American Gods is a 2001 novel by Neil Gaiman. The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on a mysterious and taciturn protagonist, Shadow. Several of the themes touched upon in the book were previously glimpsed in Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman’ graphic novels. The central premise of the novel is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought with them dwarves, elves, leprechauns, and other spirits and gods.
However, the power of these mythological beings has diminished as people’s beliefs wane. New gods have arisen, reflecting America’s obsessions with media, celebrity, technology, and drugs, among others. In addition to the numerous figures from real-world myths, a few characters from ‘The Sandman’ and its spinoffs make brief cameos in the book. Other mythological characters featured in the novel are not divine, but are legendary or folk heroes, such as Johnny Appleseed. Shadow himself is implied to be Baldr (the Norse god of sun and light, son of Odin)
According to Gaiman, ‘American Gods’ is not based on Diana Wynne Jones’s ‘Eight Days of Luke,’ a 1975 children’s novel about a neglected boy who encounters what prove to be figures from Norse mythology. When working on the structure of a story linking gods and days of the week, he realized that this idea had already been used in ‘Eight Days of Luke.’ He abandoned the story, but later used the idea when writing ‘American Gods’ to depict Shadow meeting Wednesday (his father Odin) the god’s namesake day. Gaiman’s subsequent novel ‘Anansi Boys’ was actually conceived before American Gods, and shares a character, Mr. Nancy (Anansi, the trickster spider, one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore).