Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Postscript / Final Thoughts

In the postscript of American Gods, we learn about life for Shadow post-war, and Gaiman shares more about the process of writing American Gods. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish American Gods.

I wanted to do a proper finale for American Gods, both because there is more information given to us beyond the end of the book, and because I have a lot of ~feelings~ about the very first Neil Gaiman book that I have ever read! I have no idea how it took me this long to finally do this, but I’m glad to have not only read this man’s words, but chosen American Gods to do so.

I get the sense that Gaiman could write about this universe in any number of volumes. He wouldn’t even have to come back to Shadow’s story either; the world of the gods is expansive, detailed, and fascinating; it’s like American Gods is just the tip of the iceberg for this fantasy world. (Is it okay to call it that?) The postscript feels both like a traditional epilogue and a deleted scene from a movie. It fits well in the universe, but I don’t know that it would have worked in the novel proper.

I don’t think we really get a timeline here; Shadow could be in Reykjavík the July after the battle at Rock City, or it could be years into the future. I suppose it doesn’t matter. The man has given up the idea of settling down and now travels the globe. Is he getting the most from life? Running from something? I’m not quite sure yet:

He sat down on a grassy bank and looked at the city that surrounded him, and thought, one day he would have to go home. And one day he would have to make a home to go back to. He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough.

I love this section because I don’t know if I can answer this question. I had a single home for many years, but after running away from home at sixteen, I’ve never found that sensation again. Part of it is due to the fact that I moved between twenty and thirty times from age sixteen to age twenty-six. I stopped becoming attached to physical locations because I thought it was a way to prevent myself from getting to comfortable. There was a point where I thought I’d become a professional couch surfer for a while, but things have been a bit more stable the last few years. Still, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like I was home. I have made my last few apartments feel as homely as possible, but even when I went on tour or long trips, I don’t feel homesick. I enjoy the sensation of being in a new place every day, of constant motion, of being in unfamiliar situations. Will I build a home for myself someday? Perhaps! I’m not opposed to it. But I still have a desire to go out and see the world, too, and I think I’d rather do that while I still can.

Anyway, here in this postscript, we finally get about as much confirmation as we’re going to get that gods have different versions of themselves in different places. Shadow knows that he is being followed, and it turns out to be Odin. Not Wednesday, but Odin. This is a different version than the god in America, which makes me wonder: was this whole book supposed to be about how American changes people, even those who are not born here? The version of Odin who lives in America turns into someone who is manipulative, crass, and cunning. It’s certainly not the case for other gods, but I wonder how Gaiman came up with the way to portray “human” versions of the gods.

But it is clear that he chose to make Shadow into a character whose behavior would always lead to this moment. We’ve seen over the course of American Gods how his stoic nature was both used against him, and how it was used by him to his own advantage. He was never too cynical or too hopeful. What’s fascinating to me is how this character always seemed to straddle the middle of everything, yet he was able to cast it aside at the end to do something foolish and brash to save the gods. And why? Even if he really is a god himself, he’s not aware of it. It doesn’t really benefit him, does it?

It might be a small thing here, but I think the gesture of returning Odin’s eye is indicative of who Shadow is. He is a nice guy. Not that creepy Nice Guy trope of a dude who believes he is forever victimized by evil women who won’t give him a chance. He is genuinely a nice person, and his sense of nobility is quiet and personal. That sense of duty that he is what Wednesday manipulated, sure. I can’t deny that. But it’s also what undid that god’s entire plan as well; Shadow felt a duty to travel to Rock City to tear apart the long con that Wednesday had set up.

We also get a scene here at the end of American Gods between Shadow and Jesus. I’m glad that Gaiman felt strange not including Jesus in much of this; how can you write about gods in America without Jesus? But I also understand the pressure of writing a scene with a representation of Jesus in it. He’s intricately tied to so much of our history and our modern cultural landscape.

Reading this “apocryphal” scene with Jesus shows me just how weird it might have been in the book. It’s clever, that’s for sure, especially the line that Jesus gives about suffering being a “cleansing” thing. But what I was ultimately drawn to was how well Gaiman explained the concept of identity and gods:

“Have you thought about what it means to be a god?” asked the man. He had a beard and a baseball cap. “It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people’s minds, like the tune of a nursery rhyme. It means that everyone gets to re-create you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity any more. Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable.”

