Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 20

In the twentieth (and final) chapter of American Gods, Shadow realizes that Ganesh was sending him a message about the unresolved horrors in the town of Lakeside. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.


sweet summer child, this is horrific.

The trunk of the car. What is in the trunk of the car? I am shocked that this book’s pace has taken such an abrupt turn so close to the end. It makes a lot of sense why this is an epilogue; the proper story ended after Shadow helped his wife die, and now he’s tying up the loose ends.

But is it a positive thing or a negative thing in the trunk? I started to think this was a test of some sort, that there was a reward for Shadow in that trunk, something he was promised or maybe even something given to him by one of the old gods because of what he did to save them all. Or maybe Wednesday left something behind?

Whatever it is, Shadow knows he has little time before the ice melts. I think I approached the beginning of chapter twenty with a lot more hope than I should have, and I know it’s because the past couple chapters felt like such a victory to me. Given that, I started off reading this as if some wondrous surprise was awaiting Shadow. Is it a present? MAYBE IT’S A PUPPY!

Why did I think this way? I can’t really explain it any other way, and I should have been more skeptical. Even now, as I go back to re-read how chapter twenty opens, it’s clear that this is written with an air of gloom to it. Beyond logistical reasons, Shadow’s urgency to scramble down to the car, ignoring all the signs that insist he shouldn’t do exactly what he is doing, wasn’t a thing of joy. It was one of dawning horror.

He felt strangely distant as he trudged across the frozen lake, as if he were watching himself on a movie screen–a movie in which he was the hero, a detective, perhaps: there was a feeling of inevitability, now, as if everything that was going to happen would play itself out, and there was nothing he could have done to change a moment of it.

So what’s in the trunk? Oh god, I don’t want to know, do I?

He arrived at the klunker, and even before he reached it he knew that he had been right. There was a miasma that hung about the car, something that was at the same time a faint, foul smell and was also a bad taste in the back of his throat.

Oh fuck. It’s a body, isn’t it? At first, I guessed that it was the body of a dead god, but then I remembered that Wednesday’s body never really deteriorated in the way that a human’s body normal decomposes; I distinctly recalled that Mister Town smelled him, and he did not reek of death. So it had to be the body of a human, and I knew that, and suddenly, all the pieces started to fall into places, and, like Shadow, I knew what this was. Yes, I figured something out just mere seconds before it was revealed so ALLOW ME THIS MINISCULE VICTORY.

Wait, is it a victory if it involves kidnap and murder? That’s probably the wrong word. Shadow is not going to be satisfied by finding the girl who disappeared just after his arrival, and there will be no real victory here. So this becomes unbearable: every second that he takes trying to unlock the car and then open the trunk is just delaying the inevitable. And when it happens, it’s just as awful as you might imagine:

“You were here all the time,” said Shadow to Alison McGovern’s corpse. “Every single person who drove over that bridge saw you. Everyone who drove through the town saw you. The ice fisherman walked past you every day. And nobody knew.” And then he realized how foolish that was.

Tragedy feels like too calm of a word. I am so heartbroken and disturbed by this. And this disaster–is there a better word for this???–only compounds in awfulness. What if this gets pinned on Shadow? How is he supposed to live in this town anymore? Will he live there after this? Oh, cool, we don’t get to find out about any of this because Shadow falls into the lake with the car. And this frightened me:

It was ten past nine in the morning, on March the twenty-third.

The deadpan way in which this is written made me think only one thing: Shadow is going to die. And what about this doesn’t suggest this fate? It would even fit the novel: Shadow would die and return back to the very existence he had chosen in the afterlife. But Gaiman wasn’t quite done with Shadow yet, and this is when I knew that he couldn’t die:

He knew it was dark down there: rationally, he knew it was too dark to see anything, but still, he could see; he could see everything. He could see Alison McGovern’s white face staring at him from the open trunk. He could see other cars as well–the klunkers of bygone years, rotten hulk shapes in the darkness, half-buried in the lake mud. And what else would they have dragged out onto the lake, thought Shadow, before there were cars?

Each one, he knew, without any question, had a dead child in the trunk. There were scores of them down there. Each had sat out on the ice, in front of the eyes of the world, all through the cold winter. Each had tumbled into the cold waters of the lake, when the winter was done.

I can’t. I can’t even deal with this. Fucked up. It’s fucked up. All the girls who went missing from Lakeside….they were all here the entire time, locked into the trunks of cars that sat on the lake until it melted. It is such a foolproof method of disposing of bodies that it frightens me.

But Gaiman wouldn’t give us this detail without giving us the why. So either Shadow would find out by getting out from under the ice, or he’d find out in death. I won’t lie: as more time passed and Shadow remained under the ice, I stopped assuming he could live. I thought we would get our answers in the existence after death. It seemed too impossible to me, and there was too much to answer for. How would he get unstuck from the car? How would he break through the ice? How would he do all of this without drowning?

