Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 14

In the fourteenth chapter of American Gods, Shadow travels with Ibis and Czernobog to retrieve Wednesday’s body, and then…look, I don’t even know how to talk about this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

This book is so strange, both in its content and in its pacing. I’ll be honest: I don’t know how Gaiman is going to pull this all together in the six chapters that follow this. He’s set up a whole lot, explained very little of it, and just KILLED OFF THE OTHER MAIN CHARACTER. Just the composition of this book is strange, but it also intrigues me. Perhaps I actually know more about this than I think I do, and the endgame of American Gods will help me figure this out.

For now, though, I am enjoying the bizarre nature of the retrieval of Wednesday’s body and the vigil that Shadow agrees to. It’s apparent now that the death of Wednesday truly is shocking to the gods; they are all more than willing to help out in the upcoming war, though it’s unfortunate it took the god’s death to do it. In a rapid-fire procession, Gaiman starts introducing us to more and more gods as Ibis, Czernobog, and Shadow make their way to the spot where they’ll retrieve Wednesday’s body. (More on that in a bit.) Along the way, gods assert their allegiance. They meet the large humming man from early in the book, who is actually Alviss son of Vindalf: the king of the dwarfs. UM THIS IS AWESOME. Like holy shit, I am glad he is on the right side because I would not want to fuck with him.

There are a lot of small things dropped by the characters in this chapter that either make little sense by themselves, or later are given their full context. The first of these is Alviss’s bizarre message to Shadow: that he offers his support and sympathy for Wednesday’s vigil. Well, okay. What does that mean? I sort of assumed that he felt sorry for Shadow, perhaps, that it was just an awkward way of expressing grief, since he knew Shadow had been sort of close to the man.

I also find out I was wrong in stating that the gods suffer from the same physical limitations as human, and now that I think about it, it was hinted all along the way, even by Wednesday himself:

Nancy spoke. “Folk like us don’t get cancer. We don’t get arteriosclerosis or Parkinson’s disease or syphilis. We’re kind of hard to kill.”

“They killed Wednesday,” said Shadow.

Well…touche. So how did this kill Wednesday? But disease doesn’t affect the gods? Perhaps this is unimportant, but I’m fascinated by the mechanics of this. That’s nothing new; I’ve spoken at length that I love imagined worlds and I just want to know everything about how they function. So when I’m introduced to the concept of neutral ground existing in this book, I’m perplexed in the best way imaginable. There’s an area that’s neutral in this universe?

Czernobog said, “There is no such neutral place.”

“There’s one,” said Mr. Nancy. “It’s the center.”

Czernobog shook his head abruptly. “No. They would not meet us there. They can do nothing to us, there. It is a bad place for all of us.”

“That’s just why they’ve proposed to make the handover at the center.”

WHAT IS THE CENTER??? The center of earth? The center of the backstage? What the hell does this mean?

Oh. It’s the geographical center of the United States. Well, the supposed one. I’ve never been there! I’ve driven near it on a tour bus, but never stopped there. So what makes this place so special to the gods? How is it neutral?

I think it’s a matter of figuring out how the gods get their power. We know it’s from belief, but Gaiman adds a new twist to that when Czernobog makes a brief stop: blood-sacrifice is much more powerful than everyday belief. It’s an act made out of belief, and that act makes it stronger. So is the opposite true? Is a complete lack of belief what might cause a place to be neutral?

“But the center,” said Czernobog. “The center is worst. Is like a minefield. We all tread too carefully there to dare break the truce.”

THIS IS PRETTY MUCH GIBBERISH TO ME. Why? Why is it like this? Oh god IT’S GOING TO BE A DISASTER, ISN’T IT?

I don’t know that it’s a disaster, but it’s fucking awkward. The old gods and Shadow are forced to spend hours with the new gods who killed Wednesday and want all of them exterminated. We meet a new god, Media:

She was perfectly made-up, perfectly coiffed. She reminded him of every newscaster he’d ever seen on morning television sitting in a studio that didn’t really resemble a living room, smiling at the good morning crowd.

