What are the ratings of the American gods
Neil Gaiman: "American Gods"Gods on the edge
Anyone who promises to talk about "American Gods", about "American gods", will expose themselves to some suspicions: Are people talking about Manitou and his kind in folklore? Does America Ever Have Indigenous Gods? Or is it culturally critical about discussing the theological status of the heroes in the jersey, the supermen, the basketball and baseball stars?
No, Neil Gaiman's novel is not about that. It's about a triumph of the imagination, about an outstandingly fantastic epic in the rank of marvels like "Lord of the Rings" or "Alice in Wonderland".
And like this, it begins in a comparatively small room - in this case in a prison cell:
Shadow Moon is 32 years old. He will have served a three-year prison sentence for assault over the next few weeks. He's tall and strong, a picture of a man, but he's not really a thug. Shadow had his reasons.
His wife Laura is waiting for him - an attractive travel agent.
He himself will soon have work again: Robbie Burton, an old friend and operator of a "muscle farm", has promised him a job as a trainer.
Some time ago, Shadow Moon received a paperback copy of a classic from his cellmate, a certain Low Key Lyesmith, a con artist from Minnesota: The Histories of Herodotus. Shadow, not really a great reader, reads. And when he's not reading, he practices coin tricks. He's good at it. He loves Laura and Laura loves him. Robbie's muscle farm beckons.
But then Shadow is called into the prison director's office. He is due to be released a month earlier than planned. The reason: his wife died in a car accident. Robbie drove the car and was probably a little distracted: Laura gave him oral pleasure below the belt.
Now both are dead.
Shadow should be able to go to Laura's funeral.
So far, so sappy or - as one could say - so soap opera-like: Forbidden love in the fitness milieu. Sex and crime. And what is the name of the victim of this sexual intercourse accident? Shadow Moon - shadow and moon.
Odin as a con artist
On the flight to the funeral, the person sitting next to him offered him a job - a job as a chauffeur and messenger, bodyguard and girl for everything:
"You work for me. You protect me. You help me. You transport me from one place to another. From time to time you investigate - you travel around and do inquiries on my behalf. You run errands. In an emergency, but only in an emergency do you hurt people who deserve it.
In the unlikely event that I should die, you will hold a wake for me. And in return I will see to it that your needs are adequately met. "
After some hesitation, Shadow accepts the offer. His employer is called Mr. Wednesday. He is neatly dressed; Of course, something is wrong with one of his eyes, the irises show slightly different colors, a glass eye perhaps?
Shadow wants to know:
"How did you lose your eye?
Wednesday shoveled half a dozen pieces of bacon into his mouth, chewed, and wiped the fat from his lips with the back of his hand.
I haven't lost it, he said. I still know exactly where it is. "
We will find out.
Mr. Wednesday, a windy fellow, is as passionate as he is indiscriminate ladyboy. As it turns out, he has many years of professional experience as a con artist.
With which the plot of the novel seems to turn a little in the direction of rogue comedy - a suspicion of "Paper Moon" arises, a touch of "The Clou".
He also smokes strong tobacco - he, like most of his apparently numerous acquaintances, who are gradually paid a visit. Because Mr. Wednesday wants to persuade these strange ladies and gentlemen to work together. Again and again cigarettes, cigarillos. Sometimes it puffs and smokes as if the Marlboro man was riding between the lines.
But it's not the Marlboro man out here, it's Shadow with Mr. Wednesday. And the true identity of Mr. Wednesday - Mr. Wednesday - is not hidden from Shadow for long.
In our language, the original meaning of this weekday has been erased. The Christian missionaries neutralized the old name and made it a Wednesday.
The day of Wednesday is called Woensdag in Dutch and Onsdag in Scandinavian. It is the day of Wotan or Odin.
And Mr. Wednesday is none other than this old, Nordic god - ended up in the USA like many other deities from all over the world. Yes, it is deities that this Odin visits in human form and wants to win them over to his cause.
Odin, the all-father; Odin, who sacrificed himself and hung for nine days on the tree Yggdrasil, the world ash, without food and drink; Odin, who gave up one of his eyes for permission to drink from the source of wisdom.
When he and the others puff so passionately, it is nothing but a throwback to a great past, when smoke and human flesh were sacrificed to them.
