Last Updated on October 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606
Neil Gaiman's American Gods tells the story of the war between old and new gods. It is an intricate novel with a large cast of characters, featuring mortals as well as mythological beings.
As the novel opens, Shadow Moon is a convict serving the end of his sentence, practicing coin tricks to pass the time. After being released early from prison on account of the death of his wife, Laura, Shadow runs into Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious conman who employs him as an assistant and bodyguard. (In reality, Mr. Wednesday is an incarnation of the old god Odin.) As Shadow and Mr. Wednesday crisscross the United States, Shadow gradually learns more about the new gods and the old gods, the conflict brewing between them, and the ways in which the world is much stranger than he had ever supposed. At the same time, he learns more about his own personal history and his role in Mr. Wednesday's designs. Shadow is Mr. Wednesday's son, and he is eventually manipulated into serving as a sacrifice to Mr. Wednesday (paralleling Odin's sacrifice to himself in Norse myth). After the sacrifice, Shadow is revived (once again paralleling the Odin myth) and returns to put a stop to the war.
Laura Moon is Shadow's wife; at the beginning of the novel, Shadow learns that she died in the process of committing adultery. With the use of a magic coin Shadow wins from Mad Sweeney, Laura is revived in a zombie-like state. She plays a recurring and often violent role throughout the book, rescuing Shadow from the agents of the new gods and later killing Loki before the critical battle between the old gods and the new.
Mr. Wednesday is Shadow's employer and, in reality, an incarnation of the Norse god Odin. He is portrayed throughout the book as a manipulator and a malevolent force in the world who is ultimately interested only in pursuing his own agenda. With the help of his son Loki, Mr. Wednesday invented the war between the new and old gods so that he and Loki could draw power from the death and chaos that the confrontation would unleash.
Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel
Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel are old gods from Ancient Egypt (Anubis and Thoth, respectively) who now work in the funerary business. Mr. Ibis records stories of the gods and of people who have died.
Easter is a pagan goddess whose rites and identity have been subsumed into Christianity; thus she remains empowered, even if her original identity has been forgotten. She plays a critical role in bringing Shadow back from the dead.
Czernobog and the Zorya Sisters
The Zorya sisters embody the mythological motif of the triple goddess: Zorya Utrennyaya, Zorya Vechernyaya, and Zorya Polunochnaya are Slavic goddesses assigned to keep watch over the sky, each respectively associated with morning, evening, and night. They live together with the god Czernobog, also a Slavic deity. In the aftermath of a wager between the two of them, Czernobog agrees to assist Mr. Wednesday, while Shadow agrees to allow Czernobog to smash his head in with a sledgehammer after events have played out. Zorya Polunochnaya grants Shadow a silver coin as an emblem of protection.
The New Gods
The new gods are deities that have come into being due to the rise of modernity and humanity's worship of it. Among the most prominent of the new gods are Technical Boy, associated with the internet, and Media, associated with television. They are led by Mr. World, who is secretly Loki and is collaborating with Mr. Wednesday in order to slaughter old gods and new gods alike.
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