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Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The force of belief. 
American Gods by Neil Gaiman


I read this book, cover to cover, in 48 hours. I felt this compelling need to find out what happened next. Why? Mainly because the premise of the book was about gods, elder gods, pagan gods, techno gods. And things were coming to a head. The protaganist of the books is a character called Shadow. The book opens with Shadow about to be released from prison for the crime of assault and battery. His wife is waiting for his return. A few days before his release, he is told that his wife has died in a car accident. Returning home for the funeral, he meets a very strange man, who makes Shadow an offer of employment. An offer he realises that he has no option but to accept.

The book states that gods are driven by belief in people, and the more people believe in you, the more powerful a god you are. Hence, the older gods, such as those from the Greek and Roman pantheons, are waning, drifting along trying to survive in a strange country called America, were they were brought by their believers many ages ago. Many of the elder gods are barely surviving, ekeing out a living on the margins of society, impoverished, destitute and desperate. For times have changed, and many now only believe in science and technology and that mircale called the internet.

The new technology gods are all powerful, with resources available to them that the elder gods can only envy. The man, who first meets Shadow on a plane flight home, and then appears again in front of Shadow after Shadow took an unscheduled stop and left the plane in a hurry, is a member of the Norse gods. Their leader, Odin, the hanged one. Odin believes that a war is imminent between the elder and techno gods, and intends to travel the country gathering support from the surviving elder gods, for a showdown.

The book delves into European, Native American, Eastern and Oriental mythology, because of the belif that gods go wherever their followers bring them. It also states the belief that there are some places where power, and people and gods naturally gravitate, due to geographic influences. Very interesting, very readable, very entertaining...and thought provoking.

As a small aside, the idea that gods are as powerful as the number of people who believe in them, was one I first encountered in Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods" and "The Hogfather".


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