The fat boy: the deity of the personal computer and the internet
But the thing Odin wants to recruit her for is this:
The ancient gods, Odin and Czernobog, the Slavic god of darkness, the Egyptian deities Thoth and Anubis, Easter, the Germanic goddess of spring, the African spider god Anansi, Bilquis, the godlike queen of Sheba, Hindu and voodoo deities, jinns , Ifrites and goblins, they are all on the edge of the abyss.
Incidentally, also Loki, the most versatile and multi-faceted god in the Nordic pantheon - because of course Low Key Lyesmith - the blacksmith, Shadow's ex-cellmate - is none other than the trickster Loki.
All of them are threatened with annihilation by the new American gods, by the deities of the stock market, by the Men in Black, by the deities of cars, planes, television and the Internet.
One of the spokesmen for this newly created and yet jealous Old Testament Numina is the fat boy - the deity of the PCs and the Internet:
"Shadow had the impression that (...) the boy's eyes were shining - as green as an antediluvian computer screen.
“Well, you're doing something on Wednesday. Tell him he's history. Nobody remembers him. He is old. And he'd better accept that. Tell him we are the future and that we don't give a shit about him and his kind. Its time is over. (...)
Tell him we've reprogrammed the damn reality «".
The twilight of the gods is approaching, and the old gods fight against the new gods for survival.
This last battle is to take place on US territory.
Who thinks up such a thing?
Neil Gaiman is not an American, but an Englishman; he was born in 1960 in Portchester in the southern English county of Hampshire; however, he has lived in Wisconsin in the United States since 1992.
Even the family had a certain American orientation, with a touch of science fiction: his parents studied Scientology, a pseudo-religion devised by SF author L. Ron Hubbard; Claire, one of Neil's two sisters, worked for the Church of Scientologists in Los Angeles.
Gaiman's first wife, Mary McGrath, also studied Scientology.
Neil Gaiman stated that it had nothing to do with Scientology. Gods do not occur naturally in Gaiman's view; They certainly do not precede people as creators of the world or animators of human-shaped clay figures.
For Gaiman gods are headbirths of men; they go wherever a person goes and are therefore to a certain extent followers of culture.
The Eternals do not need believers to exist - the gods do
Neil Gaiman may have found some of the foundations for his people-based polytheistic theology in his favorite books as a teenager. His early reading biography includes "Lord of the Rings", the "Chronicles of Narnia", "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and classic fantastic works of English literature as well as American science fiction novels and the Batman comics from DC.
Gaiman was early in the direction of graphic novels.
Following some smaller but sensational work for the British SF comic magazine "2000 AD", he received an invitation: He was supposed to revive one of its older characters for the US comic publisher DC: namely the Sandman. He also appears as Morpheus, as Oneiros and as dream weaver and belongs - according to Gaiman's private mythology - to the so-called Seven Eternals, who came into being at the same time as the universe, proto- or metaphysical figures who in some respects the gods, as they have hitherto were in use, are far superior.
Because the eternal do not need believers in order to exist.
The gods, on the other hand, do.
"For Sandman I had created a completely made-up America. A delirious America, an improbable place beyond the realm of the real.
(...) And back then I lived in the USA for nine years. Long enough to realize that everything I learned from movies and television was wrong. I wanted to write about myths. I wanted to write about America as a place of myth. "
Gaiman has the ancient mythical characters in the real USA bypassed - by car or plane. He takes them to real Wisconsin and real Chicago, real San Francisco, Boulder, Dallas, Seattle, real Cairo, Illinois, and real Spring Green with the House on the Rock and its gigantic carousel, real Lakeside in the Northwoods .
The immigrant gods had to retrain
The basic idea, however, remains the same: Gods and spirit beings walk on earth - and come into contact with their creators, humans.
Because people and their beliefs also need the new American gods - these incarnations of technologies that transcend human power sky-high and cast a spell over human spirit, these gods of the Internet, of airplanes, this idol of a stock exchange that shows its sleight of hand with immaterial units, with digits, characters, stock indices.
In this the modern gods do not differ from their predecessors.