I’m so totally onboard with this idea that everyday things we’ve come to “worship” can have gods as well; I also like that the gods we meet all have elements of their belief tied in with their actual personality. The god of Internet is whiny and entitled and REALLY, ISN’T THAT JUST PERFECT. Oh, god of Internet, your accuracy is stunning.

What’s striking about this whole meeting in “the center” is that Gaiman positions it all so that it flows through Shadow. More than ever before, we are aware of how ridiculous this is for him, especially after the death of Wednesday. I think that explains why he’s so harsh with Town when he finally meets him, making that offhand comment about Wood’s widow. He’s fed up. He is more aware than ever that he’s a pawn to these people. To be fair, I think that some of the older gods he has met don’t feel this casually about him, and that helps Shadow to at least feel he’s on the right side throughout all of this.

It’s also clear from Shadow’s dream just how much he misses having Wednesday around, even if the man was evasive or irritating. I know that there is a greater point to the dream; it sets up the vigil at the end. But Wednesday is in Shadow’s thoughts. How could he not be, after all that had happened between the two of them? Yet I can’t ignore that the dream also imparts an important message on Shadow: “gestures mean everything.”

I’ll come back to that in a moment; I think it’s crucial to understanding why Shadow agrees to the vigil. It’s in his mind as he wakes up and has “dinner” with the gods: lukewarm McDonald’s. EW NO. But think about the dream he has where “gestures mean everything,” where Shadow sees creatures and humans hung to death for Odin, and contrast that with the god of Internet’s unbelievably whiny persona. If gestures mean everything, then this kid’s gestures show that he is a total asshole. And even if the moment is brief, I feel like Shadow finally breaks out of frustration over this whole thing.

Shadow realized he wanted to hit the kid. He’d wanted to hit him since the kid had his goons hurt him in the limo, after Laura’s funeral. He knew it was not a wise thing to be thinking, not here, not now. “Can’t we just take Wednesday’s body and get out of here?” he asked.

“Midnight,” said Mr. Nancy and the fat kid, at the same time.

“These things must be done according to the rules,” said Czernobog. “All things have rules.”

“Yeah,” said Shadow. “But nobody tells me what they are. You keep talking about the goddamn rules, I don’t even know what game you people are playing.”

THANK YOU. I do find it a tad suspect that these characters are all so reluctant to just explain to Shadow what the fuck is going on, instead of shrouding it all in so much secrecy. Look, the guy just saw Odin murdered via a live television feed that was stolen by a bunch of living gods. I think he is willing to believe whatever else you tell him! Though, yes, I don’t think they doubt his capacity to believe them, so what other reason after all of this, do they have to constantly keep him in the dark?

I was more shocked, though, that various gods from the “other” side all came up to Shadow at different points to try and convince him to come to their side. I’m glad they’ve since disposed of the whole “good guys” schtick, though I can’t ignore how absurd it is that they killed a friend of Shadow’s and are now asking him to help them out. Yeah, y’all, he might be a tad bit biased. Just a bit! And for good reason! But these newer gods seem incredibly short-sighted, desperate, and rude. Media offers to make Shadow either famous or despised in the public eye. Which…once you think about it, neither are very strong offerings for a guy like Shadow. He doesn’t want to be recognized. He’d rather fall into the background. Hell, his name is SHADOW. None of these gods understand who he is at all!

Well…I have to take that back. One of them knows Shadow extremely well, and I admit to being shocked by the revelation that the driver of the limo is Shadow’s old cellmate, Low Key. Never did I think to stop and pronounce that name out loud. Yeah. He’s Loki. And he works for the other side.

