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American Gods Question 1: Which themes affected you and why? 
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Post American Gods Question 1: Which themes affected you and why?
American Gods Reading-group Discussion Question One

American Gods is an epic novel dealing with many big themes, including sacrifice, loyalty, betrayal, love and faith. Which theme affected you most strongly, and why?



Sat May 16, 2009 7:25 pm
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Post Re: American Gods Question 1: Which themes affected you and
Robert Tulip wrote:
American Gods Reading-group Discussion Question One

American Gods is an epic novel dealing with many big themes, including sacrifice, loyalty, betrayal, love and faith. Which theme affected you most strongly, and why?


I really enjoyed American Gods, more than any novel I have read recently, because it engages with big existential themes of identity and foreboding by creating a believable fantasy counterworld grounded in major human traditions. Of the themes raised in this question, the treatment of sacrifice affected me most strongly.

I have also been reading books by Acharya S, including Suns of God, where she points out how strongly the theme of sacrifice is imbedded in world religions, with scapegoating and crucifixion dominant practices in the Middle East and elsewhere for thousands of years. These themes were encapsulated in the unifying myth of the cross of Christ as a once for all sacrifice to expaite human sin. Gaiman does not believe it, and sees the older pagan Gods as embodying a natural order, but retaining the dark demand for sacrifice that is at the centre of Christianity.

At one point, Gaiman notes that contemporary indifference to death by car crash seems like a fatalistic acceptance of human sacrifice.

Shadow is a sacrificial figure. As he emerges from prison to news of the death of his wife Laura, he has nothing. His agreement with Wednesday (Odin) to serve as factotum reflects a 'nothing left to lose' sense of indifference to fate. The circumstances of Laura's death cut him off from every hope he had, leaving a bleak emptiness in which his sacrifice of his life to years of prison has been for nothing.

Through the course of the book the theme of sacrifice takes on epic dimensions. Central to the Norse mythology was the sacrificial death of Odin, hung on the world ash tree and pierced by a mistletoe spear. Gaiman weaves this crucifixion-like theme into his story, around the big plot of the plan of the old Gods to confront the new Gods of technology.



Mon May 18, 2009 5:48 am
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Post Oh no!
Robert Tulip wrote:
Quote:
Central to the Norse mythology was the sacrificial death of Odin, hung on the world ash tree and pierced by a mistletoe spear.


Egads! If I have correctly identified the elephant sitting in the corner, I believe I see a spoiler in the above sentance.

My appologies, it's not polite to question a god. :laugh:

See, I got your joke.



Mon May 18, 2009 12:57 pm
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Post Re: Oh no!
Suzanne wrote:
I see a spoiler in the above sentence.


No, it is not a spoiler. I am referring to the Norse myth of Odin. Readers will have to find out for themselves how this myth appears in the book, and if Wednesday dies like in the myth of Odin.

Would talking about the death of Jesus be a spoiler for readers of the Bible?



Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu May 21, 2009 11:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon May 18, 2009 11:16 pm
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Post American gods
Hello Robert:

Odin was pierced by his own spear, I thought his spear was made out of metal.

It just reminded me of somegody else.



Tue May 19, 2009 4:34 pm
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Post mistletoe
Balder or Baldur, in Norse mythology, the god of light and joy, son of Odin and Frigga, king and queen of the gods. Having dreamed that Balder's life was threatened, Frigga extracted an oath from the forces and objects in nature, animate and inaminate, that they would not harm Balder, but she forgot the mistletoe. The gods, thinking Balder safe, cast darts and stones at him. The malicious giant Loki put a twig of mistletoe in the hands of Balder's twin, the blind Hoder, god of darkness, and directed his aim against Balder, who fell pierced to the heart. After the death of Balder, Odin sent another son, the messenger Hermod, to the underworld to plead for Balder's return. The god would be released only if everything in the world would weep for him. Everything wept except one old woman in a cave, and Balder could not return to life.
http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761 ... alder.html



Thu May 21, 2009 6:43 pm
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Post Re: American gods
Suzanne wrote:
Hello Robert:

Odin was pierced by his own spear, I thought his spear was made out of metal.

It just reminded me of somegody else.


The God dying on a tree motif is a big theme in Christianity, with Jesus Christ dying on the cross derived from a range of ancient religions from Egypt, Babylon and India. Odin's death on the world tree Yggdrasil in the Norse myth is connected to these other dying saviours.

Somegody is a nice neologism. :D



Fri May 22, 2009 3:29 am
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Post themes, and theme parks
I think that Gaiman is not only saying that the gods from other countries have been forgotten, but the culture and customs are being forgotten as well. One of the foods provided to Shadow (the rice and beef stuffed in cabbage) is a dish my mother made for my Ukranian father. My father was first generation, and as a child the culture from the Ukrain was very present in my house. The crafts, and dances and songs from my father's childhood were remembered and passed down. However, I do have to admit, that I no longer cook the dishes of the Ukranian culture, nor have I introduced other customs of this culture to my children. I am guilty, I have forgotten, and I am sure this may cause Czernobog to be very angry with me.

An example of this would be the replacement of the road side attractions and "mom and pop" establishments with larger "strip malls" and big amusement parks. I liked the way Shadow said he would rather have the road side attractions to the strip malls. The United States is a melting pot, and the cultures and customs of our ancestors have been boiled away.



