Ancient mythology is once again making an impact on the cultural zeitgeist. After a resurgence in the 50s and 60s the gods retreated, until Neil Gaiman's American Gods...
I. THE GODS ARE MAKING A COMEBACK
My story Killing Rachel is a god-fest. Gods of different cultures and pantheons administer their own unique influence to the human world. They're the perfect story-telling vehicles. I love gods and I'm not the only one. Classic bygone stories of the gods are returning to the forefront of mainstream media. Late last year we saw Disney’s latest princess film, Moana, revive Polynesian mythology to critical acclaim. 2016 also brought us Gods of Egypt, the controversial multi million dollar blockbuster.
Thor returns this summer for the third film in his franchise, alongside the charismatic Loki and stoic Odin in Thor: Ragnarok. This entry in the series will focus on the lesser known Norse concept of Ragnarok; their version of the apocalypse. There are endless reasons to why audiences are being drawn back to the gods, but I feel one cultural phenomenon in particular may have acted as a significant catalyst.
II. NEW GODS
Superheroes could in fact be the main culprits behind this rekindling of interest towards these forgotten ideas. Superheroes are the new gods; or reboots if you will.
Many Roman gods were re-workings of Greek mythology and the same can be said for the caped crusaders dominating our screens today. Beings of immeasurable power have captivated imaginations throughout the ages; all that changes are the costumes they’re wearing. Superman for example is arguably an amalgamation of Jesus, the Egyptian god Horus and other solar deities. Other superheroes wear their influences a bit more literally, specifically Jay Garrick AKA the original Flash, who dons his infamous helmet inspired by the Roman god Mercury (recently portrayed on the CW’s The Flash).
With the film and television industry constantly on the hunt for potential franchises, it didn’t take long to set their sights on the gods. Most of the popular superheroes have been snatched up. What better way to compete with this juggernaut, than to explore its influences. The gods are public domain, you can’t copyright them. Established characters with cheap price tags means less risk in today’s uncertain climate.
Although, in this Golden Age of television, the old gods are seldom seen. Unlike their superhero descendants who currently dominate the realm of television, a lack of serialisation exists for the gods of the past. Their stories have remained finite, opposing the fundamental nature of the gods. These stories are supposed to be endless and built upon previously acquired knowledge of character traits, powers, personalities and relationships. Hundreds of expanded universes filled with sequels, prequels and spinoffs (Sound familiar at all?). Well that trend is about to change.
III. ENTER THE AMERICAN GODS
For those unaware, American Gods is a new television series developed by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green for Starz (Amazon Prime here in the UK). Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, who is also serving as an executive producer. A lot of the hype surrounding the show is thanks thanks to its two showrunners, Bryan Fuller (Hannibal TV series) and Michael Green, who is writing and co-writing projects such as Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049, Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant, Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express and James Mangold's Logan.
It’s not surprising when the source material to work with is so strong, that there have been such great reviews from critics and fans alike. Gaiman’s cult classic novel is an engaging story that taps into the provincial, underbelly of American life alongside ancient mythology. Fantasy and legend are a staple of Gaiman's work. Throughout his many novels, comic books and television series, these themes are repeatedly represented.
When I read American Gods, I was amazed by Gaiman’s approach to the theme of belief. I'd often wondered what happened to these gods and Gaiman provides a unique perspective. It made me reflect on how such powerful ideas could be forgotten and how new ones could be forged.
To me, these ideas haven't been forgotten - mythologies are contemporary. As Gaiman says himself, “We are a story creating race. It could well be that, the thing that got us out of the African Savannah and into skyscrapers and planes, really, is stories.”
“We are a story creating race. It could well be that, the thing that got us out of the African Savannah and into skyscrapers and planes, really, is stories.”
IV. PERSONAL DEMONS
My fascination for the gods started with the Vikings; a culture that was raw and full of a raucous energy. Norse gods are earthly - they feel real. Their stories combine high drama with unbridled chaos. They are unpredictable, nonsensical and in some cases foolish.
As a child, I loved the Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts films. Seeing these fantastical adventures brought to life stimulated my imagination. The Greek gods were also mischievous. They fought and bickered with one another. They were deceptive, they were human.
It made sense to me that there were gods for every human activity or emotion. A god for the hunt? Why not. A god for sex? Sign me up. There are hundreds of love gods. Motherly love, self love, matrimonial love: the list goes on. This is what inspired me to create Jimmy - the god of anxiety, in my short story Killing Rachel.
During my 20s I suffered from acute social and health anxieties. At any given time I was plagued with thoughts of illness, disaster and death. The impact on my perception of the world and its threats was monumental. I used gods in Killing Rachel to dramatise the perceived low status of mental illness to avoid making it too earnest. I wanted the story to be funny yet a meaningful experience for the reader, not something that read as a lecture.
After years of therapy, I slowly gained control over my mental health; although it remains obvious to me that mental illness is still a very much neglected subject. So I wrote Killing Rachel to share my experiences and show the gods are still with us.
Killing Rachel features in Half Life, available on Amazon here. American Gods is available on Amazon Prime in the UK and Starz in the US.