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The main theme in the novel is mythology, particularly how Gods are created and how they die. Contrary to popular belief, Gods did not create human kind but rather the Gods were created by the humans who tried to explain the strange phenomenon around them. The Gods depend on the attention the humans give them and once this attention disappears, the Gods die and fade into nothingness. People and society are always creating and coming up with a new system of beliefs adapted to the new times they live in and so the reader sees the appearance of new Gods into the world such as Technical Boy who is more powerful than the humble Gods who came on the American soil centuries ago. Gods and deities are not disregarded as useless into society but are rather considered an important element in understanding the world and relating to the other people and the community in general.
The New Gods and the Old ones seem to be at war with one another and the reason why they fight each other is because they try to establish who is worthy and who should rule America in the future. While the Old Gods are happy to live in the shadows and feed their need for being worshiped through sexual relationships, the New Gods feel the need to destroy the old ones so only they remain. The Old Gods cohabit with the new ones but the New Gods feel themselves threatened by the presence of the Old Gods even if no one worships them. The battle between new and old can be applied to the society as a whole with old customs replacing the old ones. But what the new customs are trying to do is not simply upgrade something already existing but rather destroy the old and replace it with something completely different.
Another major theme in the novel is deception and how it affects the characters. But deception is not something that can be avoided since it is an important element in everyone’s life. But deception can hurt and affect negatively a person in the long term. The characters who lie the most in the novel are the Gods, both the old ones and the new ones and the reason why they do it is to ensure that they will not lose the trust of their followers. Laura lies to Shadow because she loves him and doesn’t want to see him suffer but in the end she causes him more pain than anybody else. No matter the reason why a character choses to lie, in the end truth prevails and the aftermath is not always pleasant for the characters who used to lie to succeed. The Gods lose their powers because of their lies while Shadow gains his God-like status at the end of the novel because he chooses to tell the truth.
The new gods’ hold on the American mindshare has also become exponentially more consuming since the book was written, years before Facebook, TMZ or iPhones. All of which suggests that while various “American Gods” adaptations have been proposed since the novel came out, to no avail, there’s never been a better time for one to come to fruition.
“Speculative fiction usually ages very badly,” Mr. Gaiman said. But in this case “the stuff that I wanted to talk about 17 years ago feels more apt, and more important, to talk about now.”
Conceptual underpinnings mean little without a compelling story, of course, but the showrunners’ backgrounds prepared them to adapt a magical realist genre classic like “American Gods.”
Mr. Fuller’s flair for hypnotic world-building and operatic, hallucinatory violence found full bloom in “Hannibal,” another reimagining of a beloved literary property (Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels). Mr. Green is another veteran refresher of pop myths, as the screenwriter for “Logan,” based on the X-Men character, and “Blade Runner 2049,” due out later this year.
The show they created, as Mr. Whittle put it, “is bananas,” a neo-noir head trip mashing up mythology, science fiction and stylized gore — think slow-motion splashes of blood set to brooding cellos — as it reveals the specifics of Mr. Wednesday’s quest. Like the novel, it skips around through time and space and blurs the border between reality and a more fantastical realm, lurking just below mundane American landscapes.
The casting gods have been generous. Veteran performers on hand include Cloris Leachman, Orlando Jones, Crispin Glover and Kristin Chenoweth. Corbin Bernsen is Vulcan, a god of fire who has found common cause with gun enthusiasts. Gillian Anderson plays the goddess Media, first appearing as Lucille Ball and, in another scene, speaking in David Bowie lyrics.
And of course for the cagey rogue Mr. Wednesday, the producers have, in Mr. McShane, television’s pre-eminent portrayer of cagey rogues. (See also Al Swearengen from “Deadwood,” as well as the title character from “Lovejoy,” the series that made him a star in England.)
“I wasn’t looking to do a TV show,” he said. “But this isn’t a normal TV show.”
For Starz, “American Gods” fits within a strategy that favors high-end genre tales with a built-in audience, like its “Outlander,” another literary adaptation. Fantasy stories in particular have a potential to connect with viewers’ inner children, said the Starz president Chris Albrecht, who ran HBO when the network acquired the rights to “Game of Thrones” in 2007.
They “can be unlocked and enjoyed by almost everyone,” he said. “Certainly ‘Thrones’ has been an example of that, and we hope a show like ‘American Gods’ can follow in those footsteps.”