This is so genuinely fascinating to me! And it’s something I struggled with when I was Christian: was I creating a version of Jesus that was different from what others believed? Was it incompatible with the Jesus in the Bible? I think we all make gods personal in our way, which doesn’t mean that the god isn’t real or that they’re immutable. But, let’s use Jesus as an example: what Jesus means to you means something different to me. Even if you take my beliefs during my Christian years, I know Jesus wasn’t what your Jesus was.

I don’t think it’s really an issue of religion having a fault. I just think that religion is such a deeply intimate experience that there’s no way to talk about it without acknowledging such a thing. What becomes interesting is when people are able to share a specific version of a god in both a social and theological sense. Many of the Christians who surrounded me in high school believed that God was a combination of this all-loving being who was also incredibly vindictive and intimately interested in the day-to-day minutia of their lives. How does that happen? Do we seek out visions of the gods that are the same as others, or was this just how they portrayed it?

I still must admit that there’s something strangely comforting about the idea that Jesus sits in a Spanish-style home, drinking wine, wearing baseball caps, and just wants to sit and have a conversation with you.


I think what most impresses me about American Gods (and there’s a lot here that does impress me) is the fact that Neil Gaiman, an immigrant to this country, was able to distill parts of this nation down to the essential elements that allowed me to recognize exactly what he meant. It’s really hard to distill this country down to anything. There are so many states in this union, all so varied and different from one another, full of metropolitan cities and minuscule towns, packed with people from all over the world, that any attempt to break down and simplify it all is probably going to be met with failure. But I don’t feel that way about American Gods. I don’t know how Gaiman did it, but he did it. This feels like America.

It’s impressive to read a book with such a bizarre narrative flow. It’s impressive to read a book that you know took an absurd amount of research time to make. And it’s entertaining, above all of that. It takes the idea of a road trip and combines it with a surreal fantasy element to give one the sensation that perhaps this is actually what America is truly like. I mean that in the sense that none of this ever feels too fantastical. If it was revealed that all of this was actually non-fiction, I wouldn’t bat an eye.

What American Gods feels like is a close friend, one you’ve known for many years, one that you can return to over a cup of coffee, catch up, share the new things you’ve discovered, laugh at the absurdity of it all, and know that even if you don’t see each other for another year, you’ll both be there for each other. I already want to re-read this book, not just to catch new clues, but to find out what I’ve missed. Just like a good friend, you’ve always missed something each time you return to them.

Is this the best book I’ve ever read? No. It’s still too new to me, and that distinction is rarely one based on anything but emotional attachment. But most things I read are not the best books. They’re the good ones, the ones I want to keep around for a long time. This is as good of an introduction as I can get to Neil Gaiman’s style and his heart. Next year, I’m going to try and tackle the Sandman series, and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect. The man’s grasp for language, for the meaning of words and how that differs for each one of us, is probably what I’m most excited for. And we saw in “The Doctor’s Wife” how powerful and damning language can be, and I think that plays into American Gods as well. The words and the symbols are what give power, and that same power can be taken away by the same things.

I am very, very happy that I read American Gods.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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95 Responses to Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Postscript / Final Thoughts

  1. nyogu says:

    I recommend that you read Anansi Boys, at some points. It's very different, but it gives a wonderful layer to Mr. Nancy's character, and plays in the same "world". So glad you enjoyed this, one of my very favorite books! He just has a way with words.

  2. Ryan Lohner says:

    This was also the first solo Gaiman novel I'd read, though I'd already experienced his work on TV (Babylon 5's "Day of the Dead" and Doctor Who's "The Doctor's Wife") and comics (Marvel 1602). I've also read Good Omens, though that book feels far more Pratchett than Gaiman to me (I wasn't surprised to learn that Pratchett would often write ahead of their schedule, to make sure he got to the parts he wanted for himself).

    I'm currently reading The Sandman, and hoo boy, you're in for something there. Some of the most purely horrific imagery I've ever seen side by side with scenes of incredible emotion and love. There's also quite a few moments where it's obvious it came from the same guy as American Gods, so that you could almost believe they're the same universe, despite Sandman being set in the DCU.

  3. cait0716 says:

    The scene with Shadow in Iceland seems to be proof that he's more human than god. He may have some powers, but he's able to leave America, leave the land, which none of the other gods were able to do. I think it has something to do with not relying on anyone else's belief. We see throughout the book how much that limits the gods. Most can at least go anywhere in America (referring here to the continent, not the country), but some are much more restricted. Hinzelmann couldn't even leave Lakeside because his power was so deeply tied to the town. Shadow has the freedom to cross oceans, though, without having to travel in someone's mind.