OKAY. WHY. I had hoped that this might be an explanation for how Wednesday knew to set up things to intercept Shadow, that Loki was a secret agent for the old gods, but nope. It was pure coincidence that he shared the same cell, and Loki accepts that if he doesn’t change, he’ll die with all the other gods who refused to change, too. HOW CONVENIENT FOR YOU. What I don’t get is how the newer gods can even help the older ones to adapt. No one believes in them anymore. They can’t change the minds of society as a whole, can they?

Look, the gods can’t even get along long enough to give Wednesday a send-off that isn’t rife with insults, threats of murder, inane ramblings, and disagreement. I don’t understand why they had to wait until midnight, and I don’t understand what this whole thing was for. So I latched on to what I did understand: Shadow keeps his promises. If there’s anything I understand fully and completely, it’s that Shadow is a man of his word, that he agreed to stay with Wednesday to the end, and that he has accepted this without question.

Gestures mean everything, so when the group tries to convince Shadow to leave, he insists that he must be the one to give the god his vigil. At this point, we still don’t know what it is, but I was getting the sense that it was a lot worse than anyone was letting on. Mr. Nancy was set on the fact that Shadow could not help fight their war against the gods since it would take place in the “backstage,” but Shadow still persists on the vigil. Czernobog explains that the vigil means Shadow will have to stay with the body, and that it will kill him. Okay, what?

Nancy said, “The person on the vigil–gets tied to the tree. Just like Wednesday was. And then they hang there for nine days and nine nights. No food, no water. All alone. At the end they cut the person down, and if they lived…well, it could happen. And Wednesday will have had his vigil.”

Oh. Oh, okay, that’s much more serious than I expected. That’s….yes, Czernobog, you’re right. He could die from that. You are not exaggerating this.

So I think, “Well, they’ll convince him not to do it, or he’ll find someone to convince himself and maybe feel disappointed by the decision, but Gaiman wouldn’t actually go ahead and stick Shadow in a tree, tied up, for nine straight days, would he?

“Shadow,” he called. “You really don’t have to do this. We can find somebody more suited. You ain’t ready for this.”

“I’m doing it,” said Shadow, simply.

“You don’t have to,” said Mr. Nancy. “You don’t know what you’re lettin’ yourself in for.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Shadow.”

“And if you die?” asked Mr. Nancy. “If it kills you?”

“Then,” said Shadow, “it kills me.”

HEY SHADOW WHAT ARE YOU DOING. You’re not actually going to go through with this, are you?

But I sat in shock, reading as the three women undress him (YEAH HE’S NAKED THE WHOLE TIME), tie him to a tree FIVE FEET ABOVE THE GROUND, and then everyone leaves. They’re gone. And Shadow has to stay in the tree, naked, for nine days.

WHAT IS THIS BOOK DOING.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

This entry was posted in American Gods and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 14

  1. Ryan Lohner says:

    What do you know, I ask about Loki, and then here he is. And I feel just as stupid not putting it together with Low Key. I was so obsessed with Norse myths as a kid and spotted Odin early on, so how did I not get that?

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      Its really random who catches it. I'm not particularly familiar with Norse mythology, but I figured; "Loki's probably in it. Hmmm, is it Low-Key?" Others who know it well are mind-blown when the time comes.

    • Shiroikami says:

      I'm VERY familiar with Norse Mythology (it's my favorite mythology of all the ones I know anything about to the point where I took an entire class on it in college) and I didn't see the Low-Key = Loki connection until it was pointed out explicitly. When I first read the book, I kept wondering where Loki was, and in retrospect, I should have noticed it since Gaiman's been giving hints as to his identity since the beginning… like the scars around Low-Key's mouth mentioned in the FIRST CHAPTER (Ybxv unq uvf zbhgu frja fuhg nf cneg bs uvf chavfuzrag nsgre ur pnhfrq gur qrngu bs Onyqhe gur Oyrffrq).

      I felt so stupid afterwards because I felt like I should have KNOWN… you know? -.-;;

  2. pennylane27 says:

    I felt soooo stupid reading this chapter. Loki. I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped again. I guess it's logical that I didn't realise it the first times he was mentioned, as I had no idea that the book was about actual gods, but his name has come up a lot of times since we first learned Wednesday was Odin. Damn.

