I may have mentioned in my previous write-up that Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of my favorite books. You know, in passing. A million or so times. You may also remember I mentioned episodes 1-4 of the STARZ Original series were phenomenal, absolutely blowing my expectations out of the water and gifting viewers with that very rare gift of an adaptation based on a deep understanding, and clear abiding love, of the source material while also taking into careful consideration that novel writing and screen writing are entirely different beasts. Which, quite frankly, is something I didn’t understand all that well before GeekDad Jamie Greene let me sit in on his interview with Daniel Abraham and Ty Francks (see James S.A. Corey).
How many times have I seated myself before a screen, either large or small, and, an hour or two hours or three later, walked away disappointed because I didn’t feel what I had seen was faithful to original work I loved? Many, many times. Some of those second generation beasts simply aren’t all that good – not everything can be. But there are some I’d like to go back and watch again now that I’ve been schooled in the fundamental difference between translation and adaptation. Now that I understand the latter isn’t a disregard for what came before, but, rather, when done properly, can actually be simultaneously different and more faithful.
Some things can be directly translated. And that’s cool. Some things can’t and that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t move them over to another media, it simply means one must put additional effort into adapting (both the artists and the audience). American Gods isn’t a book which could ever be translated: it’s too dense, too rich, too much. There are also places in which it is too little, either by function of authorial intent (readers need room to use their imaginations after all and the best writers know this) or by function of externally imposed limitations (Gaiman was asked to remove 50K from the original manuscript and was only able to put half of those works back in for the 10th anniversary, author-preferred edition). Also, in truth a writer’s work is never done. No matter how skilled and how experienced an author is, there’s always something he would do differently if given the chance to go back and do “it” over again. Whatever it is.
All of this is not to say writers and showrunners being cognizant of the aforementioned is always going to produce something remarkable, or even something halfway decent. Some things just suck. Also, a thing can be faithful and well executed and not appeal to every member of the audience. That’s the nature of art, any art, really.
In the case of STARZ’s 8-episode adaptation of American Gods, we fan-people have been given the gift of an adaptation faithful to the sensibility of the source material with additions and subtractions which almost unilaterally strengthen the story and the living presence of the characters. There are enough of the original dialogue and details to satisfy even the most rabid among us (of which I could myself one) and enough which is new to draw both our numbers, and those new to the story, into this surreal, magical entity of a story.
Details? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t do that to you even if, as I mentioned when I previewed episodes 1-4, there weren’t a strict anti-spoiler policy in place. I won’t leave you entirely bereft, however. Here are a very few of the things you can expect to see and adore about the second half of American Gods, Season 1:
- Where before there were interesting, multi-layered female characters, there are now queens without whom the story cannot be told; without whom the story doesn’t exist.
- A man where there was truly only a shadow.
- Love where there was only a chance encounter.
- Deep, gorgeous, troubling, vicious history where before there were only interludes.
- More magic in places that already seemed full to bursting with it.
Thank you, to the cast and crew, the writers and producers and showrunners.
Thank you from the bottom of my fangirl heart.
Season 1 of American Gods airs Sundays at 9pm on the STARZ network; it posts earlier in the day on the STARZ app. Outside of the US, American Gods is available on Amazon Prime. Season 2 has been confirmed although an air date has not yet been announced.