    I really enjoy the scene with Jesus, and I totally get why Gaiman didn't include it in the book. Tonally it doesn't fit where it should go plot-wise. I particularly like what he has to say about Jesus lacking a solid identity because he has to be so many things to so many people. It fits right in with all the different interpretations of him I've encountered.

    This book is sprawling and definitely worth a re-read or two. The Lakeside chapters stuck with me so strongly that the first time I re-read it I was convinced the entire book took place in the rural midwest (and a lot of the early chapters are confined to Wisconsin and Illinois). So I was pleasantly surprised to find scenes in NYC, Las Vegas, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco. It's impressive how much of the country Gaiman manages to cover.

    Given how much you wrote about this book, I bet you'll have a firmer idea of the plot than I've ever been able to maintain. But there are still a ton of things you missed.

  4. sara says:

    mark, i've been waiting until you were absolutely done posting reviews before sharing this story. you may already know it, but i had to share: i saw neil gaiman on his recent speaking tour and he talked a lot about american gods (and some about doctor who!!) and he told us about the three zorya sisters… he told us that in the real stories there are only two, and he invented the third the serve the purpose of the novel. then he learned that people were assuming everything he wrote was fact, and suddenly the third sister was appearing in the wikipedia page as fact! obviously it is wikipedia, but still, it was a pretty funny story. it's now changed to reflect what neil told audiences on his tour. we cracked up!

    • Saphling says:

      So what GNeil says about gods changing to fit peoples' beliefs/perceptions is true then! 😀

      "…It means that everyone gets to re-create you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity any more. Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable."

      I think the fact that it was their wikipedia page that changed is… fitting. ^_^

  5. Patrick721 says:

    Man, I need to get the 10th anniversary edition, apparently. I've never seen that bit with Jesus.

    I still must admit that there’s something strangely comforting about the idea that Jesus sits in a Spanish-style home, drinking wine, wearing baseball caps, and just wants to sit and have a conversation with you.

    That line reminds me of a quote from the movie Dogma (Which you should probably watch, Mark, because it's hilarious. I mean, George Carlin plays a Cardinal! Alan Rickman is The Metatron!) Anyway, this quote is from Rufus, the 13th apostle, talking about Jesus:

    He likes to listen to people talk. Says it sounds like music to Him. Christ loved to sit around the fire and listen to me and the other guys. Whenever we were going on about unimportant shit, He always had a smile on His face.

  6. Michael says:

    Wow. I'm 90% sure that my version of the book did not include a scene with Jesus. I need to see if I can find this.

    • cait0716 says:

      It's an additional scene that was included for the 10th Anniversary Edition, which was just published in June.

      • nyogu says:

        I want it so badly. Does anyone have it, and if you have it, how much extra content is there?

        • cait0716 says:

          There are 12,000 additional words. Outside the Jesus scene, there aren't any deleted scenes. All of extra material is integrated right into the original scenes and simply serves to enhance an already complete story. It's called the Author's Preferred text because it's more or less the original manuscript that Gaiman sent the publisher who wanted it edited down. The additional material is incorporated so seamlessly that it's actually a little hard to tell what has been added unless you sit down and do a direct comparison between the books (though that could also be partially due to my own faulty memory)

  7. alex says:

    I been trying to find a book that is fiction where the author talks about religion in an open and relatively respectful way
    (angel and demons and the davinci code left a really bad taste in my mouth)

    so going back and forth on wanting to read american gods, and one of the Many, points that is sealing the deal is how Gaiman talks about Jesus/represents him. I don't think gaiman is a religious person or i might be wrong, but the fact he is nice about his interpretation of jesus (in a land-england- where religion is getting more mocked and degraded than accepted) it leaves me with a sense of respect for him as a writer and a person

    so- which finally on board with wanting to buy and read american gods- which version is it that has this little "jesus" side chapter? is it still available?

    • pica_scribit says:

      It's in the 10th anniversary edition, which I think is the most commonly available current edition.

    • Ryan Lohner says:

      Check out The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett; Prior Phillip is one of the best religious characters ever made, likable while still believably a product of his upbringing.

      • cait0716 says:

        The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, also deals with religion in a very respectful way. It's about a group of Jesuit priests (and a few non-Jesuits) who travel to an alien world in search of intelligent life. Each character has a unique experience of god and religion, and the book deals heavily with spirituality and doubt (also, aliens!). The main character has a serious crisis of faith that is depicted beautifully.