    I find the concept of the centre of America fascinating. Why would you want to establish it in the first place is beyond me. But what happens to it reminds me of something that happened in my country when the Pope came to visit. He came to the capital, and then he was going to visit some small town in the middle of the countryside. People there actually thought that thousands of people would peregrinate to the town to see the Pope and they started preparing their houses to rent rooms, and setting up small businesses and stuff, and in the end no one came.

    Anyway, Shadow I love you and I understand why you have to do this, but please don't die, ok? Also, some part of me is holding on the hope that Wednesday will somehow resurrect. Please?

  3. cait0716 says:

    Oooh, I like the new banner!

    I love how the internet god just cannot handle being out in the middle of nowhere. No internet connection! Fifty miles from McDonald's! The horror! (I know an unfortunate number of people who are actually like this)

    Hi Loki! But why are you siding with the new gods?

  4. pica_scribit says:

    The motel at the center of America is the only place in this book that I have actually visited, and of course I went there *because* of this book. It was in 2006, and I was doing a two-week road trip with a friend from Miami to Seattle, and it was only a little bit out of our way, so we thought, why not? And it looks just exactly like Gaiman describes it. Except that there were people there. I don't know if that's Gaiman's doing, but besides us, there was a carful of Japanese tourists. Which seemed very odd to me. I mean, you come halfway around to world to see America, and you visit *that* place?

  5. knut_knut says:

    THIS IS PRETTY MUCH GIBBERISH TO ME

    Yea, that was me during this chapter. Actually, who am I kidding? That was me the entire book. How does Gaiman write a book that is so damn confusing yet SO GOOD all at the same time? <3

    I saw Thor for the first time this weekend and whenever someone said “Loki” I would mentally flail and scold myself for not picking up on the Low Key, Loki thing. THEY SOUND EXACTLY THE SAME HOW DID I NOT GET IT AKLAJ;FKAS;DFJA;FJA; (fun fact: the person sitting next to me on the train this morning was also watching Thor. WHAT IS GOING ON)

    • monkeybutter says:

      The headsmacking about Loki/Low-Key in the comments is making me feel better about Mark not doing it in the review. I love it when everyone is as disappointed in themselves for not seeing it as I was. 😀

  6. Patrick721 says:

    I still remember how shocked I was about Low Key=Loki when I first read this book. Of course, the surprise quickly shifted to "Patrick, you moron, why didn't you figure that out sooner?" I mean, it's like if The Devil showed up and called himself Louis Cypher.

    Still, love this book. And the vigil=holy fuck, shit is getting real.

    Also, ELVIS. Except not.

  7. Elexus Calcearius says:

    Awww, we were all hoping for key-smash on the Loki revelation. *puppy-dog eyes*

    But, yeah. This was a serious place for the narrative to go, hanging Shadow from the tree. At this point I wasn't completely sure where to go. Part of me was thinking that he'd die, and become a ghost/zombie/god because of it, the other half was thinking he'd survive, just barely, and have to help his side despite being physically near death, the other part of me thought that if he survived he'd learn all that Odin had learned, and maybe become him. Now, I'm not saying which of these are true, or if any of them are; they're all just here to demonstrate how when you're in a fantasy world, especially one which is a mish-mash of so many different cultures, where the rules haven't really been laid down….well, it makes things difficult to predict.

  8. John Small Berries says:

    The thing that made me suspect Loki's identity was his last name. I accepted the "Low Key" bit as being a reasonable nickname for a grifter, but my eyes got stuck on "Lyesmith" because it didn't look to me like a real last name. I know there are some surnames which include the "-smith" component, taken from the various smithing trades: Goldsmith, Naismith, and so on; but lye isn't really a substance suited to being smithed.

