Author Neil Gaiman is sitting in his Wisconsin home, using a flowerpot and some marbles to explain to his son the differences between English and U.S. politics. The Englishman, who made a name for himself with his Sandman series of graphic novels, often finds himself visualizing such concepts.
"One day, my son came home from school and said, 'My teacher says you're a liar,'" Gaiman recalls. "I said, 'How interesting.'" Seems the public schools objected to Gaiman teaching his son that many pre-Revolutionary War immigrants came here as indentured servants, usually to escape being hanged.
In his new dark fantasy, American Gods, which he will be signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers this Sunday, Gaiman has employed a fictional landscape -- no flowerpots or marbles -- to explore his ruminations on our culture and history.
"Rather than be outraged that [my son] had a history teacher who didn't know anything about American history, I thought it might be useful to tell some of these people about their history, because it's much more interesting than they think it is."
The story follows Shadow, a widowed ex-con who hooks up with an old man who is quickly revealed to be an ancient European god in the flesh. Through his travels around America, Shadow encounters numerous other "gods," all of whom were "brought" here by immigrants through the years. But as America creates its own gods -- gods of commerce, media, and technology -- a climactic clash between gods old and new becomes inevitable.
"American Gods is a commentary about the way that cultures coming into America lose bits of themselves," Gaiman says. "The good and the bad of the melting pot."
It's also about the Americanization of the world; how our new gods are introduced to other cultures. "America is so big and important that, in many ways, you can talk about the world by talking about America," notes Gaiman, who says he doesn't fear for the old gods. "At the end of the day, the new guys have even more to be scared of than the old guys do, because the pace of change is so fast."