        Russell herself was raised Catholic, declared herself an atheist for much of her adult life, and then converted to Judaism when she started a family of her own

        It's also on Mark's list of confirmed books, but I don't think I've said anything spoilery here that wasn't in the initial nomination.

    • mal612 says:

      Gaiman is Jewish

  8. pandalilies says:

    With Gaiman, it isn't necessarily about best; it's about what sticks in your craw and moves you later on, days, weeks, months after you've finished the book. You'll have moments when you think about things (like what is a god, at their core, and the belief they feed on.. etc. Passing an amusement park and wondering what its god would be… Every day things get just a bit more introspection.) and it's because your perspective was opened, ever so slightly. THAT is what I love about him.

    • t09yavorsaur says:

      Scary thought you put in my head: There is a god that is perpetually dressed up as Mickey Mouse.

  9. Zoli says:

    Okay, I apparently need to read the 10th anniversary edition, because that bit with Jesus isn't in the normal book. I read that part of your review and was like "wtf? I don't remember that." Yeah. It's not there. The original text just has Shadow return Odin's eye, and that's it.

  10. dcjensen says:

    I posted this late last night in the previous thread, but there is in the works an American Gods TV series for HBO. Gaiman says the first season will loosely deal with the book, further seasons will explore the World of AG.
    Neil Gaiman says HBO's 'American Gods' TV series will differ from the book


    For your enjoyment, Only the Gods are real, a list of gods and other beings in American Gods:

  11. Elexus Calcearius says:

    Its interesting what you say about favourite books, and how they're based on emotional attraction.

    I've read lots of lots of great books, but if anyone asked me what my favourite was, I'd probably hesitate before answering "Harry Potter". I know its not perfect. I know it has flaws. I know I've probably read other books which people would say were better written. But I don't care. Harry Potter feels like a warm, but incredibly magical, sweater, and I've never got another book to make me feel that way.

    • stefb says:

      That is the most perfect description of Harry Potter ever. 100% accurate (and I never found another book that made me feel quite like HP does either, although there are many books I love and that I go back to, but never, never as much as HP).

  12. knut_knut says:

    I get why a lot of people don't like this book, and I've found that the more I reread it, the better it gets, but I'm glad you enjoyed it! It would be really sad if you hated your first literary Gaiman experience 🙁

    • monkeybutter says:

      Yeah, it's pretty long and dense, and I admittedly forgot most of what happened in the middle, even though it was all important. And I was looking for info on an AG sequel earlier and found out that Amanda Palmer is one of the haters, lol. It would suck if Mark's first impression was a bad one, though.

      • knut_knut says:

        I always forget how the events fit together and what order they go in. Wait…IS there going to be an AG sequel??? 😀 😀 😀 Not that it needs one but still

        • monkeybutter says:

          Yeah, he's mentioned wanting to do one! Apparently it might involve social networking gods and gods who are actually doing well. I'm happy with the story, but if he can find a way to include different gods in a new way, I'm all for a sequel.

  13. hazelwillow says:

    Does anyone know if it is possible to read the Jesus scene online somewhere? My book doesn't have it.

    (And I even bought the book recently… wish I'd known there was more than one version!)

  14. Jason says:

    "It’s impressive to read a book with such a bizarre narrative flow. It’s impressive to read a book that you know took an absurd amount of research time to make. And it’s entertaining, above all of that."

    This is exactly how I feel about The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, so I highly recommend that book for you to read at some point if you want to read more of that kind of writing. Personally, I loved American Gods. I started reading it when you started your reviews and just ended up powering through the book.

  15. la.donna.pietra says:

    The words and the symbols are what give power, and that same power can be taken away by the same things.

    Yup, you're going to enjoy The Sandman</i.>

  16. Raenef says:

    For another Neil Gaiman thing that I really enjoyed: The first arc of the Books Of Magic, which he wrote. FOR ALL YOUR BOY WIZARD WITH GLASSES AND AN OWL NEEDS.

    • cait0716 says:

      Didn't Gaiman write all of The Books of Magic? It's not a long story, given that it's an initiate's journey rather than a hero's journey.

      • notemily says:

        After looking it up on Wikipedia, it seems he wrote the first "book," which was supposed to be a stand-alone miniseries, but then Vertigo decided to make it into an ongoing series, which isn't written by Gaiman. And, I hear, not as good.

  17. And now you should pick up Fragile Things just for "Monarch of the Glen," an American Gods novella about Shadow in Scotland.

