Saturday, July 29, 2017

American Gods is -- wait, what?

In casting about for a topic for this year's Magic Realism Blog Hop (and thanks to Zoe Brooks for organizing once again!), I reviewed a list on Goodreads of books purported to fall under the category of magic realism. Not too far down the list, I spotted Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

I read the book several years ago, before I'd really begun studying mythology, and thought it was pretty weird. I mean, I liked it, but a lot of it seemed surreal. And confusing. I was fairly far into the book before I twigged to the fact that (spoiler alert!) Mr. Wednesday was Odin, the Norse Allfather.

So when I saw the book on that Goodreads list, I hesitated. I remembered several key scenes from the story -- the "Russians" living in genteel poverty in Chicago, the car in the lake, the hanging tree -- but not much else.

And then I remembered Starz had recently created a series based on the book. So I began to stream the episodes, in order to refresh my memory, and discovered -- oh haha -- season one don't cover the whole book. There's going to be at least one more season. Welcome to video storytelling in the 21st century.

Also, I was right -- American Gods is weird. But is it magic realism?

We've had our share of "what the heck is magic realism?" posts on this blog hop over the years. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to use Merriam-Webster's definition:
A literary genre or style...that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.
If that's strictly what we're going by, then I suppose both the series and the book qualify. The main character is Shadow Moon, a black ex-convict who runs into a mysterious con man named Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday hires him as his personal assistant. His duties become increasingly weird as things around him get more and more surreal.

Eventually, we figure out that Wednesday is a god, that a whole lot of gods immigrated to America with their followers, and that new gods -- the media and technology -- are staging a takeover. In the America of the story, gods survive only so long as people believe in them.

But back to the show.

The question for me is not whether American Gods is sufficiently fantastic; the question is whether it's realistic enough. It's set in America, but much of the action seems to happen on a different plane of existence. For example, Shadow suffers a pretty severe beating and lynching in episode two. But apart from a nasty torso cut that requires staples, his wounds seem pretty minor. Why isn't his face swollen? Is it because the whole thing happened on a different plane? Or is that just TV not being realistic? (I don't watch a lot of TV, so you'll have to tell me.)

Gaiman has written a number of great books, including some wonderful magic-realism novels. I'm not sure, though, whether American Gods qualifies as magic realism. Fantastic, yes; surreal, for sure. But magic realism? For me, the jury's still out.

What do you guys think?

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These moments of magically real blogginess have been brought to you by Lynne Cantwell and the 2017 Magic Realism Blog Hop. Please check out the other posts in this year's hop!




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