    So that's what got me to pronounce the surname, and then the whole name, and led to my suspicion that I knew who he was ("Lie-smith" isn't an epithet I've ever seen used for Loki, but it's certainly descriptive enough).

    I wasn't completely sure, though – I mean, it would still be an amusingly apropos surname for a grifter (heck, if the suspected instigator for hair-related crimes can have the surname "Mullet", or a urologist can be named Cockburn, I guess anything's possible), and someone with a literary background (or he himself) might have given him the nickname as a jest. But given the book's title, I was reasonably certain who he was.

    • cait0716 says:

      Interesting logic. I saw Lyesmith and my mind immediately went to Tyler Durden. I definitely didn't figure out that he was Loki until Shadow gets it in this chapter.

  9. arctic_hare says:

    OHHHHHHHHHHHH this chapter. 😀 I have many things to comment on!

    – Any chapter that has lots of Mr. Nancy is my kind of chapter. <3

    – Gwydion! Hello! 😀 Yay Welsh myth. Though, admittedly, Gwydion here is a rapist asshole in the old stories… which seems to be par for the course with old gods, eh? Sigh. I enjoy Welsh myth anyway, though; and too bad we don't get to see his sister here, her I liked.

    "Czernobog, who favored classical music, the gloomier the better" LOL I BET HE LISTENS TO NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN. xD

    – Medea's the name you're thinking of, Czernobog. Medea.

    – Fb onfvpnyyl Bqva whfg fbegn gbyq hf jung'f tbvat ba naq jul gurer'f n jne. Arngb.

    – LOKI LIE-SMITH AAAAAHHHHH

    <img src="http://i56.tinypic.com/2z7pjlc.gif&quot; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

    ONE OF MY FAVORITE GODS EVER. EVER. TRICKSTER GODS ARE WHERE IT'S AT, AND LOKI'S ONE OF THE BEST. I CANNOT BELIEVE THERE WASN'T MORE KEYSMASHING ABOUT THIS.

    Oh Loki. Why am I not surprised you're doing this? Perhaps because your MO is to constantly fuck with people. He trolls everyone, it's amazing. <3

    – I love Loki's line about mysteries adding a little zest to the world. I totally agree.

    – V ybir gung Pmreabobt vf npghnyyl evtug nobhg Gbja. Be znlor ur znqr vg unccra gung jnl? V qba'g xabj. Vg'f n ernyyl avpr guvat gb abgvpr ba n erernq, gubhtu.

    – Yggdrasil! And hello Abeaf.

    • cait0716 says:

      Loki is the best. As are trickster gods in general. They're all about brains over brawn which really appealed to me as a tiny, bookish child

      V'z cerggl fher Pmreabobt qvq gung gb uvz. Ur zragvbaf phefvat uvf qrngu.

      Sandman spoilers:
      Gur bar V pna arire svther bhg (sebz Fnaqzna) vf jurgure Qryvevhz npghnyyl phefrq Znmvxrra be jnf whfg cynlvat zvaq tnzrf jvgu ure

    • giishu says:

      I love it how when a trickster enters a story, the story changes. 😀

      And yes, he does troll everyone! 😀

  10. ChronicReader91 says:

    LOKI!!! All this time I was wondering if Loki was going to show up, and it turns out he was there from the very beginning. Duh! It’s so perfect that he wouldn’t have any interest in joining the other old gods, because seriously, he’s Loki. That’s how he rolls. B)

    “Bizarre” is the right word for most of this chapter, especially the “middle of America” parts. I do love that there is really an official, geographic middle of America, although I was surprised that it ended up not attracting at least some tourism.

    Shadow. Shadow. SHADOW WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING. Seriously, if you want to feel more alive, go bungee jumping or something. I’m kind of pissed at Wednesday for making Shadow agree to it, without full divulgence of what it is. “Vigil” is a very innocuous word for something very likely to result in death. How can he POSSIBLY survive being TIED TO A TREE for nine days WITHOUT FOOD OR WATER? I'm scared to know what will happen next.

