Neil Gaiman speaks to how American Gods elevates the untold stories of immigrants living, thriving, and suffering in America.
“One of the things that you do if you are an author who likes the fantastic is you get to make your metaphors real.”
Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods is no stranger to the fantastic. The Sandman, Stardust, and most recently Norse Mythology, Gaiman’s work often dabbles in the power of belief.
Hypable sat down with Gaiman at a press junket ahead of American Gods and learned not only of the characters’ origins, but the origins of the novel itself.
Why is America so weird?
Over the course of many years, Gaiman’s personal exploration of America informed the heart of his novel. What set his mind on the course of creating his great American story was one simple question, “Isn’t it weird?”
That query applies to many experiences that were new to Gaiman following his immigration to the United States in 1992. “I’d say, ‘That thing with the roadside attractions, explain that to me.'”
Even in the first few episodes of American Gods you see this idea of exploration and road trips. “I’d driven my daughter across the state and we stopped down near Stevens Point, Wisconsin. There is still a huge truck trailer with a glass side. Inside of which is a full size yellow polystyrene replica of what was the largest block of cheese in the world at the 1961 World’s Fair.
“It’s still there and you can go and see it. And people do. You cannot get there without cars coming up and people standing there looking at this thing. And I go, ‘Isn’t this weird?’ And people go, ‘No, it’s just what people do.'”
It is just what people do. What Mr. Wednesday asks of Shadow is not up for discussion or unpacking — it’s what needs to be done.
Shadow Moon reflects that mentality. Gaiman continues, “That’s bizarrely where [American Gods] all started. It was me going, ‘I have to make sense of this place. I have to try and understand this.'”
But Shadow Moon, Mr. Wednesday, and many other characters were a long way off from being fully fleshed out characters. “I spent about six years accumulating this stuff in my head and trying to understand the immigrant experience. Trying to understand what it meant to have come here from somewhere else.”
Coming to America
In direct homage to the way Neil Gaiman’s inspiration began, so did the first two episodes of American Gods. Surprisingly, though the road trips across the midwest helped, the idea for American Gods hit Gaiman in Iceland.
“One day I was in Iceland in Reykjavik, very sleepless, and I looked down at a table top diorama in a tourist board office of the voyages of Leif Erikson,” Gaiman recalls. “And I thought, ‘That’s interesting, I wonder if they brought their gods with them to America? I wonder if they took their gods back with them when they left?’ Suddenly I had a book in my head.”
His story, it turns out, was not going to be about his own personal experience in America, but the combined experiences of the many, many people who came to America. What did they bring with them? What did they leave behind?
“I can talk about America as a country of immigrants, as a country of people who came here from somewhere else by using the Gods,” Gaiman says. This is exactly what Bryan Fuller and Michael Green grasped onto in that opening scenes. The voyage that brings Odin to the shores, also leaves him behind.
‘It’s not movie shaped’
Why did it take 16 years for American Gods to find it’s home? Because the nature of the novel is not suited for a film, which, up until recently, was the only avenue people were interested in exploring.
“All through the early 2000s, I would get phone calls from directors… They would say, ‘I picked up American Gods in an airport bookstore and I read it on my flight to so-and-so I cannot get it out of my head, I think it would be an amazing movie, I just have one question for you — how would you turn this into a movie?’ And I would say to them, ‘I have no idea. It’s not movie shaped.'”
After all, as Gaiman says, “Once you take this down to 120 minutes it’s not American Gods anymore.” At that point in the conversation directors typically agreed and would move on from the idea of developing the project.
Luckily, for Gaiman and fans alike, the new age of television reopened the conversation.
In 2014 Fuller and Gaiman finally sat down together in Vancouver. “Bryan was great, but he was also very, very human,” recalls Gaiman. He remembers Fuller’s candid demeanor, especially when he openly admitted that he had no idea how to make the project.
That is what struck Gaiman most.
“[American Gods] resonated for Bryan just as much as it did for me and that he wanted to make it,” says Gaiman. The rest is, as they say, history.
From a conversation in 2014 through the premiere in 2017 it’s been a long road for Gaiman to see his most-beloved novel appear in it’s full glory thanks to the creative minds of Fuller and Michael Green.
The two creators put their own stamp on the project, but the heart of the story flows from Gaiman’s words.
American Gods airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET on Starz.