American Gods

Jacob Proffitt Jacob at
Sun Sep 2 20:45:34 EDT 2001

---Original Message From: shelly at
This is true spoiler space.  I let one of the biggest secrets in the
book out below so don't go on unless you've read the book, don't intend
to read the book, or don't care if your surprises are spoiled. --Jacob
> Whilst I found this quite gripping whilst I was reading it, 
> ultimately I don't think it's one that will be staying with 
> me. The premise is wonderful (if not totally original), and 
> the writing mostly very vivid. In the end, though, I felt 
> that the book was built round a riddle, and that once the 
> reader has worked this out a lot of the suspense vanishes. 
> Also, I wasn't sure that I cared enough about the main 
> character: mostly he's drifting, so we never get that much 
> sense of him as a person - he's too passive, and his 
> motivation isn't always clear. I understand that he's in 
> shock for some of the book, but even so I wasn't convinced 
> that he has enough personality to carry the book. I found 
> this with _Neverwhere_ too (though I haven't read the book, 
> just seen the series) - the idea was memorable and the 
> encounters Richard has are interesting and often frightening 
> or moving - but Richard just seems to be someone things 
> happen to, rather than a character I came to care about.
> I don't want to knock the book too much - I did enjoy it and 
> I think Gaiman's writing is always worth reading - but I feel 
> he has so much fun getting the settings and the supernatural 
> characters right that he doesn't always pay enough attention 
> to the protagonists.

I'll disagree.  I think one of the things I like best about Gaiman's
main characters is how they tend to be understated heroes.  I find them
contemplative and while they are willing to take action, they do so in
an understanding of their limited knowledge and thus tend to be more
than a little uncertain.  I like that they aren't flashy and I like that
they don't wear every motivation on their sleeve.  I thought Shadow was
an excellent hero and a great foil for Wednesday.  I copped kind of
quick to his being Wednesday's son, though, so it might just be that his
personality made sense to me in that light.  Also, there was a lot of
other symbolism in his character like his name (he acted like a shadow,
no wonder he isn't flashy) and some of his artifacts and friends.

One of the things I love about Gaiman is that although his characters
are talisman-like archetypes, they're still pretty believable as
characters.  Shadow had all the flavorings of his name, his father, his
Native American roots, and was still a character I could believe in as
he worked to figure out what was going on around him.  I particularly
liked how he was continually pulling things from darkness into
light--what a great work for a man named Shadow with divinity running in
his veins.  I also liked how he internalized Wednesday's techniques and
strove to understand him without feeling like he had to imitate him.

But in the broader sense, I can kind of see what you mean when I
contemplate the multitude of roles Shadow played.  I mean, the sacrifice
of the son on the tree and the Hanged Man are only two of the (more
blatant) roles that Shadow had to fit during the course of the story.
It's hard to look at that kind of multi-layered symbolism and not look
for ways that Gaiman manipulated his story to get them--and the opaque
hero is a good thing to hang that on.  I don't think that is warranted
because Shadow's motivation was always clear enough.  I thought that he
was an understated risk taker who walked the balance between light and
dark.  As such, I bought him signing on with Wednesday.  And I
understood his confusion and passivity in many of Wednesday's schemes.
He was a situation surfer--someone who waited a situation out until he
thought he understood not only the situation, but what he wanted to do
with it--at which point, he took direct, decisive action.  That left him
inactive through most of the novel, true, but I understand that kind of
waiting inactivity and I liked when he took action and how he took
action.  There is nothing passive about hanging himself on the world
tree.  Or entering a checkers contest to the death.  I like the heroes
who blunder through a novel until they figure out what's going on, but
I'm more than content with Gaiman's style of hero as well--the hero who
picks at small threads of circumstance and sits in the background
gathering more information until he has enough to act on.  Since we've
been with him, it makes it look like he's passive because his actions
appear to be the only logical choice given his information.  Which is
true, but misses the point that his delay has purpose and his action may
be obvious, but only as a result of his purposeful delay.  In other
words, there's a difference between inaction and passive.  Shadow lets
events take him, but only to a point.  When it is time to act, he acts
decisively and with commitment.  He isn't passive as much as he is

Jacob Proffitt

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