The idea of tracing the aged and faded gods of antiquity to the present is not new. In this country they are particularly well known by Heinrich Heine in his large essay "The Gods in Exile" from 1853. There he tells of the transformations "the Greco-Roman deities underwent when Christianity came to dominate the world ": Apollo has to hire cattle ranchers; Mars serves as a mercenary; and so on.
The immigrant gods also had to retrain at Gaiman. Allfather Odin fights his way through life as a trickster; Thoth and Anubis, rulers of ancient Egypt, run a funeral home in Cairo, Illinois.
Bilquis, Queen of Sheba out of service, also has to earn a living - even if she demands a little more than mere money for her services:
"In a dark red room (...) stands a tall, slender woman in ridiculously tight silk shorts, her breasts pushed up and forward by a yellow blouse that is knotted under them. Her black hair is piled up and in a pigtail A little man stands next to her (...).
"Okay, honey," she says. "Equal. But are you doing something for me while we're doing it? "
"Hey," he says, suddenly irritated, "who pays whom here?"
She straddles him in one fluid movement and whispers. “You, of course, my sweetheart. (...) Honey, while you do it for me (...) I want you to pay homage to me. "" That I what? "
“Are you going to say goddess to me? Will you adore me (...) «
He smiles. If that's all ...
"Sure," he says. "
The grotesque confrontation between the divine and the profane and everyday electrifies again and again.
Miracles happen. Shadow meets his dead wife, who stands by him as a corpse and saves his life.
Shadow is transported to a place "behind the scenes" of the world, where time is slowing down or revving up, in any case cannot be grasped with the clocks.
Mythical creatures roam like in the fringes of Herodotus' world. A cat turns into an almost selfless lover.
There is a place that is better off than others, that is better off in terms of unemployment statistics than all comparable places in the USA, only that it has to put itself under the protection of a demon who demands no less than one child per year.
Shadow dreams; Shadow gains insights into completely different worlds in the dream; When Wednesday is killed by the new gods, Shadow has to start his wake according to the contract and hang in the ash tree for nine days.
Shadow dies in the tree. Shadow descends into the realm of the dead. Shadow realizes who he really is: the son of the all-father Odin.
Then Shadow returns to the living.
The book is not only rich in action and versatile; it is downright shamelessly belletristic. It teems and gushes with mythological allusions and cross-references. It is read all the time and a lot. You catch the characters with novels by John Grisham in hand or with the SF novel "Strangers in a Strange World" by Robert A. Heinlein.
On his mother's deathbed, Shadow immersed himself in the novel "The End of the Parables" by Thomas Pynchon.
A great book and a great one
Again and again, Gaiman crosses motifs from American popular culture with mythical images and illuminates both sides equally:
"He heard tiny noises echoing. He even heard the dust sink.
He had dreamed of this place (...): the endless memory hall of the gods, whose names had been forgotten, and of those whose existence not even anyone remembered.
He took a step back, walked over to the path on the other side and peered into the corridor: with the black Plexiglas walls in which lights were set, Disneyland could have been. The brightly colored lights blinked and flashed, for no particular reason they appeared to be in order like the lights on the control panel of a spaceship on television. "
Among the many gods and people that Shadow meets on the way is Sam, whose full name is Samantha Black Crow - a human woman. I guess. But what has already been irrevocably established on the territory of the American gods?
Sam makes an extensive U.S. creed to Shadow:
"I (...) believe pretty much everything. You have no idea what I can believe.
(...) I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that are not true and I can believe things that no one knows whether they are true. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, Elvis and Mister Ed. (...) I believe that (...) jade is dried dragon sperm and that in a previous life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman thousands of years ago. I believe that human destiny is in the stars.
So much faith - good for the gods, the traditional as well as the current ones, for the gods from all over the world and all times and for the American Gods.
"I wanted to write a big, strange, dissolute book, and so I did."
Now, as announced by the cover picture, the text is available in a "Director's Cut", excellently translated by Hannes Riffel.
In this unabridged version the true dimensions of the "American Gods" become even more clearly visible:
It's a great book and a great one.
Neil Gaiman: American Gods, Directors Cut, Roman. Translated from the English by Hannes Riffel. 672 pages, Eichborn / Bastei Lübbe Verlag, Cologne 2015, 14.00 euros.
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