Mirror Mirror - 2017

American Gods: Belief Comes to the New World

By Jennifer Allen

Neil Gaiman is a name familiar to many that follow comics and/or modern fantasy stories. He has created such classic stories as the Sandman comic series and already had some of his novels transposed to the big and small screen such as Neverwhere, Stardust and Coraline. He's won Hugo, Nebula and many other writing awards for literature. Most recently he has delved into writing television scripts for shows such as Dr. Who and even done some voice work including playing himself on an episode of The Simpsons.

His most auspicious project to date is bringing the novel, American Gods to both comic books and television. The comics have already started with the first issue covering the first chapter of the story. Gaiman is also making a live action version as a (hopefully) six season series on the cable channel, Starz.

Most of the story centers around a man named Shadow Moon. When he's released from prison Shadow accepts a job as a bodyguard for an older man known simply as Mr. Wednesday. After hearing that his wife has died in a car accident, Shadow and Mr. Wednesday embark on a cross-country journey to meet and possibly recruit a vast array of characters who are personifications of Gods who have come to America along with their immigrant followers. These Old Gods appear to be slowly dying however, as New Gods such as Technology and Media have started to take their place.

The first season will cover roughly the first 1/3 of the book with some extra scenes included to better flesh out many of the Gods and their motivations.

One of the biggest themes from the book is that many different cultures have come to America over the centuries and in turn brought their customs and beliefs with them. These Old Gods are in the New World thanks to these people. The timing of the first printing seems about as fortuitous as the timing of the show's airdates. The book came out shortly before 9/11… an incident motivated by religion and yet shown to the world through media and technology. And now we have the television version coming soon while an immigration ban in America is taking shape as a result in part to those same events orchestrated 16 years prior.

British actor Ricky Whittle will be playing Shadow Moon and veteran fellow British actor Ian McShane will be portraying Mr. Wednesday. Other notable names in the cast include Emily Browning, Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, Corbin Bernsen, and Cloris Leachman.

As a Producer for the show, Gaiman has made it very clear that he wants each God to be shown as being from the land they were created from. That being said, there will be Egyptian & African Gods played by black actors, Slavic & Nordic Gods played by Nordic actors, and most importantly there will be Hindu & Arabian deities in the show as well as those who believe in them. Actors Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish, the latter playing an Ifrit Jinn, are a nice addition to the multi-cultural cast.

There is room for more Gods to be included in later seasons, including an iconic scene later in the story between Shadow and the Goddess Bast so we'll just have to see. There are also some short stories that were written later about Shadow and one of the Gods in the novel, so if there is room in later seasons we may see those as well.

I grabbed a signed first edition of the novel back in 2001 and later on met Gaiman himself at Comic Con in 2007. While I stood there watching him sign the cover of my Sandman #50 comic book, I mentioned that American Gods was one of my favorite stories that he wrote. Since I was in a line of about 100 people and we were being shuffled through so all he could do was briefly smile, shake my hand and give me the Sandman comic, now with his golden signature on its matte black cover, back in the other hand. Whether he heard my compliment or not I don't know, but I've always held out some hope that he did hear my words despite the chaos that is typical for the Comic Con dealer floor.

When I was a kid I had a habit of reading some books more than once, particularly since I read at a much higher level than most kids my age. I read all of the Narnia Chronicles and Lord of the Rings books twice and Edgar Allen Poe's various novellas before I was in high school. Due to the constant requirements to read things for school, I lost my taste for reading books more than once. That changed when I first opened and read American Gods. By the time I shook Neil Gaiman's hand in San Diego I had read it twice. Since then I have read it once more. It's just one of those novels that is a delight to read and read again since the prose has so much depth in it.

When Starz announced that they would be doing the story as a multi-season show, I was ecstatic. Hearing further that Bryan Fuller and Michael Green would be the show runners made me even more optimistic. Both have worked on some great (though underrated) fantasy & sci-fi themed shows such as Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, and Heroes. Starz has also had some success with shows such as Outlander (also based on a series of fantasy novels) so I think they will do the story of American Gods justice.

American Gods will premiere on Starz for an 8 episode arc starting on April 30 in the US and later on Amazon Prime in the United Kingdom. Let's sit back and enjoy the magical journey of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday meeting all the Gods (Old and New) we all have believed in.