He gets pulled above the ice. Oh, I thought. So….someone saw him fall in perhaps? Who is it? What’s going on? Why does he want to sleep? WAIT DID HE FALL ASLEEP? Oh, holy shit, he can see the gods, DID HE JUST DIE? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? WHY. WHY ARE THE GODS LEAVING SHADOW BEHIND. WHY IS THIS BECOMING A VOID. Oh my god, Shadow is dying, isn’t he?

In hindsight, that almost would have been the easy option. Instead, Shadow wakes up, in immense pain, to someone calling him Mike. So it has to be someone from Lakeside who…stuck Shadow in a bathtub? And is now lecturing him about how to properly deal with someone freezing to death? It didn’t seem all that sinister to me at the time, but I was suspicious. It seemed a little too convenient that someone would save Shadow at the last possible moment. It didn’t help that Gaiman waited a long time to reveal that this was Hinzelmann. To be fair, once you think about it…it really couldn’t have been anyone aside from Hinzelmann who would have been out there on that lake. He would be watching to see when the car would drop anyway, especially this late in the season.

For Shadow (and myself, to be honest), though, the situation is just a bit fishy, perhaps too much so:

He wondered how an old man, a man half his height and perhaps a third his weight, had been able to drag him, unconscious, across the ice, or get him up the bank to a car. He wondered how Hinzelmann had gotten Shadow into the house and the bath.

My initial guess? There was someone else. Shadow was barely conscious; how could he know it was only Hinzelmann that dragged him to safety?

“You know what I don’t understand…,” said Shadow. He hesitated, putting his thoughts in order. “I don’t understand why you saved my life.”

“Well,” said Hinzelmann, “the way I was brought up, if you see another fellow in trouble–”

“No,” said Shadow. “That’s not what I mean. I mean, you killed all those kids. Every winter. I was the only one to have figured it out. You must have seen me open the trunk. Why didn’t you just let me drown?”



but the


WHAT THE FUCK. Hinzelmann? He’s a serial killer??!?!?!?!? WHY.

“Well,” he said. “That’s a good question. I guess it’s because I owed a certain party a debt. And I’m good for my debts.”


“That’s the fellow.”

“There was a reason he hid me in Lakeside, wasn’t there? There was a reason nobody should have been able to find me here.”

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME. So what the hell kind of deal did Hinzelmann strike with Wednesday in order to make this happen? He gets to KIDNAP AND MURDER CHILDREN so that….what? I don’t get it. I DON’T GET IT.

“How long have you been here?”

“Long enough.”

“And you made the lake?”

Hinzelmann peered at him, surprised. “Yes,” he said. “I made the lake. They were calling it a lake when I got here, but it weren’t nothing more than a spring and a mill-pond and a creek.” He paused. “I figured that this country is hell on my kind of folk. It eats us. I didn’t want to be eaten. So I made a deal. I gave them a lake, and I gave them prosperity…”

“And all it cost them was one child every winter.”

This. This is how this book is going to end, isn’t it? Hinzelmann was a god the whole time. Even more disturbing, he brought people here to try and oust Shadow without gaining the ire of Wednesday. Do you know how creepy that is, the idea that a thought Sam Black Crow had was not her own? That Hinzelmann put it there? And we come to learn that he has done this in some bizarre spin of determinism FOR MANY, MANY YEARS. This is what he has done as a kobold, a household sprite from Germanic folklore: he controls the town of Lakeside. And perhaps he doesn’t technically control all of the free will of these people, but Shadow realizes he controls enough for this to be a terrible, awful arrangement.

But what can he do? Can he kill the god who saved him? Can Hinzelmann even leave? Can he do this to the god after Hinzelmann shows him his true form, a small child, demonstrating how a sacrifice is needed to keep him alive?

He doesn’t have to. Because Chad Mulligan heard the whole thing. And it happens so fast, and it is terrifying, and suddenly, Hinzelmann is dead, a gunshot to the head, a failed attempt at trying to spear Chad Mulligan with a hot poker sparing the life of the local Lakeside police officer. What scares me about this is how robotic Chad seems almost immediately after killing Hinzelmann, shocked by the guilt and shame of having to kill someone and set fire to their house. This has to be Chad’s first kill, isn’t it? He had made a point earlier in the novel to state that not much happens in Lakeside that would require violent reactions on his part. And now he finds out this thing murdered his father, created the lake, dumps kidnapped children in it once a year in a public gamble, and essential controls all outside factors to keep this parade a secret.

This is fucked up.

Did you know I was going to say that this gets worse? Well, it gets worse. That desire that Hinzelmann was able to project onto other people is a whole lot more pervasive than I initially thought. It’s so bad that Shadow believes the god forced Chad to kill him, build him a pyre, and now wants him to kill himself. I DON’T LIKE A GOD WHO CONTROLS PEOPLE LIKE THIS. More so than anyone in this book (and maybe even Wednesday, too!!), Hinzelmann has done a horrific thing. Unforgivable, even!

That being said, I have to admit that it is also kind of creepy that Shadow essentially does the same thing as the kobold: he controls the thoughts inside Chad’s mind. To be fair, he is reversing those thoughts, removing the cloud of negative energy that is causing Chad to want to kill himself, but this is all really strange and uncomfortable to me. But it does something else: it makes me suspicious.

