumer spending and trading, they are essentially representative of human greed and American capitalism.
There are quite a few more gods I haven’t listed here. Some, if known, would majorly spoil the plot of American Gods, and the reveal is just too good. Others I’ve left off because they have such small parts. The sheer amount of cameos in the book by obscure and major gods is truly daunting.
You’ll just to have to be on your toes when watching to determine who’s human and who has secrets.
Does knowing all the various gods of the American Gods universe excited you to watch the show?
“Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive.” – Ferris Bueller