In the seventeenth chapter of American Gods, the gods assemble for the storm. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.
Oh. Shit just got so goddamn real, y’all. Good lord, until the end of this chapter, Shadow’s death was the last thing on my mind. I had begun to worry that we wouldn’t see much of the buildup to the war between the gods, but Gaiman gives us every bit of set up to it, and it’s weird, disturbing, and shocking.
We open things at the most important place in the southeastern United States: Rock City, located in Georgia, a very real place that I have wanted to go to for a while. This is the set up for the war between the gods, and I can’t imagine a better place for Gaiman to set up his final battle. It’s half geological wonder, half tourist trap, and all American. And that’s not an insult or a jest. If there is to be a war between the gods in America, the top of Lookout Mountain is appropriate. I am also glad that Gaiman makes sure to include the very American history attached to the place and refers to it as “a cheerful gesture of casual genocide.” This is what the Trail of Tears was in this sense, an act of genocide so casually acted out that those who perpetrated it believed it was actually a service to the Native Americans who lived there. (This is grossly summarizing this entire act, which took place over the course of eight years, and I implore all of you to research this period in U.S. history.)
It’s at this site where the gods begin pouring in, and I love how surreal this is. I love the idea of creatures and beings and gods and people who look like people and people who sort of look like people begin to congregate in one area, all very familiar with why they are coming here. Gaiman basically dumps so many gods and deities into our laps here; as I mentioned before, I can’t even conceive of how much research must have gone into this book. It’s fascinating to me how these gods, many who have existed for hundreds of thousands of years, are contrasted with elements of American society, like limos and a Toyota Previa, with U-Hauls and fast food. This place in Georgia is now witness to the most bizarre collision of culture, religion, and mythology imaginable.
But this chapter only gets weirder. We cut over to Laura’s point of view, just after she leaves Shadow on the tree where he dies. It’s the longest section from her perspective that we’ve gotten in American Gods, and it helps us to understand just how awful it is for her to be walking around as a dead woman. Her love for her husband is still just as strong as ever, maybe even more after she witnesses him become truly alive for the first time on that tree. She obeys him and heads off to the farmhouse nearby to get water, and it’s here that Laura is changed.
I was horrified to find out that Laura is basically sneezing up and spitting out maggots. Death still continues in its normal process, apparently; her body is still rotting while she’s walking about. Which…good god, that is so disturbing to me. But not as disturbing as the water scene!
See, Laura is always thirsty, and she describes her existence as one where pain is always from the absence of something. So she finds the three women (the Three Sisters from earlier) in the farmhouse, and they give her water to drink. BUT IT’S NOT JUST ANY OLD WATER! I admit to being utterly lost and confused as she began to essentially throw up and pee DEATH. Well, her death. Her body starts to expel the death that is inside her, and memories of her life spill into her mind. This was water from Urd’s Well, Gaiman tells us, and it is the water of time. I have no idea what this does to Laura beyond one immutable fact: she is alive again. She can bleed and spit, and it is real blood and saliva.
Yeah, what the hell just happened to her?
The crowd at Rock City continues to grow. What are they all waiting for? I wondered. I can’t imagine a more bizarre sight, especially if you knew these gods were going to battle until the death at some point. They’re all just standing around? Could you imagine being the one random tourist there that day? I mean, what if you walked by the creature with the scalpel-bladed cancer face? Well, I suppose you’d see his human form, but still! Basically, you’d have the best vacation ever.
One crucial god is missing from this, though. Mister Town is hundreds of miles away, on an errand for Mister World. He must find a tree, cut a branch off of it, and deliver to Mister World in Chattanooga. There really could only be one tree that Mister World was talking about, right? But I don’t think Gaiman was banking on us not picking this up; what’s more important is the why. Why does Mister World need a stick from the tree where Shadow held his vigil of Wednesday?
I did not even pay attention to this detail until I finished the chapter, but I want to stick it here to discuss later:
When he was opposite Shadow, he paused. “God, I hate you,” he said. He wished he could just have taken out a gun and shot him, and he knew that he could not. And then he jabbed the stick in the air toward the hanging man, in a stabbing motion. It was an instinctive gesture, containing all the frustration and rage inside Town. He imagined that he was holding a spear and twisting it into Shadow’s guts.