I’ll get to that in a second. Shadow has a lot to do, and so does Gaiman. most important, there are a couple of people who need to be visited, the first of which is Sam Black Crow. Far away from Shadow, she closes the restaurant she works in while she chats with her girlfriend. (ugh, yes more queer women everywhere FILL ALL MY BOOKS WITH THEM) (Also, I suppose Natalie might not be a full-on “girlfriend” at this point, so…lady friend with whom Sam does sexy time with?) (I did roll my eyes juuusstttt a bit at Sam listening to Indigo Girls. Not that there is anything wrong with them! But that’s like revealing a character is a gay dude and then say he’s listening to Erasure. Which is not an insult to Erasure! It’s just that it’s such a common stereotype that it makes me laugh.)

Sam still thinks of Shadow, though in her dreams, where she also has visions of a woman with a buffalo head. I wouldn’t dare presume to know why she would have a dream with that “god” either. Perhaps it’s just as simple as the two of them being connected through their experiences.

Perhaps it’s just as simple as the two of them being connected through their experiences. I don’t think I really need to know why, either, as I’m not sure it’s that important.

What is important is this:

Natalie looked at Sam, then she looked again. Then she said, “Where did you get those from?”


“The flowers. The ones you’re holding, Sam. Did you have them when we left the Coffee House? I would have seen them.”

I genuinely thought that I misread this. Had I missed a word? A sentence? But no, flowers just suddenly appeared in Sam’s hands. And neither of them knew where they came from. And…what?

The thing is, when we see this from Shadow’s perspective, it makes sense for about five seconds. It’s very sweet, and I’m glad Shadow knows that he should discard of any feelings he might have had for Sam. Except….HOW THE FUCK CAN SHADOW DO THIS. How could he hand over those roses without anyone seeing him?

OH. OH. There really are only two options here, aren’t there? Either Shadow died under the ice and this is all some fucked-up after-life/post-death wandering like with Laura, or….

Is Shadow a god? How could that be possible, though? He isn’t aware of it, is he? But he is able to move backstage and no other human is, and this would explain the roses. He slipped backstage to avoid detection. BUT. BUT. BUT OMG WHAT IS THIS BOOK EVEN FUCKING DOING TO ME.

Shadow decides to make one final visit, and my head was spinning by this point in the book. He drives to Chicago, and it’s clear he’s going to see Czernobog, and it’s clear he is seeking out the god in order to fulfill the debt created by that game of checkers. In fact, he even drops so eternal wisdom gained after this whole experience:

“But you know, the only thing I’ve really learned about dealing with gods is that if you make a deal, you keep it. They get to break all the rules they want. We don’t. Even if I tried to walk out of here, my feet would just bring me back.”

I can’t really disagree with him. Ever since he became involved, he hasn’t been able to escape any of this. The gods are intertwined into his life. Hell, they’re intertwined into all life, if you think about it. So why wait around for the day when Czernobog bashes your skull in? Shadow wants to be done with this all, or at least as “done” as one could be with the gods. Despite that the Zorya sisters insist that he leaves, he waits for Czernobog to return. I thought this would be the end of the book: Shadow would die by the force of a sledgehammer to the head.

Shadow closed his eyes and raised his head, and he waited.

The head of the sledgehammer was cold, icy cold, and it touched his forehead as gently as a kiss.

Pock! There,” said Czernobog. “Is done.” There was a smile on his face that Shadow had never seen before, an easy, comfortable smile, like sunshine on a summer’s day.

Look, I don’t care. This is one of the most adorable things on the face of the planet. I can imagine the sound!!!! But it’s a sign that things have finally changed; multiple times in this chapter, we hear of the “spring” that is arriving. It seems that what Shadow has done has created a ripple in the community of the gods, and the tide has turned for the positive for once.

I don’t know whether Shadow is human or a god, or how much control he had over his own life. I think Gaiman leaves some of that up to our imagination, and I’m ultimately okay with that. But Shadow did change things, and for that, I respect him.

(We’re not done with American Gods yet. Tomorrow, I’ll write about the Postscript, the additional “Jesus” scene, and do a more formal wrap-up. Then: Surprise. Then: More surprises.)

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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87 Responses to Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 20

  1. Ryan Lohner says:

    I went through this whole chapter slack-jawed, and now more than ever I want to read the book again to see all the clues I missed. They have to be there, right?

  2. Maya says:

    I don't know if this is included in the 10th Anniversary Edition, but Neil Gaiman wrote another short story with Shadow called "Monarch of the Glen" which is in his short story collection "Fragile Things." Even if it is included, the collection is totally worth picking up anyway. I really enjoy his short stories and it includes one of my favorite poems ever (you can read it here:

    • Maya says:

      Apparently the parentheses make the link not work. link:

      • Saphling says:

        GNeil gave a talk about dreams and stories at a local university a few years ago, and read that poem! It was delightful, and is still one of my favorites of his. Along with "The Day the Saucers Came."