Wed May 27, 2009 11:20 am
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Post Re: themes, and theme parks
Suzanne wrote:
I think that Gaiman is not only saying that the gods from other countries have been forgotten, but the culture and customs are being forgotten as well. One of the foods provided to Shadow (the rice and beef stuffed in cabbage) is a dish my mother made for my Ukranian father. My father was first generation, and as a child the culture from the Ukrain was very present in my house. The crafts, and dances and songs from my father's childhood were remembered and passed down. However, I do have to admit, that I no longer cook the dishes of the Ukranian culture, nor have I introduced other customs of this culture to my children. I am guilty, I have forgotten, and I am sure this may cause Czernobog to be very angry with me.

An example of this would be the replacement of the road side attractions and "mom and pop" establishments with larger "strip malls" and big amusement parks. I liked the way Shadow said he would rather have the road side attractions to the strip malls. The United States is a melting pot, and the cultures and customs of our ancestors have been boiled away.


Hi Suzanne, Czernobog is a brilliant character. Just watch out for his hammer. I wonder if he is linked to Thor?

Seriously, the boiling dry of the melting pot, to continue your metaphor for the USA, seems to be a central theme in American Gods.

I heard a radio interview today about how the consumerist ideology of the advertising industry is facing the problem that people are less convinced that buying things will make them happy. I get more happiness thinking about Czernobog working in an abattoir in Illinois than from listening to advertising. Czernobog is lucky he has the Norns to look after him. He reminds me of Joseph Stalin.

The melting pot, e pluribus unum, suggests that people leave their old world differences and cultures behind them to participate in the American dream. Gaiman is arguing that the dream needs to tend its roots.



Wed May 27, 2009 7:02 pm
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Post Themes
Robert Tulip wrote:
Quote:
Czernobog is a brilliant character. Just watch out for his hammer. I wonder if he is linked to Thor?


Thor is Czernobog's son, and the hammer belongs to Thor. The hammer is made of the same material as Odin's spear, uru.

I have noticed that Thanksgiving, a true American holiday is dissapearing. Christmas comes in July in many stores, and Thanksgiving is just passed over to the "gods" of merchandising. Maybe the spooks are related to Macy and Penny.



Thu May 28, 2009 6:13 am
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Post themes
Quote:
Thor is Czernobog's son,


This is wrong. Thor is one of Odin's sons.

And today is Friday, named after Odin's wife.



Fri May 29, 2009 4:28 am
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Ok, I just finished the book and here is the theme that affected me the most.

The relationship with Wednesday and Shadow is such that it makes me feel remorse for that father child interaction that they have. There is something about an all-father that every child should experience. That relationship is what is missing in America and perfectly balances against the electronic and media gods who take the place of mentors and parents today. The fact that Shadow puts himself in a position of complete learning to wednesday, never questioning, and even goes so far as to hold the vigil as was expected of him highlights some things that we need more of in America and why the old gods will never truly go away. Responsibility, ritual, requirements... Shadow ruminates about how he misses Wednesday at one point, his strength and his confidence and so they play their roles. Wednesday the mentor who gives his experience and guidance and Shadow who gives himself without questioning and learns with an open heart. This is a relationship that many could benefit from and which is largely lost in this day and age. I actually felt a pang of loss and sadness after reading this book.

The fat kid...mr. electronics...I wanted to kill him... and here I am worshipping at his altar and sacrificing my time to the luminescent god of the web... I think I'll go take a walk.



Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:47 am
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poettess wrote:
Ok, I just finished the book and here is the theme that affected me the most.

The relationship with Wednesday and Shadow is such that it makes me feel remorse for that father child interaction that they have. There is something about an all-father that every child should experience. That relationship is what is missing in America and perfectly balances against the electronic and media gods who take the place of mentors and parents today. The fact that Shadow puts himself in a position of complete learning to wednesday, never questioning, and even goes so far as to hold the vigil as was expected of him highlights some things that we need more of in America and why the old gods will never truly go away. Responsibility, ritual, requirements... Shadow ruminates about how he misses Wednesday at one point, his strength and his confidence and so they play their roles. Wednesday the mentor who gives his experience and guidance and Shadow who gives himself without questioning and learns with an open heart. This is a relationship that many could benefit from and which is largely lost in this day and age. I actually felt a pang of loss and sadness after reading this book.

The fat kid...mr. electronics...I wanted to kill him... and here I am worshipping at his altar and sacrificing my time to the luminescent god of the web... I think I'll go take a walk.


Thanks Poettess, this is a brilliant analysis. You have put your finger on the delinquency of American life, with grown up children imagining they can control the world through technology. The absence of filial mentors produces a hollow centre, with the technological world view appearing rather like Lord of the Flies in its hedonic amorality. The sheer mastery Wednesday presents gives the sense that he is connected to bigger older wisdom against which the superficiality of modern life is like a flea on an elephant. I also felt a pang of loss and sadness, partly that the electronic world imagines it is real, but does not see its dependence on nature. Just because the fat boy imagines he is in control does not mean you worship at his altar. A deeper theme here is the potential redemption of technology through the validation of ancient wisdom.



Mon Jun 22, 2009 12:49 pm
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poettess wrote
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A deeper theme here is the potential redemption of technology through the validation of ancient wisdom.


Sorry, what do you mean by that? Where is this theme seen?

-Michael



Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:59 pm
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xtremeskiier114 wrote:
poettess wrote
Quote:
A deeper theme here is the potential redemption of technology through the validation of ancient wisdom.


Sorry, what do you mean by that? Where is this theme seen?

-Michael


Hi Michael, that comment was from me, not Poettess. Neil Gaiman is a master of suspense, and we have this theme through the book of a looming storm, a confrontation between old and new. The form of that war emerges in cameo ideas, gradually forming a picture. You have to read to the end to see if the expectation is delivered.



Tue Jun 23, 2009 5:30 pm
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