American Gods * The Great Reveal of Shadow’s origin


I have finished the great masterpiece of American Gods Book Review * Neil Gailman this weekend and I was pretty surprised to find out who Shadow Moon was.

Gaiman isn’t giving everything away – a lot is “hidden” away in crevices in the text on the page. You have to think about it, what happens, who the characters are, what everything really means, to understand what is happening. A bit like a puzzle. I really enjoyed that. Of course the story can be read at a bit more superficial level, but if you feel like digging for it, there’s a lot more to it.

He’s Wednesday’s son!

Mr. Wednesday is the leader of the Old Gods in their war against the New Gods. He is Odin, the All-Father and most prominent god of the Norse pantheon, god of wisdom. In America, he works as a con artist. He meets Shadow on an airplane after Shadow’s release from prison and hires him on as a bodyguard.

“I saw you die,” said Shadow. “I stood vigil for your body. You tried to destroy so much for power. You would have sacrificed so much for yourself. You did that.”

“I did not do that.”

“Wednesday did. He was you.”

“He was me, yes. But I am not him.”

And Wednesday is Odin (well, not the Norse Odin but the American Odin) and he must have some American-Indian blood in him otherwise the Buffalo man would not have come to him! This means that Shadow is Thor’s brother. Or maybe he is Thor reborn? As we’re told that the big and not-so-smart Thor blew his brains out in 1923 in a motel room.

Did you notice how Odin cut himself off as he started to compare Thor to Shadow? He wanted to keep the big similarity (that they were both his sons) a secret, and realized that he had almost let it slip.

Thor’s stupidity isn’t entirely a modern tradition; he wasn’t exactly the sharpest marble in the deck even in the original legends. On the other hand, he wasn’t so much stupid as gullible and unperceptive, which I can sort of see applying to Shadow, up to a point.

Or maybe Shadow is Baldur?

The Norse myths prophesy that Loki will free himself just as Ragnorok, the battle between good and evil, begins. Loki will join his three off-spring and lead the forces of death and evil against the gods. It is prophesied that no one will survive, but under a resurrected Baldur, the universe will begin anew. This time it will be a universe of peace.

Shadow spends a good deal of time in Lakeside and it’s a rather important place. Wednesday even installs him there. Why? Because it illuminates something about Wednesday – or Lakeside illuminates something about Shadow – or because Lakeside illuminates something about Shadow? Or something else entirely?

Why the name Shadow? While reading, I tried to note whenever we learn something about him and it’s precious little. He’s a sort of a guide character but has little substance when you look closer. He’s coffee-and-cream coloured, dark hair, a big man (this is noted again and again, numerous times – why?), loves Laura, and he refrains from reflecting deeply upon the tasks his employer gives him – yet he doesn’t appear stupid.

What did you think about transporting – translating – the old gods to America? I remember reading something where Neil Gaiman explained he wanted to create American versions of the gods, as he imagined them having evolved in America, having been brought over trough people who still believed.

And… who’s the nameless god that everyone forgets?


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