    • bearshorty says:

      I love "Fragile Things." It is such a great collection of short stories.

      I read "Monarch of the Glen" long before I read "American Gods." And while that story actually had Shadow's full name in it, I still did not make the connection to who he was until way after I read the novel and then Norse mythology. Definitely worth the read.

  3. pennylane27 says:

    Oh Mark, only you could have thought there was something good in that car. As soon as I realised what trunk he was talking about my mind went there. Dead children every year. It's so horrific.

    The worst part is that it was Hinzelmann. I liked the man, just like I liked Wednesday. And they both turned out to be the "bad guys". Dammit.

    I still don't know what Shadow is at this point exactly, but I'm starting to think it's not really important. I love that he goes willingly to see Czernobog. But I love even more that he gets to live.

    What do you mean, surprises? Stop it Mark, you are killing me!

  4. pennylane27 says:

    Oh and CHAD MULLIGAN FOR PRESIDENT. I love that man.

  5. @sab39 says:

    Allow me to gloat that I had figured this one out almost completely without any external hints. The uncanny "perfectness" of Lakeside while all the surrounding country was suffering, combined with all the hints that Shadow was put there on purpose because it was somehow special, that it would hide him (even from Laura!), clued me in that there was some god there keeping the town supernaturally perfect.

    Once you realize that bit, in the context of *this* book, the fact that the missing children are a sacrifice is almost obvious.

    So it was just a question of – who? I was already wondering about that even before I made the connection of the missing children, and in that context, it seemed almost… wilfully oblivious of Shadow to think that the person who appeared in the minutes of the old Lakeside council meetings was Hinzelmann's "great great grandfather" or whatever it was he said.

    I only connected all that with "it's in the trunk" / "the ice is melting" yesterday morning, though.

  6. Saphling says:

    The point to the mention of it being 9:10 on March 23rd when the car (and Shadow) fell through the ice is that it's within the half-hour Shadow had bet on in the town raffle on when the car would fall.

    He won!


  7. cait0716 says:

    It was ten past nine in the morning, on March the twenty-third.

    Shadow won the lottery! Seriosuly, though, this is one of the strangest coincidences in the book. I mean, Shadow used his power to make sure the klunker went through the ice at this moment. Back in January he was talking to the lake "March twenty-third, just after nine in the morning". If he hadn't done that, he totally would have had time to retrieve Allison McGovern before she sank into the lake. But, like he says, her body will float to the surface and the mystery will be revealed.

    Last year, ABC had a short-lived series called Happy Town that I was sure was going to be just like the Lakeside plot in this book. There was a small town on a lake and there had been a rash of disappearances and it had Sam Neill and Amy Acker. But then it didn't get any viewers (I'm not sure it was even that good), and they didn't even air all of the episodes. I'll just have to wait until the HBO series to see this come to life.

    • Kit says:

      I couldn't get through the first episode of Happy Town. Not that it was bad, more like it was incredibly uncompelling.

  8. knut_knut says:

    But is it a positive thing or a negative thing in the trunk? I started to think this was a test of some sort, that there was a reward for Shadow in that trunk, something he was promised or maybe even something given to him by one of the old gods because of what he did to save them all. Or maybe Wednesday left something behind?

    Oh, Mark <3 If only it was a puppy with rainbows and cookies and maybe Mr. Nancy.

    Remember when you wrote about how in little towns, the town founder is like a god? YOU KNEW IT ALL ALONG! You had it and you never realized it. Wherever Gaiman is right now, he’s immensely pleased with himself.

    What are these surprises? I’M EXCITED!

  9. Adam D. Bram says:

    I'm playing a kobold in my D&D game like right now……

    • clodia_risa says:

      Really? Is it a largely monstrous group? Or is it a kobold in with a bunch of the more “traditional” races?

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        In D&D, Kobolds tend to mean "species that lives underground'. If I'm right, they're sort of like small humans, tend to live in sewers and caves. They fight among themselves a lot. Most don't go around killing kids, though.

        • clodia_risa says:

          I do play myself. It’s just that you don’t often see kobolds or goblins as PCs, unlike orcs and dark elves. In fact, [google says] kobolds really only exist in the monster manual, although I know that hasn’t stopped players before. I am curious if it’s the usual blend of races in the party or if most of the party is taken from the monster manual.

          I guess I could have worded my question a little better to be more clear.

          Side note: if I never play a traditional medieval fantasy game again, it will be too soon.

          • Zoli says:

            It depends on the type of D&D you're playing; different editions have different versions of kobolds. I think in 3.5 they're usually a monster instead of PC race (and are more monkeyish), Pathfinder features kobolds as tiny dragon-like creatures of all things, and I believe 4.0 features kobolds as a PC race, but I don't remember how they're portrayed. They're definitely one of the more varying fantasy creatures, though.

  10. clodia_risa says:

    You know what’s sad? As horrible as Hinzelmann is, I still like him.