Oh, Gaiman, I see what you did here. We’ll come back to that in a bit. I can’t say I fully understand what happens to Town next, but it seems that he experiences two timelines at the exact same moment when he looks into the farmhouse, and then again when he gets back into his car. And I think there’s something at work here, but I can’t explain it. Why did Shadow suddenly start bleeding? I wondered.
Actually, that’s basically what I turned into: one dude full of a thousand questions. Why does Horus show up to Easter and ask for her help? Doesn’t he already know that Shadow has died? Why is he so insistent that Shadow needs to be saved, regardless of how the war turns out? Did Shadow’s death take place in a different time stream or something? JFC, why do I put everything into terms that make it sound like I’m watching Doctor Who? Why on earth does Mister Town keep returning to the farm where Shadow died, no matter how many different roads he takes away from the place? DOES LAURA KNOW WHO THIS MAN IS WHEN SHE GETS IN THE CAR WITH MISTER TOWN? oh my god LAURA AND MISTER TOWN ARE IN THE SAME CAR AS;DLKFJ A;K;lkajf ads;lkj ads;lkfjasdff;lkafjsd
But look. SERIOUSLY. Nothing in this chapter quite allows Gaiman to tell us how fucking unprepared we are for the end of American Gods than the final scene between the god of Internet and Mister World. I’m still not entirely sure why Mister Town and Mister World are named they way they are. Is that what they’re gods of? Are they actually gods of something else? I do understand that Mister World seems to be in charge. For what reason I have no clue. But that’s the role he plays, so the kids from the limo, the whiny, entitled asshole who I kind of despise, meets up with Mister World to discuss something that’s been bugging him.
Gaiman had planted this seed all the way back in that hotel where the old gods retrieved Wednesday’s body, so despite disliking this god, I was still interested to see why he was upset. I’d not made the connection between the kid’s attitude and his murder of Bilquis, but it turns out he is “troubled” by killing her.
“But. They’ll die out anyway. They are passenger pigeons and thylacines. Yes? Who cares? This way, it’s going to be a bloodbath. If we just wait them out, we get the whole thing.”
Okay, what’s “the whole thing”? How would the not get it through a war?
“I’m being. You know. The voice of reason here.”
“You are indeed. Unfortunately, there is information you do not have.” The smile that followed was twisted and scarred.
The boy blinked. He said, “Mister World? What happened to your lips?”
World sighed. “The truth of the matter,” he said, “is that somebody sewed them together. A long time ago.”
OKAY WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. What information do we not have? I mean, this kid’s concern is valid as far as I know. It’s been bothering me, too. Why not just let the old gods expire? Why annihilate them? And WHY WERE MISTER WORLD’S LIPS SEWED SHUT?
I worried we wouldn’t get an answer out of World, especially when he tells the kid god that he’d have to kill him if he revealed his secret. BOOOOOO DO NOT COP OUT, I thought. And then it was if Gaiman knew I’d yell that at him, and he gives me exactly what I want:
“Well,” said Mr. World,” seeing that we’re friends, here’s the answer: I’m going to take the stick, and I’m going to throw it over the armies as they come together. As I throw it, it will become a spear. And then, as the spear arcs over the battle, I’m going to shout, ‘I dedicate this battle to Odin.'”
“Huh?” said the fat kid. “Why?”
“Power,” said Mr. World. He scratched his chin. “And food. A combination of the two. You see, the outcome of the battle is unimportant. What matters is the chaos, and the slaughter.”
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND ANY OF THIS.
Neither does the god of the Internet and technology. So Mr. World demonstrates it for him! BY SHOVING A HUNTER’S KNIFE IN BELOW HIS CHIN AND DEDICATING IT TO ODIN. And the kid doesn’t bleed? And he like…shorts out???? WHAT THE HOLY FUCK JUST HAPPENED.
But this is made a thousand times creepier with the last sentence:
For a little while there was silence in that place. And then a gruff voice which was not Mr. World’s cleared its throat in the shadows, and said, Good start.”
WHAT THE HOLY FUCK IS HAPPENING someone please hold me