One of our all time favorite books, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, will be coming to life in a television adaptation that is scheduled to premiere on Starz this April 30th. Over the course of this week, we will be looking at how American Gods, the real-life gods that inspired the characters, and some of Gaiman’s other work have found their way into the world of tattoos.
In 2001, the world was graced with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a novel that could easily have been a mystical travelogue to the US, as well as an introduction to the various gods and goddesses throughout history and time. Gaiman moved to America in 1992, and found something starting in the back of his head. “There were unrelated ideas that I knew were important yet seemed unconnected,” Gaiman writes in his introduction to the tenth anniversary edition of the book. “Two men meeting on a plane; the car on the ice; the significance of coin tricks; and more than anything, America: this strange, huge place that I knew I didn’t understand. But I wanted to understand it. More than that, I wanted to describe it.”
He drafted a proposal, sent it to his editor and his agent, and used the working title “American Gods.” The next thing he knew, he was sent a book cover design, a road with a lightning bolt and the title “American Gods” at the top. “I found it offputting and exhilarating to have the cover before the book,” Gaiman laments in his intro. “I put it up on the wall and looked at it, intimidated, all thoughts of ever finding another title gone forever. This was the book cover. This was the book. Now I just had to write it.”
Gaiman was dedicated to writing only about places he had been himself, which gives American Gods its particular sense of place. It is, in its own way, a divine love letter to America. When he struggled to find his protagonist Shadow’s voice, he would drive, or he would wait to write until he was on the road. When he couldn’t figure out what Shadow was going to do next, he wrote a Coming To America story, and in that, Shadow would emerge and remind Gaiman about where he was going.
“This is a work of fiction, not a guidebook,” Gaiman warns. Gaiman has taken liberties with the geography and the roads traveled, but not many. An eager, adventurous fan could try to organize a trip based off of Shadow’s journey. You could very well map out Shadow’s travels throughout the book, and try to build your own American Gods-inspired vacation. There would just be one thing missing, really. “It goes without saying,” Gaiman concludes, “that all of the people, living, dead, and otherwise, in this story are fictional or used in a fictional context. Only the gods are real.”