  11. barnswallowkate says:

    Now I can un-rot13 an earlier comment!

    I read this book specifically because I heard Loki was in it, and my cat is named Loki. My mom pronounces his name as Low Key. And I still didn't catch on until it's spelled out here. WTF.

  12. @sab39 says:

    Remember in the prior chapter that Wednesday had given the impression that he used to have a partner, and Shadow asked about him? I had assumed that was Loki, because, what better partner for a con-man than a trickster?

    If we take Loki at his word, though – which, let's face it, is never a terribly good idea – then he never liked Wednesday and wouldn't have been his partner-in-grift. If not Loki, then who? From what little I know of Thor, grift doesn't seem like a very Thor-like thing to do. I don't know enough about Norse mythology (loved the little bit of dialog about the Norse Pantheon, by the way) to make any other guesses, but still, you can't go wrong assuming Loki is lying. So I reckon Loki is lying, his presence as Shadow's cellmate was anything but coincidental, and Loki and Wednesday were closer than Loki is admitting. Also, Loki isn't really working with the new gods; he's there for some purpose of his own. But what that might be, I'm as yet unsure of.

    • BattleSheep says:

      Like Azula, Loki always lies. Like the best liars, sometimes he lies with the truth. So finding out which parts are truth and which parts are lies is the real trick.

  13. @RaudhrGarm says:

    I love Loki. Qba'g pner jung ur qbrf, ur vf gur ZNTAVSVPRAG ONFGNEQ. Yvbary Yhgube? Abguvat gb Ybxv. Crgle Onryvfu? Gur fghqrag unf abg lrg orngra gur znfgre.

    Rot13 just to be sure.

  14. I completely didn't get the Low-Key=Loki during my first read-through of this book. I really fell like I should have gotten that. (I also really love the trickster characters. Bu Ybeq bs gur Evatf, V pna'g jnvg gb trg V-qba'g-xabj-jung-puncgre-vg-vf, jura vg'f erirnyrq gung Ybxv'f Ze. Jbeyq. V pna'g jnvg sbe Znex'f ernpgvba bs gung.

    (Off-Topic:
    There is an official site where you can register as a citizen of Panem and be placed in a District: http://www.thecapitol.pn/ (Needs a Twitter or Facebook account to register, though.)
    I'm in District 9: Grain, a Farmer. Which I find hilarious as I Do Not Go Outside.)

    • pennylane27 says:

      I'm district 11! Agriculture. I like the site because we finally get to learn what all the districts' produce. And the Capitol announcements are hilarious and terrifying.

  15. ninja_bat says:

    I was very into Norse mythology as a child, and spotted Odin almost from the get-go, so I facepalmed a lot when I realized that I overlooked Loki. Lowkey Lyesmith, for heaven's sake. Doesn't get more obvious than that… 😀

  16. t09yavorsaur says:

    Modern Gods I might like to meet:

    Caffine

    Modern Gods I never ever want to meet:

    Sparklepire

  17. Nicki says:

    If you think about it too much, Shadow's decision does seem odd. People are giving him an out, why does he want to sacrifice himself? But it's totally in line with his character.

    He's been in shock ever since he found out his wife was cheating on him, then add in all this other mind-blowing gods and backstage to reality and walking dead wife to it, AND the fact that up until this point Wednesday was the person Shadow was closest with. Not SUPER close or bosom buddies or things like that, but you can tell that there is some sort of attachment there, and one of Shadow's defining qualities seem to be loyalty: he swears to bring his dead wife back to life EVEN THOUGH she cheated on him. Time and time again he's been offered a better deal by the other side of the war, but he's stuck by Wednesday.

    The comment made by Laura about him not being truly alive also had a huge impact on Shadow. My theory is that at his point Shadow feels he's on the cusp of some huge realization, and that this vigil is tied directly to it.

  18. Claire says:

    The motel at the center of America: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rossaroni/3688279585

    Pretty creepy.

Comments are closed.