    As to his “bargain” – when Shadow and the townspeople are all looking for the poor missing girl, one of the women goes on a huge rant about how this town is good, really, and how much she loves it. I’ve always taken that to mean that, even if the townspeople didn’t know the exact deal they were in, that there was some level of consciousness that there was something off about the town. If nothing else, someone else has to have noticed that one child goes missing per winter at about the same time. The children did. But the adults willfully ignore this fact, hope it is not their children, or think that all of the other benefits are worth it. So, as much as Hinzelmann may control the actions of those in the town, and as much as he is the villain in this story, I do blame all of the townspeople for the past 100+ years for being complicit.

    As for Shadow’s deadpan recitation of the date and time: I don’t know if you remember, but that was when he had placed his bet. He specifically whispered to the ice to crack at that time and day.

    • cait0716 says:

      I still like Hinzelmann, too. He doesn't seem overly malicious. He's from a time when human sacrifice was par for the course (he himself was sacrificed as a child) and he strikes a bargain with the town. He really does care about the town and everyone in it and works for their prosperity and happiness. He's also tied to that bargain as much as the people of the town are, which is shown by his inability to even leave Lakeside. I'm not trying to excuse the killing of a child every year, but there are certainly worse people out there. There are even worse people in this book.

      Spoilers for Buffy and it's spinoff:
      Va fbzr jnlf, Uvamryznaa erzvaqf zr bs obgu gur znlbe naq Wnfzvar, jub jrer ovt onqf sbe qvssrerag ernfbaf. Yvxr gur znlbe, Uvamryznaa ohvyg n gbja sbe uvf bja checbfrf. Gurl obgu qrznaqrq n fnpevsvpr, ohg ng yrnfg Uvamryznaa jnagrq gur gbja gb cebfcre vafgrnq bs whfg jnagvat gb or n ovt fanxr. Wnfzvar unf gur fnzr guehfg bs fnpevsvpvat n srj sbe gur unccvarff bs gur znal. Bs pbhefr, fur qrznaqf ynetre naq ynetre fnpevsvprf naq npuvrirf crnpr ol erzbivat serr jvyy. Uvamryznaa cynlf jvgu crbcyrf' jvyyf n ovg, ohg ol naq ynetr ur yrgf gurz trg ba jvgu gurve yvirf.

      Fb znlor gur snpg gung V qba'g frr Uvamryznaa nf *gung* onq unf zber gb qb jvgu orvat qrfrafvgvmrq ol Wbff. Ur'f abg jubyyl rivy naq ng gur raq bs gur qnl, V guvax ur'f zber yvxr Juvfgyre va gung ur frrzf gb or gelvat sbe fbzr fbeg bs onynapr.

    • notemily says:

      He specifically whispered to the ice to crack at that time and day.


  11. Indigo Sto Helit says:

    As it turns out, if you look Czernobog up, he’s a dark Slavic winter god– and he has a twin brother, Bielbog, who comes in the spring and replaces Czernobog. Bielbog represents happiness and spring and light and such, and he’s much nicer than Czernobog. So… was it Czernobog’s mercy or Bielbog’s kindness that saved Shadow? Gaiman leaves it vague, I think just so we can choose ourselves.

    • cait0716 says:

      I think it was mostly Czernobog's mercy. He may have been influenced a bit by Bielebog, but he says that for today he's still mostly Czernobog. Bielebog won't fully arrive until the next day.

      Then again, Czernobog has the earlier line about their similarities. All his life he was the dark one and Bielebog was the light one, but not they're both old and grey and not so different from each other. Maybe they've been influencing each other more than they know for decades and centuries.

      • notemily says:

        I like that a lot. And also the line about how the sunlight caught Czernobog's gray hair and made it look "almost golden," or something. Like he's already on his way to being the god of light.

    • pica_scribit says:

      Weirdly, Onyqre (jub funqbj vf zrnag gb ercerfrag) vf fbzrgvzrf nffbpvngrq jvgu Ovryobt, but I don't think it's Gaiman intention to invoke this particular connection.

  12. monkeybutter says:

    Oh, Hinzelmann. I love your stories, but the whole dead-kids-everywhere thing is a bit of a problem. You should definitely read this one again when you have the time (haha), Mark. Hinzelmann's as deviously entertaining as Wednesday once you know what he's talking about. "I'll tell you all my secrets / But I lie about my past / So send me off to bed for evermore."

    And Czerno/Bielebog's "Pock" is the most adorable thing ever.

  13. Natalia (@mellafe) says:

    I just wanted to say that this second time around, reading with you, I enjoyed the book a lot more. I really didn't like it the first time I read it and, considering Gaiman is my favorite writer, was a bit of a let down. But I liked it this time. I understood it (foreigner alert!), so yay.

    Really looking forward to the next book. And listen to Scarlet's Walk. Really.

  14. Julezyme says:

    I super heart Czernobog/Bielebog. I love the Zorya flipping the mattress in his room. I love "Pock!" Is done." I love everything about this scene.

    Yay! Mark+American Gods 4 eva!

  15. Elexus Calcearius says:

    Even though the Hinzlemen thing makes so much sense, its painful, too. He was such a fun character. Such a happy guy. The type of person you'd just want to hang out and talk with….

