Emily Haynes‘ Inside American Gods opens with a vitally curious reality: When Neil Gaiman wrote and released his novel American Gods in 2001, it was pre-9/11, before the tech revolution, before phones in every hand and back pocket and the internet, as it today, wasn’t a plethora of self-made ‘celebrity’ and over zealous wannabe stars. It could indicate that, for the first time in modern history, a large percentage of us don’t pray to the old Gods but, instead, we offer out our minds and services to the new Gods of technology, of media, of those who become our Twitter ‘followers’ alongside our in-ear and in-room technological devices controlled by our own voices and actions.
The world has changed in such a short space of time and whether this comes down to tragic events like 9/11 is easily debatable but there’s little doubt that electronics and high-speed internet has offered the opportunity to a generation to think of themselves as deities. It’s more than possible for people to think of own lives as something that could be altered by one-thousand Retweets or a reply from a famous person. But, of course, all these new connections aren’t purely negative, they’ve also founded a worldwide platform for very human campaigns like the remarkable Emma González or important movements like #MeToo. At this point, you may be thinking ‘Is this a book review or a discussion on modern living?‘ well, it’s a bit of both really because Gaiman’s American Gods TV series, streaming now on Amazon Prime, has everything to do with the clash between the old and the new, and discussions beyond that simple division, which is also clear in this superb book.
While Haynes book initially echoes some of these thoughts, is driven from an opening interview with Neil Gaiman who wants to talk about all those changes, it also clearly reflects everyone’s excitement of being involved with such an important piece of work. There’s focus on the change in development of individual characters from the book to the screen, people like Laura and Mad Sweeney who had more minor roles to play but the TV series has enabled Gaiman and his production team of Bryan Fuller, Michael Green and David Slade, the latter who directed the first three episodes, to really up their game, to develop stories beyond and see what happens to them when they weren’t on the page. And, obviously having seen the series, it’s clear how much depth this gives to everyone.
The book also offers us an insight into how much freedom Gaiman gave to the production team that he trusted, and lot of that we have to thank to Fremantle and, very specifically, Stefanie Berk who believed in it for a long while and the scope it could be given as a series. It reads like all the right people came together at just the perfect point to get out there and make American Gods happen, lucky for us, right?
Among many interesting interviews, a stand-out point is Emily Browning talking about how much she loved playing dead, carrying her own arm and taking on a character unlike your usual offerings. And, boy, she’s fantastic as Laura as she brings more depth, mystery and fight than we could have ever expected. There are, of course, more interviews with the likes of Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Pablo Schreiber, Bruce Langley, Gillian Anderson, Omid Abtahi, Yetide Badaki and more. Inside American Gods also offers a ‘real’ breakdown of the history of the Gods portrayed, what they mean (or meant) to the religion they represent which gives another layer to everything see. Gaiman and the team also talk about the inclusion of Jesus, because he’s not originally in the book, and how they wanted to achieve that and make it work correctly, and fairly.
The only thing I found lacking – a little- in the latter third is the possibility of more Behind-The-Scenes action and maybe breakdowns of the anatomy of a scene, which can be especially be interesting with the strength of the visuals of American Gods. While it is definitely spoken about, we don’t see as much, and thus is can get a little repetitive as it gives every major character its little section. While they are interesting, it’d benefit from a little shake-up of ideas in the middle to really round out this otherwise excellent book.
But, never one to finish on a negative, Inside American Gods is an genuinely insightful and passionately interesting book release. For me, as you’ll tell from my opening paragraphs, it really got me back into the mindset of Gaiman’s quite brilliant work and also made me excited for the second season. That final thought is also hugely relevant in the conclusion to this 136-page book because it finishes with another interview as the author offers his ideas, plans and concepts for Season Two and, so, you’ll have to pick up a copy to find out what he’s got to reveal!