    (But then pick up Smoke and Mirrors because it's a much better collection of short stories.)

    But, seriously: Anansi Boys.

  18. sporkaganza93 says:

    We're happy that you read American Gods too!

    I have to tell you, I'm super psyched for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings next. I love The Hobbit, and after a couple of false starts in my lifetime, I finally read LOTR all the way through over the summer and I loved it. Really looking forward to see what you think!

    Have you never seen the LOTR movies, then? Just curious.

  19. Exactly this: "What American Gods feels like is a close friend, one you’ve known for many years, one that you can return to over a cup of coffee, catch up, share the new things you’ve discovered, laugh at the absurdity of it all, and know that even if you don’t see each other for another year, you’ll both be there for each other."

    We are also very happy you read american Gods, it's great to see people whom opinion you respect talk good things of a book you like! =)

    Also, there ARE more things on this universe…. well, only two things, and one is a short story… as some people mentioned before, the book Anansi Boys happens in the same universe and we get a lot of Mr. Nancy! It's very different, i would say it's a lighter and less serious book, but also funnier! It's worth reading, if not for Mark Reads, for your own amusement!
    Also, there is a short story in Fragile Things, a Gaiman's book of short story, that talks about shadow after the war… i can be wrong, but i think it happens AFTER the scene where he meets the "original" Odin! The story name is "The Monarch of the Glen", but there are MANY of the short stories that are really worth reading! You would love it!

    I look forward for your reading of Sandman! And thanks for the whole trip on this book! =)

  20. I'm really bummed I bought the regular edition of the book before Mark let us know he was reading the anniversary edition. I didn't even know it existed or I would have bought it. I really want to read the Jesus scene!

    I'm so glad I read this book. It was my first Neil Gaiman experience as well. Yay!

    Looking forward to The Hobbit and LOTR. (BTW, Mark, what version of The Hobbit are you reading so I don't get the wrong one again?)

  21. Nick says:

    I bought the "author's preferred text" edition some time last year, and although it includes the extra bits throughout the book it doesn't have the deleted Jesus scene. I dunno, maybe we just didn't get it in Australia. Or maybe the Jesus scene is only there in the new editions I've seen in shops with the new cover.

    • Julezyme says:

      My new copy that I got in London has the Jesus scene occur while Shadow is hanging on the tree. I thought it made good sense there, as Shadow was on a sort of tour-of-gods, death-experience trip there. Maybe they thought American audiences would freak out and stop reading if they stumbled upon Beach Boy Jesus 3/4 of the way into the book?

      • Nick says:

        Oh, wait, I just re-checked my copy and the Jesus scene actually is in the text itself, where you said it was.

        I think I need to re-read this book properly.

  22. threerings says:

    So, I mentioned this in the last post, but I am on a mission, so I will mention it again. EVERYONE needs to listen to the audiobook of Anansi Boys, because it is AMAZINGLY AWESOME. And it took a book I felt Meh about and made it SO funny and profound. Lenny Henry does all the voices and you must hear it!

  23. episkey825 says:

    I missed Mark's chapter-by-chapter reviews from Chapter 14 to the end because I got married last weekend. I don't know why I thought I would be able to see it through to the end with everything that needed to be done the week of the wedding. I did finish American Gods while on the way to Hawaii for our honeymoon, though. It was my first Gaiman novel and I really enjoyed it! So much so, that I added a bunch of other Gaiman books to my Goodreads To-Read shelf. (I keep Goodreads open while reading these reviews and comments in order to keep track of the many great suggestions!). Thank you all for a wonderful reading experience!

    Looking forward to The Hobbit!

  24. jaccairn says:

    Someone told Neil Gaiman about Mark Reads American Gods so he came to have a look and was impressed! There's a bit on his journal about it. I'd post a link if I could work out how to.

  25. Stacy says:

    I enjoyed your review almost as much as the book.

  26. anobium says:

    Neil Gaiman did a really interesting interview at a British book festival a few months ago about American Gods, where he talked about why he wrote it, how he wrote so well about America when he's not American, why it's such an un-book-like shape, and what the upcoming TV series is going to be like.

    Unfortunately, he does also occasionally talk about Sandman, and a couple of things he says break the Don't Spoil Mark rules (nothing major, but there's a bit where he's talking about a particular character and mentions the fact that this character unexpectedly showed up again later in the series).

    Anyway, it's here:

  27. Valuable info. Lucky me I discovered your site accidentally, and I am stunned why this coincidence didn’t happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

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