Consumable Folklore

Consumable Folklore

A review of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (William Morrow premium printing, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods begins with a quote by folklorist Richard Dorson exploring ideas of immigration and the tales that people bring with them when they migrate. Dorson states “one question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands”, and Gaiman answers this inquiry in the form of a story, the perfect response to a question of how stories change as people migrate. This sense of migratory folklore suffuses the book, and Gaiman’s writing is as much a philosophical dissertation on the nature of storytelling as it is a fictional story about a human encounter with the gods. 

Gaiman explores the idea that America is a space where gods are swallowed up, forgotten as they are digested in a capitalist rush toward the newest, best thing. In order to emphasize this rapid change of gods, Gaiman introduces new modern gods born of capitalism, a god of Media, Dot Com Start Up gods, and gods of commerce.

Gaiman focuses his tale primarily on gods and the myths that surround them, but brings in elements of folklore as disperate as conspiracy theories, tales of aliens, urban legends, vyrkolas, fairies, and even the lies people tell to make themselves seem more interesting. These all meld and blend together through the power of Story, something that is invested with belief, disbelief, and fascination all at once. 

Gaiman even explores the myth of nations, the communities formed through a loose shared belief that a group of people deserve to occupy a certain geography and the stories and institutions they create to belong there. This myth seems to hold the most sway for Gaiman since his gods seem to be bound by national boundaries and other versions of those gods exist in different nations. Gaiman’s text delves problematically into areas influenced by colonial rhetoric as he explores different migrations to this ‘new world’, and although he does acknowledge that indigenous beings have a presence on the landscape, he frequently puts these beings into the categories of defeated old spirits and suggests that they don’t occupy the same standing as gods. Gaiman identifies indigenous spirits with the landscape rather than with the people, and the Buffalo spirit that visits his protagonist, Shadow, tells him, for example, that it is a creature of geography rather than a god. This problematically continues images of aboriginal people associated with the land and portrayed as fading in waves of colonialism. Gaiman structures his text around waves of immigration, portraying American as a land of immigrants rather than an invaded land that has original occupants that still remain on it, though oppressed. Indeed, the character Wednesday (who is a god) suggests “Nobody’s American. Not originally” erasing the aboriginal inhabitation on the American landscape and their claims of original occupancy. 

Gaiman explores the myth of progress and how this has made Americans forgetful, particularly as they rewrite their own history and forge their nation out of the history they want to believe occurred. He reminds readers that we are in a constant process of creating new stories that we tell ourselves in order to understand our place in the world, continually revising our folklore to make it relevant to us, or abandoning it in favour of new tales.

Yet American Gods is suffused with magic. Every page reads like an invocation to ancient and new gods that haunt the shadowy places of our imagination, reminding us that we need stories to survive… and that our stories need us to survive. He reminds us of the magic of metaphor, the way that metaphors are creative acts that give birth to new gods of the imagination, new ideas seeking a form. His gods are physical manifestations of ideas, embodied stories, or, as the character Jesus suggests in the story, that gods are memes. He asks us “Have you thought about what it means to be a god? 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 recreate 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.” For Gaiman’s Jesus character, being a god is being a fluid creation of the human imagination. Gaiman puts a huge burden on storytellers, the burden of creating new gods, of building new myths for us to live by and understand ourselves through. 

Gaiman’s America is a place where ideas are constantly clashing and reforming, a place where ideas from multiple people melt together and pour themselves into the moulds that are needed at the time only to be reforged again. 

To discover more about American Gods, visit http://www.neilgaiman.com/works/Books/American+Gods/ 

To find out more about Neil Gaiman, visit http://www.neilgaiman.com 

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K is for Klaus

K is for Klaus

A review of Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus (Boom Studios, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

klaus

This isn’t your regular right jolly old elf. Instead, this Santa Claus is a warrior, hunter, and rebel. Playing with the story of Santa Claus from the 1970 stop motion animated film Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus is a warrior who shows up in the village of Grimsvig, where children have been forbidden to have toys. Even rocks used as playthings are taken away with severe punishment threatened. Grimsvig is a town where all joy has been removed. It is a nightmare of labour without reward where only the wealthy are allowed the pleasure of escape and imagination. Klaus returns to Grimsvig and is disgusted with what the town has become, and after being expelled from the town, encounters otherworldly beings who inspire him to create toys that he then brings back to the community.

 

In this comic, Morrison and Mora play with images of rebellion, having Klaus modify posters of the royalty around the town of Grimsvig with stylistic similarities to V for Vendetta, yet the poster of the baron has the rune for joy written on his chin instead of a beard. Klaus combines joy with rebellion, playing with the idea that joy can be a rebellious act. Klaus attacks guards and disrupts the monotony of the town.

 

Klaus takes on the role of Julernisse, the Yuletime Spirit, operating between myth and reality. Even within the comic, he is discussed as myth, disbelieved because of his stealth and ability to resist the perceived natural control of the baron. Klaus is described by various people as a man-wolf, a ghost, and a spirit, taking on the status of legend while alive.

 

Morrison and Mora create a story where play is an act of rebellion, a means of resistance and a way to assert change. They illustrate that play is not just a means to escape, but to creatively inspire transformation. Capitalism and joy clash in a world where anything that doesn’t generate profit is seen as suspect.

 

Klaus comes into conflict with the destructive, greedy impulse of humanity and battles for a better humanity that he imagines is possible. Drawing on Norse mythology, popular narratives about Santa Claus, and the rich folkloric imagery about Father Christmas, Morrison and Mora create a new fairy tale about Santa Claus to expand new possibilities for imagination and wonder.

 

To discover more about the work of Grant Morrison, visit http://www.grant-morrison.com/

To find out more about Klaus, visit Boom Studios at https://shop.boom-studios.com/series/detail/458/klaus

 

An Interview With Chadwick Ginther

Through the Twisted Woods interviews Chadwick Ginther, author of the Thunder Road Trilogy about his reimagining of Norse mythology and a post-ragnarok world. We talk to Chadwick about Norse mythology, Winnipeg, the way that Folklore is both highly regional and yet has the ability to move beyond its original geographic context, superheroes as a modern mythology, mapping folklore onto a Canadian landscape, the endurance of myths, monstrosity, Loki and gender fluidity, Trickster figures, and the ability to map folklore onto modern tales.

Click on the link below for our interview.

Through The Twisted Woods Audio

 

You can discover more about the work of Chadwick Ginther on his website