Keep your eye on the coin. Do you see it between my thumb and forefinger, cold and silver? Just an ordinary coin; a small promise of value; a piece of faith in my hand. Now, watch. I rub the coin between the thumb and fingers of my other hand. Do you see it? There, there, where? A little piece of wonder, the coin has gone. Poof! Into thin air.
Wait, what’s that? There? Don’t be self-conscious. It’s only a coin behind your ear, and there it is, as if by magic, the light reflecting hazily from its dull silver sides.
I read American Gods, the story of Shadow and scheming Wednesday, and it made me want to learn coin tricks. My daughter, now seven, still asks me when I will teach her how to do magic, and if nothing else it is worth reading just for that. But if you need more than magic and wonder in your life, as if there is anything else, silly grown-ups, then there is plenty of meaty story in American Gods for you.
The novel won both the big science fiction awards: the Nebula and the Hugo. Although, it is more fantasy, if you really need to put a genre on it, or perhaps magical realism, if you are one of those people who takes themselves far too seriously, and only thinks literary fiction is ‘real’ fiction (and consequently sees nothing ironic nor oxymoronic in those last two words). The novel has been converted into a televisual extravaganza due for release at the end of April, 2017. And now Folio have published this beautiful illustrated version of the text, with pictures from Dave McKean.
Folio make beautiful books for the bibliophile within. This edition is no different, complete with hard box-cover. Dave McKean’s illustrations have an appropriate mix of surrealism, a nod to Gaiman’s graphic novel heritage, and at times Renaissance style imagery. On this latter point the art is reminiscent of Dali’s ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross’, which whether you are religious or not, is a very moving picture, worth a pilgrimage to the Kelvingrove Art Museum in Glasgow. Interestingly, the man from Nazareth doesn’t make an appearance in American Gods. Neil Gaiman addresses this in the postscript to the audiobook version and includes a chapter he cut which featured Jesus. Although it is curious considering America’s deeply Christian leanings, it doesn’t feel at odds with the narrative being told. The Folio edition is the author’s preferred text, though not the one that won the awards. Kind of a Blade Runner director’s cut.
What is all the fuss about?
American Gods is a meditation on myths and religion and what happens to them when the people who hold them take them to a new country. Gaiman has spoken about his interest in myths and fairy-tales and about how something peculiar appears to happen to them when they cross the Atlantic from the old countries: the magic disappears. The old magic has less sway in the New World. For example, the Jack stories, full of giants, magic beans and their world crossing stalks are still found in the folklore of America. Jack is still the hero but the magic has gone. There might still be a king but he is just as likely to be the local big man, rather than anything regal (which has its own particular symbolic glamour, does it not?).
American Gods is also Mr Gaiman’s reflection on moving to America and getting to know it. But it is not the story of the big cities and landscapes of the movies and TV, New York or the Rockies, LA or the Prairies. In this, the novel follows a similar motif of much of Neil Gaiman’s work, of which I have written of in previous reviews. It is about the bits in between, those places in the corner of your eye. Perhaps, taking these things together, liminality (if you’ll forgive the pompous word) and belief, or rather the relationship between people, the places they live and the beliefs they hold about them, forms a treatise of magic in Neil Gaiman’s literary world. This is similar to Stephen King’s IT or Needful Things. In American Gods, the Gods draw their power from belief. If belief in them wanes, then so do their powers, and when new beliefs arise, in money, or technology, then new gods are born also.
I don’t want to say anything more about the story other than it is a deeply engrossing romp, with a fully immersive imaginative world, populated with complex and wonderfully drawn characters. Other than that, remember only this, dear reader. When you read American Gods, and you really should if you haven’t, remember to keep your eye on the coin. You see it here? Yes, just here between my thumb and forefinger. Now look, look, there, there, where? And poof, it has gone. Was it just a slight of hand or real magic? And are they any different if you feel the wonder?
A Note from Executive Director of STORGY Magazine and Head of Fiction – Ross Jeffery
Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ from Folio Society might just be the most beautiful book ever created – a thing of pure beauty formed by the God’s themselves.
The book comes with a hard slip case that is covered with images of Gods and mythology which are beautiful and simplistic in design. The true exquisiteness of the book occurs when you remove it from the slip case. The fabric of the hardback edition is overlaid with simpler gold images which appear to besilhouetted version of the images that grace the slip case.
Dave McKean illustrates author Neil Gaiman’s preferred text, a director’s cut if you were, which we are lead to believe adds to the brilliance of the original and with the illustrations from McKean causes us to fall even more in love with this piece of literary majesty. Let’s not forget the fabulous work these two have done previously with originally meeting and working on the graphic novel ‘Sandman’ – they have been somewhat inseparable with McKean brining the artistry to Gaiman’s masterpieces time and time again.
The pictures themselves are a wonder to behold – with such beauty you’d expect this book to be behind glass in a museum. McKean’s techniques caused me to think of the brilliance of Gustav Klimt and his gorgeous emotive work; The Kiss, The Tree Of Life, The Three Ages of Women and Death and Life. With single and double page illustrations to gorge yourself on the larger pieces are extremely poignant and decadent;you can literally feel the awe they conjure dripping from the pages that struggle to contain their majesty.
Folio Society have produced not only a book, they have created as a piece of art. They have singlehandedly with ‘American Gods’ changed the way we should access books in the future, managing to blend art and literature in a way that has never before been done so seamlessly and created a reading experience that will stick with you long after you close the cover.
Neil Gaiman grew up in England and, although Jewish, attended Church of England schools, including Ardingly College, a boarding school in West Sussex (South of England). During the early 1980s he worked as a journalist and book reviewer. His first book was a biography of the band Duran Duran. He moved from England to his wife’s hometown in the American midwest several years ago. He and his family now live in a renovated Victorian farmhouse where (he says) his hobbies are writing things down, hiding, and talking about himself in the third person.
You can purchase a copy of American Gods from The Folio Society:
Review by Daniel Soule & Ross Jeffery
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Best Reads of 2016 – List by Daniel Soule
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Little Man o’ War
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