    You know, except for the serial killer god, thing.

    The sad thing is how we humans created him. It was a group of people, a long, long time ago, who separated a child, placed him in the dark, and killed him….

    • It was a group of people, a long, long time ago, who separated a child, placed him in the dark, and killed him….

      That vision Shadow has of his origin early on always chokes me up, and it's why I can never entirely hate Hinzelmann. Regret, despise, pity, but not hate.

  16. arctic_hare says:

    Oh Mark, you are so adorable I can't stand it. <3 I wanted to give you a hug, reading about how you thought something good would be in the trunk, and then… and then. 🙁 Damn it, I LIKED Hinzelmann and his funny stories. Whyyyyyyyy.

    (ugh, yes more queer women everywhere FILL ALL MY BOOKS WITH THEM)

    THIS THIS THIS. Also THIS on that stereotype. Queer myself, and I do believe I've not even heard one of their songs. Like ever. xD

    And it's so true what Shadow says. That's why it's a bad idea for mortals to make deals with gods. I don't know of any that have come out the happier for it.

    Chernobog's "Pock!" is one of the best things ever. <3

    But it’s a sign that things have finally changed; multiple times in this chapter, we hear of the “spring” that is arriving. It seems that what Shadow has done has created a ripple in the community of the gods, and the tide has turned for the positive for once.

    Ragnarok has ended, and the Fimbulvtr is over. Easter brought spring when she revived Shadow, and he stopped the war. The world is being reborn, in a sense. Again, like I said in another review, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, GAIMAN.

    • @sab39 says:

      I'm a straight man and I love Indigo Girls. And at least one song by Erasure. So yeah, fuck stereotyping.

    • Mary Sue says:

      Ok, admittedly though, back when Neil was toddling around the US gathering for this book, every stinkin' lesbian-identified book shop and cafe in the country was playing Indigo Girls nonstop.

      Which was super annoying to this here self-identified redneck bulldyke. I do not like them. I would much rather listen to Toby Keith, and he makes me want to pull out my molars with a pair of pliers.

    • quenstalof says:

      I totally tried to de-Rot13 Fimbulvtr

  17. Mary Sue says:

    Ohboy! Surprises! Is it going to be a puppy? TELL ME IT’S A PUPPY AND NOT A DEAD CHILD IN THE TRUNK.

    Seriously, though, people wonder why I don’t like surprises. Because I watch/read too much in the horror genre. If it’s a surprise puppy, it’s usually nailed to the door.

  18. la.donna.pietra says:

    In all fairness, about a decade ago, if you were a lady who liked ladies and you didn't listen to the Indigo Girls, you weren't getting laid. It seems a little dated now, but it amused me to no end when I read it at the time.

  19. pica_scribit says:

    My guess would be that Shadow is now a demigod/folk hero, and because he knows and acknowledges it, he has some god-like abilities. After all, he has all those gods believing in him; that's got to be some powerful mojo, right?

    A thought regarding Shadow's nature and true name: Jvxvcrqvn fnlf, "Va Natyb-Fnkba genqvgvba, gur fba bs Jbqra vf pnyyrq abg Ornyqbe ohg Oæyqæt, Oryqrt, juvpu fubjf nffbpvngvba jvgu "qnl", cbffvoyl jvgu Qnl crefbavsvrq nf n qrvgl juvpu, Tevzz cbvagf bhg, jbhyq nterr jvgu gur zrnavat "fuvavat bar, juvgr bar, n tbq" qrevirq sebz gur zrnavat bs Onygvp onygnf, shegure nqqhpvat Fynivp Orybobt naq Trezna Oreugn."

    I love the resolution of the Lakeside subplot. There is something just so beautiful and perfect about it.

    Mark, I hope you are planning to go back and re-read this book at some point in the near future, because the clues for everything that Gaiman littered through it will blow your mind.

  20. empath_eia says:

    My theory regarding Shadow was always that he was born with the capacity to be a god, due to being born of one, but remained human until something woke it up. I personally think that something was Laura dedicating that death to him. That’s an act of worship, whether she knew it or not. It makes sense to me that worship would wake up Shadow’s divine half.

    Hanging out with that many gods for so long and walking in so many places steeped in spiritual power can’t have hurt, either.

  21. la.donna.pietra says:

    Now that the danger of spoilers is past: here's a reference guide to all the gods and mythological figures:

  22. la.donna.pietra says:

    And some fantastic artwork inspired by AG, also positively dripping with spoilers:

    • monkeybutter says:

      Those are great. I love the Zorya, the different Kalis, Mad Sweeneys, Coatlicue, and most of all, the bug-eyed Horus. He honestly made me crack up.

  23. notemily says:

    I think the reason I love the Lakeside story so much is that even though it's about a forgotten god, and even though it's set in a book with all this other weird god stuff going on, it's still an awesome murder mystery and would be even without gods involved. The bodies are in the trunk of the car! One car every year and one "runaway." It's so obvious when you think about it, and that's why it's brilliant. If Hinzelmann had turned out to just be a murdering bastard instead of a kobold, it still would have been brilliant.

