Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she's been killed in a terrible accident. Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him... read more
The central precept of the novel is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought with them dwarves, elves, leprechauns, and other spirits and gods. However, the power of these mythological beings has diminished as people's... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
The central precept of the novel is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought with them dwarves, elves, leprechauns, and other spirits and gods. However, the power of these mythological beings has diminished as people's beliefs wane. New gods have arisen, reflecting America's obsessions with media, celebrity, technology, and drugs, among others.
The book follows the adventures of ex-convict Shadow, who is released from prison a few days earlier than planned on account of the death of his wife, Laura, in a car accident. He discovers at the funeral that the car crashed because Laura was performing oral sex on Shadow's late friend Robbie, who was driving. Even before learning of the death of Robbie, who was to give Shadow a job, Shadow has been repeatedly offered work as a bodyguard by a confidence man called Mr. Wednesday. Shadow accepts Mr. Wednesday's offer and they both travel across America visiting Wednesday's unusual colleagues and acquaintances. Gradually, it is revealed that Wednesday is an incarnation of Odin the All-Father (the name Wednesday is derived from "Odin's (Woden's) day"), who in his current guise is recruiting American manifestations of the Old Gods of ancient mythology, whose powers have waned as their believers have decreased in number, to participate in an epic battle against the New American Gods, manifestations of modern life and technology (for example, the Internet, media, and modern means of transport), who are controlling a black hat Secret Services organization (according to the goddess Eostre, similarly to the old gods, the new gods exist because "everyone knows they must exist"). Shadow's wife Laura comes back in the form of a sentient animated corpse due to a special coin Shadow had acquired and placed on her coffin at her burial, not knowing the effect it would have.
Mythological characters prominently featured in the book include Mr Wednesday (Odin), Low-Key Lyesmith (Loki Lie-Smith), Mad Sweeney, Czernobog, the Zorya, the Norns, Mr Nancy (Anansi), Easter (Eostre), Mama Ji (Kali), Whiskey Jack (Wisakedjak) Mr Ibis (Thoth), Mr Jacquel (Anubis), Horus, and Bast. In addition to the numerous figures from real-world myths, a few characters from The Sandman and its spinoffs make brief cameos in the book. Other mythological characters featured in the novel are not divine, but are legendary or folk heroes, such as Johnny Appleseed. Shadow himself is implied to be the Norse god Balder, which is confirmed in the follow-up novella, "Monarch of the Glen". In the Author's preferred text edition, Loki tells Shadow's wife Laura that when it was all over, he was going to sharpen a stick of mistletoe, go down to the ash tree and ram it between his eyes - implying that Shadow was indeed Baldur.<4> During a live interview and spoken word session held at UCLA on Thursday, February 4, 2010, Gaiman revealed Shadow's identity as "Baldur Moon", in response to a fan question.
The story features, in its most erotic chapter, a succubus-like re-invention of the Queen of Sheba, who while posing as a prostitute literally swallows a man through her sexual organs. "Bilquis", as she is called here, is later killed by one of the New Gods. Sexuality as a rule plays a part in the plot and subplots; Mr. Wednesday uses his magical powers to bed several young virgins on the journey across America ("And I need her, not as an end in herself, but to wake me up a little. Even King David knew that there is one easy prescription to get warm blood flowing through an old frame: take one virgin, call me in the morning.") while Shadow is seduced in his dreams by a humanoid version of Bast, Egyptian goddess of fertility.
When the New Gods murder Wednesday – thus galvanizing the Old Gods into action – Shadow obeys Wednesday's order by holding his vigil. This is accomplished by re-enacting the act performed by Odin of hanging from a "World Tree" while pierced by a spear. Shadow eventually dies and visits the land of the dead, where he is guided by Thoth and judged by Anubis. Eostre later brings him back to life, obeying orders that she does not fully understand. During the period between life and death, Shadow learns that he is Wednesday's son, conceived as part of the deity's plans. He realizes that Odin and Loki have been working a "two-man con." They orchestrated Shadow's birth, his meeting of Loki in disguise as his prison cellmate "Low Key Lyesmith" (Loki Liesmith) and Laura's death. Loki, secretly "Mr. World", the leader of the New Gods, orders Odin's murder so that the battle caused between the New and Old Gods will serve as a sacrifice to Odin, restoring his power, while Loki would feed on the chaos of the battle.
Shadow arrives in time to stop the battle, explaining that both sides had nothing to gain and everything to lose, with Odin and Loki the only winners. America is a "bad place for Gods", Shadow tells them, and recommends they go home and make the best of what they can get. The Gods depart, Odin's ghost fades, and Loki is impaled on a branch of the World Tree by Laura, who finally dies after Shadow takes the magical coin from her.
In an extensive subplot, Shadow follows a clue given to him by the Hindu god Ganesha to discover that a man called Hinzelmann, who had been Shadow's neighbor for a time, is a kobold who annually sacrifices children to empower himself and prevent the small town of Lakeside from succumbing to the economic decay that has claimed many similar towns. Shadow confronts Hinzelmann, who is then shot by a local policeman whose father Hinzelmann had previously killed to keep his secret.
After this, Shadow attempts to reconnect with Sam Black Crow, a girl of Native-American descent whom he had met several times in the past. Though he thinks he loves her, he sees her with a girlfriend, and decides that she is happier with her than she'd ever be with him. Unnoticed by either of them, he slips a bouquet into Sam's hand and leaves. It is not clear why the two lovers don't see him, though it is possible that Shadow is inadvertently "backstage", a state of existence only Gods can enter.
Following the final confrontation between the gods, Shadow visits Iceland, where he meets another incarnation of Odin who was created by the belief of the original settlers of Iceland, and is therefore much closer to the Odin of mythology than Wednesday is. Shadow accuses Odin of Wednesday's actions, whereupon Odin replies that "He was me, yes. But I am not him." After a short talk, Shadow gives Odin Wednesday's glass eye, which Odin places in a leather bag as a keepsake.
“People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen”
“People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales”
“But there's none so blind - ow! Good one! - as those who will not listen.”
“This are gods who have been forgotten, and now might as well be dead. They can be found only in dry histories. They are gone, all gone, but their names and their images remain with us.”
“What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore, it knows it's not fooling a soul.”Hinzelmann
“I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we'll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of the Worlds.”Sam Black Crow
“No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other's tragedies.”
“All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted.”
“Not only are there no happy endings," she told him, "there aren't even any endings.”
“I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not.”Samantha Black Crow
“All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.”Zorya Polunochnaya
“Think of us as symbols-we're the dream that humanity creates to make sense of the shadows on the cave wall.”Bast
“God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you - even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers and triumphs over all opposition.”
“This isn’t about what is,” said Mr. Nancy. “It’s about what people think is. It’s all imaginary anyway. That’s why it’s important. People only fight over imaginary things.”
“There was only one guy in the whole Bible Jesus ever personally promised a place with him in Paradise. Not Peter, not Paul, not any of those guys. He was a convicted thief, being executed.”
“"And how old would that be?" "Old as my tongue, and a few months older than my teeth."”Shadow, Wednesday
“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
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