Mr. Gaiman, who grew up in England but moved to the United States in 1992, was driven to write “American Gods” by an urge to understand and describe his new home. This celebrated author of both comics (“The Sandman”) and novels (“Neverwhere”) reached a new level of success with “American Gods,” a best-seller that won major prizes for fantasy and science fiction and horror. (He still plans to write a sequel.)
The expansive story was “intentionally not film-shaped,” Mr. Gaiman said, but directors still made inquiries over the years. HBO planned to adapt it into a series at one point — Mr. Gaiman worked on several drafts of a pilot — but nothing came of it.
After Stefanie Berk, an executive who had helped develop the project for HBO, moved to the production conglomerate FremantleMedia North America, she revisited the idea with Mr. Gaiman. (FremantleMedia is producing the series.) In 2014, they met with Mr. Fuller, then overseeing “Hannibal,” who knew Mr. Green from their time working together on NBC’s “Heroes.”
The writers approached the story as devotees first, asking themselves “what do you want to see in a TV show, as a fan of this material?” Mr. Fuller said. They also had the ideal consultant in Mr. Gaiman, a heavily involved executive producer who weighed in on casting, read scripts and offered guidance about the story’s direction.
“There was only one time Neil said, ‘If you do this, I will throw myself in front of a bus,’” Mr. Fuller said, referring to a plot point the showrunners were considering. “And we said, ‘O.K., we won’t do that.’”
So far, Starz has only officially committed to the first eight-episode season, which gets through roughly a third of the book. But the creators estimate that they have enough material for perhaps five, based on related stories Mr. Gaiman has written and ideas he has, as well as their own significant expansions of the source material.
Several of the novel’s “Coming to America” essays, short discrete immigrant stories, were woven into the overarching narrative. The show is bringing a story of diversity and a multiethnic cast to television at a time when movies like “Ghost in the Shell” and series like “Iron Fist” have brought new complaints about pop culture whitewashing, or using white actors for minority characters.
“We’re just doing what always should be done,” Mr. Fuller said.
If the immigrant tales give “American Gods” additional political heft, well, it’s in good company. A wide range of TV shows have acquired new meaning and resonance with the arrival of President Trump and his policies, including political shows like “Veep”; social issues series like “Shots Fired”; and even dystopian sagas like Hulu’s new adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
But though the pro-immigrant stance of “American Gods” was not planned in response to the new administration, Mr. Gaiman is “perfectly happy” for any viewers who might take issue with such a position to skip the series. “I can guarantee you wouldn’t enjoy it, so boycotting it is probably a very sensible way to go,” he said.
The showrunners also expanded the roles of memorable but fleetingly seen characters, like Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), a hulking, luckless leprechaun.
Female characters, especially, were broadened to make the story less of “a sausage party,” said Emily Browning, the Australian actress who plays Laura Moon, Shadow’s dead but very active wife. Laura and the ancient love goddess Bilquis, played by the Nigerian actress Yetide Badaki, are much more prominent in the show than they were in the book.
Ms. Badaki was charged with executing one of the book’s most famous and provocative set pieces, in which Bilquis, also known as the Queen of Sheba, ends a one-night stand by ingesting her lover. Outré mechanics notwithstanding, Ms. Badaki related to the underlying premise of a goddess of love struggling in a more emotionally withdrawn era. “If you’ve ever dated online, you definitely get that there is this loss of connection and intimacy,” she said.
While there’s no shortage of indelible imagery, the most powerful examples connect to the show’s deeper themes about faith, identity and modern American values.
The creators are “particularly excited to see how viewers respond to the Salim story,” Mr. Fuller said, a subplot about a gay Muslim man that includes an explicit, transmogrifying sex scene with a genie.
In the second episode, Mr. Jones’s African god, Anansi, drives a ship full of slaves to rebellion with a stirring monologue about the indignities black men will endure in America. At the end of the scene, the 40 actors playing slaves gave Mr. Jones a spontaneous ovation.
“That was our first realization that some of the buttons we were pushing may have been hotter than we anticipated,” Mr. Fuller said.
Mr. Green said: “You never know what people are going to be challenged by,” adding, “so we look forward to them telling us.”Continue reading the main story