    So that's why ten years later, the solution to the Lakeside mystery is the only part of this book that was clear in my head when I began to re-read it. All the god stuff was fuzzy and it's probably going to be just as fuzzy pretty soon, but the bodies are still going to be in the trunks, under the iced-over lake, forever.

    One thing I do wonder, in a morbid sort of way, is exactly how Hinzelmann killed the kids. Did he just lock them in the trunk and leave them there to freeze to death? Or did he kill them in some other way first? I don't know why I am fascinated by this. It's not really spelled out in the book.

    Aw, why are Whiskey Jack and the others being sad and walking away from Shadow? Are they disappointed in him somehow? Or are they just saying they're not going to haunt his dreams anymore? That his task is done? Man, there is so much I still don't get about this book.

    The Onion headquarters had already moved to New York by the time this book was published, but it started in Madison, and it used to be the only places you could get a paper copy were in the Midwest. Man, I wonder what the website looked like in 1996. I wonder when Gaiman was writing this.

    "I guess my ESP isn't that hot." Ha. It's better than you know, Sam.

    I saw Sam listening to the Indigo Girls as a hippie-college-kid thing rather than a queer-kid thing. I could be wrong, but I listened to them a lot in college, and I'm straight. They put on a great concert, too.

    Then again I also unabashedly love Erasure. I've been listening to "Run to the Sun" all the time for the past couple of weeks. And that's not even one of their huge hits: that's how much of a dork I am.

    I don't know why Shadow is able to give Sam the roses without anyone detecting him. I think maybe it's an extension of the thought-powers he's been shown to have: he can make it snow, he can take memories from Chad's mind, and now he can make it so Sam LITERALLY doesn't notice him. I don't even know if he consciously did that; I think he was just thinking "I better make this quick and leave so she doesn't come after me," and he accidentally pressed the button for "perception filter" or whatever.


    No but seriously, I bet they will be awesome surprises. AND THEN HOBBIT.

    • cait0716 says:

      The Lakeside mystery left the deepest impression on me, too. For a few re-reads I kept wondering why I couldn't remember who won the battle and then all would be revealed and I'd inevitably forget again. I think I even forgot that Hinzelmann was kidnapping and killing the kids, but I always remembered that they were in the klunker.

      I sort of got the impression that he just locked them in the trunk and left them to die. There was a mention of Allison's tears still being frozen on her face, which is the most heartbreaking image in this whole chapter.

      I still can't figure out the gods walking away. I hope they aren't disappointed in him. He did so well

      • @sab39 says:

        I thought that Hinzelmann had made a deal with "the land" (as embodied by the Buffalo, and honored by Whiskey Jack) and Shadow messing with Hinzelmann's deal meant that they were walking away from the *lake*, and symbolically from Lakeside, not from Shadow per se.

      • knut_knut says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who wanted to know how Hinzelmann killed all those kids xD I think caito is right, though- he probably just locked them in the trunk and then they froze to death 🙁

      • monkeybutter says:

        Yeah, I figure he leaves them out to freeze to death before they push the klunker out onto the ice, like the frozen kids in his story. Maybe he even pours water on them so they freeze into place and don't tumble around. That way the people of Lakeside helping him push it out there are unwittingly taking part in the sacrifice (I think the town founders did it willingly, a dark secret, and it became a custom where the later generations follow through the motions and it still counts.)

    • pennylane27 says:

      Joining you in the Hobbit chant. But Mark tweeted last Monday that he was starting next week, so… next Monday? I can barely refrain from flailing.

  24. t09yavorsaur says:

    Who was it that said, back during the first few Lakeside chapters, that they were happy that Gaiman did not make small town America full of serial killers?

  25. Rachel says:

    I read this book ages ago when I was probably too young to fully understand everything and reading your reviews has made me realize I remembered almost nothing of this book. Except this.

    For some reason, this subplot with the trunk of the car and the girl's corpse resonated with me so emotionally and even though I couldn't remember the details, the sadness and poignancy I felt reading it will always stay with me.

    I guess what I mean to say is I LOVE YOU NEIL GAIMAN. He also posted this to his tumblr today:
    <img src=""/&gt;
    A baby punk band in 1977. Left to right, we wound up a TV producer, a Meteorite Man, a writer and a painter.

    Awesome man is awesome.

  26. MidnightLurker says:

    And now I can finally say something out loud and unspoilered. And angrily.

    I won't name names, but a lot of you, back in the early Lakeside chapters, were going on behind rot13 about how you not only still liked HInzelmann but THOUGHT THAT WHAT HE WAS DOING WAS JUSTIFIED. One kid a year to keep a whole town nice, prosperous, and otherwise safe? OH THAT'S JUST FINE, GO AHEAD.

    You know what? YOU CAN ALL GO TO HELL AND DIE. I choose to walk away from Omelas… only so that I can start a guerilla movement in the hills and come back to BURN THAT SICKNESS DOWN.

    You should be ashamed of yourselves. ASHAMED.

