Soup for the Spirits: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

Soup for the Spirits: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

 Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
is a Tale for a person such as me;
is a Tale that pleads for all of us
to be Makers, in our beliefs

for there really is only one Tale
in the Universe:
the Hero’s Journey

Reviewed by Suzanne Nixon

American Gods
By Neil Gaiman
Hardcover – 480 pages (June 19, 2001)
William Morrow Audio; ISBN: 0380973650

when I was barely out of toddlerhood,
around the age of 4,
I was blessed to live on a 5 acre patch of land
in Ohio
which my parents gave me the freedom
to roam alone

and following the dictates
of the Fates and their whims
I begged an old pot
from my mother
and took it out into the world
collecting grasses and dandelions
and other flowers and lone tiny mushrooms;
nuts and berries.
and any other pretty growing tidbit I espied

and I would fill my pot with water
from a trickling creek that meandered through
and add a stone or two
(having sat at the knee of my Lithuanian
grandmother who told me more than once,
in her fractured English,
the Stone Soup Tale)___

my pot now ready
I would haul it into the chicken coop
for, in the unused half of that magical place,
there was a large and rusting
castaway cast iron cook stove

and I would spend the days of spring
and summer and fall
stirring my pot
above the invisible fires:
making soup for the spirits

they came in legions
for sustenance
and to whisper in my ear
their tales

“the drifters” I called them

I kept them secret
for I had been advised
as children too often are
not to talk to strangers;

and I had had one of them killed off
by mentioning her name to my mother,
and being told
she was “imaginary”

but oh
how I did listen to their tales:

they opened doors for me
into exotic and alien places
where different rules applied;

or no rules at all
that I could curl my child’s mind around

and when I was 8 we moved
and I was torn asunder from
all that magic

yet I found the drifters
true to their name,
wandering in other places
as well as they had passed through
the portals of my chicken coop
drawn by the scent of my soup
upon the air

and now I am a crone
more than half a century away from that place;
a crone who rises every morning
before the sun thinks to shine upon the land
and like my Hopi cousins
in this human race
I help up the sun
into the sky

and I linger in wakefulness
into the shadow’d perfect night
to welcome the reflective illuminating moon

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
is a Tale for a person such as me;
is a Tale that pleads for all of us
to be Makers, in our beliefs

for there really is only one Tale
in the Universe:
the Hero’s Journey

wherein a person or persons
of parentage
known or unknown,
lowly or high,
sets out upon his path
and finds himself one day
beset by unknown forces
and forced to chose
his own actions

to chose between
mundane and magic
or choosing to dance upon the high wire
between the two

to chose between
acquiescing to the tune of culture and society
or listing to the ineffable ephemeral melodies
that ride the winds
gentle and fearsome
and everything between

to fight the Beast of Unbelief
who growls his truth
that what is real
is what is sensible
and logical
and nothing else

seeking to smother the greater Truth
that we the species
are constructed so marvelously
of sense and nonsense;
given or having grown into
the gift of dreaming
that reality might grow
into something larger

dreaming makes reality;
thinking makes reality;
art makes reality;
putting words to the amorphous;

makes reality

we, the metaphor makers,
upon our wheels and spindles;
and in their turning,
spin out the yarn of reality

this is the Tale that Gaiman tells
in American Gods

how the gods and sprites and spirits
who lived still
in other worldly places
came to be carried in the spirits of those who
found their way to America
to this raw promising land

surviving thinly upon the soul food
provided by those who by their faith
kept the fantastic alive;
while most folks forged ahead
under the banner of that compelling God :

so as there always are,
in this Tale
there are gods and forces in uneasy alliance
with each other
drawn into two tribes
the old and ancient ones
against the newbie gods
of Media and Dot Com’s
of Telephone and Television
of Wall Street and Money
and in the course of coming to aid
the old gods,
of being tricked into collusion,
the hero of this Tale,
a man named Shadow,
comes to grow
comes to be more truly alive
in his oh so very human role
of nourishing the magnificence
seeded in believing

there is something for everyone
in this Tale:
gods and goddesses to root for or against;
humans to love and fear for;
terror and joy;
a chance to comprehend the incomprehensible
that poke and prod us into remembering
what is what;
if only we attend to
all that transpires in our lives;
remaining open to interpretations
away from the standard channel markers
so conveniently placed in the river of life,
but which keep us from exploring
all the waters beyond their markings

deftly and beautifully
does Gaiman blaze his way
through all this with his words;

scattering through the course of this Tale’s weaving
windows upon these various larger-than-human characters,
telling fragments of what such Beings are like
and how they do and undo us

sure to give delight to all the riddle loving types
who can amuse themselves by ferreting out
the names of each

especially lovely is his explication of roadside attractions,
places where magic happens,
profaned places of great sacredness

and as it happens
I lived for seven years a short drive north
of one that figures prominently in his Tale;
the House on the Rock in Wisconsin___

surely a place of enchantment
as it lies in what geologists call
the Driftless Area
a place reserved preserved
left untouched
in every Ice Age,
when glaciers inexorably flowed south
at their majestic pace
grinding the countryside into flat plains.
each time those icy curtain parted
to leave this isle upon the land
of hills and valleys
old earth magic revealed
for those who might see it so

and while I sit here,
a crone,
spinning her yarns
of words
and sheepish fleece
to the treadled tune of my wheel,
the ten thousand names of the goddess
fly from my mind
into the strands I spin;
and I am made complete,
resuscitating ancient women,
bringing the goddess back into awareness
in my fashion and in my fashioning
just as Neil Gaiman
has done in American Gods

may they all heap their blessings upon him
for the pretty darned wonderful
bit of soup making
he has concocted

I urge you to read
this treat for your own nourishment

more than once

Suzanne Nixon, 8/27/2001

About the Reviewer: 
suzanne nixon is a:
poet/fleece spinner
who also wears other more mundane veils.
should you wish to fingerspeak