  27. It was ten past nine in the morning, on March the twenty-third.

    Now I think about it, what time did Shadow pick in the raffle? Yes, he DID pick it. 😀

    He gets pulled above the ice. Oh, I thought. So….someone saw him fall in perhaps? Who is it? What’s going on? Why does he want to sleep?

    That would be the hypothermia making him want to sleep I think.

    So what the hell kind of deal did Hinzelmann strike with Wednesday in order to make this happen?

    I think Hinzelmann just owed Wednesday. Wednesday seems the type to do someone a favour AND NEVER FORGET THAT HE DID ONE AND YOU NOW OWE HIM BIGTIME.

    • echinodermata says:

      Mark hasn't read or watched any of LotR, so for the sake of the spoiler policy I edited out the last bit of your comment regarding RotK (as well as the preceeding quote from Mark's review since without the line I edited out the quote had no purpose).

  28. Mauve_Avenger says:

    There might be more of these that I missed, since I decided to get a hard copy instead of the ebook and so I can't do a search in the usual way. From chapter eleven, one chapter after Shadow has the dream about his origins, this is (I think?) Shadow's third encounter with Hinzelmann:

    "[Shadow] enjoyed Hinzelmann's company–the reminiscences, the tall tales, the goblin grin of the old man."

    "'No, Mike, said Hinzelmman. 'It's for the children.' For a moment he looked serious, with no trace of impishness on his creased old face…"

    And then in this chapter, there are two references to Hinzelmann's "goblin face" and another reference to him looking "more like a gargoyle than an imp" in the light of his fireplace.

  29. Danielle says:

    In the story of Odin, IIRC, it was hanging on the tree for nine days that gave him all his knowledge and wisdom and stuff. Maybe Shadow got the same deal.

  30. ChronicReader91 says:

    I had always thought the missing children storyline would come back into play, but I NEVER connected them to the klunkers. I was probably too busy working on my won convoluted theory about what had happened to them to pay attention to the obvious clues, but oh well. My theory was, knowing that not only gods and culture heroes but other magical beings had been brought to America, that someone had brought belief in the Fae, or some other folklore being that steals children, to Lakeside, and they were responsible for the disappearances. And that the children were actually still alive and had been kept “backstage” and that Shadow would somehow be responsible for setting the free/bring them back to the real world. Because apparently I still hadn’t figured out how Gaiman feels about happiness.

    BTW, I’m sure other people have linked this, but I found this awesome website and have to share:

    “You were here all the time,” said Shadow to Alison McGovern’s corpse. “Every single person who drove over that bridge saw you. Everyone who drove through the town saw you. The ice fisherman walked past you every day. And nobody knew.”

    Oh man. This is most disturbing part to me- that people looked right at the klunkers on the ice every winter, even placing bets on when it will sink, and probably had no idea what this weird little tradition was all about, or how it got started, but it’s just one of those eccentricities that all small towns have, right? It will make it all the worse when Alison’s body does float to the surface and they find the others and realize what they had been unknowingly enabling all these years.
    The head of the sledgehammer was cold, icy cold, and it touched his forehead as gently as a kiss.

    “Pock! There,” said Czernobog. “Is done.”

    Hahaha! ILU Czernobog. I never thought he would ACTUALLY end up bashing in Shadow's head.

  31. Leigh says:

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read Fragile Things. And Anansi Boys. And Neverwhere. And Stardust. And Sandman. And everything else Gaiman has written.

  32. Pyrrhic says:

    Samantha Black Crow is a character from Native American folklore. So she is in a way a mythological being like Johnny Appleseed or Whiskey Jack.

  33. kristinc says:

    I saw the Indigo Girls reference as along the same lines as Shadow guessing that Sam did women's studies and cast bronzes, and then being shocked that he guessed right because he was just going by stereotypes. Not quite an in-joke but something close to it.

  34. Moonie says:

    Fresh, just finished this chapter and am freaking out comment:
    OH GOD, I GASPED AND FREAKED OUT SO MUCH AT THE TRUNK REVEAL. oh dear god, poor Alison. She was such a sweet girl. Horrifying. Neil Gaiman WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR BRAIN.
    Even more depressing to me was the reveal that Lakeside was far from a perfect town. i fell in love with atmosphere and the quiet and the cast of characters and the really delicious sounding food, and to find out it was all a horrible lie? AUGH.
    YES SAM YES YES I love that she is a queer lady and is happy and the flowers! I thought Shadow just sort of… plopped them into her arms as she was looking at Natalie, and neither noticed? Kinda silly though.

    And the end. oh god i was going, "DON'T KILL SHADOW HE IS MY PRECIOUS 30 SOMETHING YEAR OLD PUPPY DON'T KILL HIM I LOVE HIM NO NO NO NO" and then he saves him and yesss it was adorable. <3333

    Oh god, this book is way too fantastic.

  35. dcjensen says:

    Did anyone mention that Gaiman is writing a series for HBO based upon American Gods?


  36. Link55557 says:

    Doesn't Loki's comment about stabbing Shadow through the eye with mistletoe imply that he's Baldur? That's what I thought.

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