Literature / American Gods

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"I know it's crooked, but it's the only game in town."
Canada Bill Jones

After a three-year prison term following an assault conviction, a man known only as Shadow is ready to be released back into society. He isn't a bad man and wants little more than to go back to his beloved wife Laura, get a job at his friend's gym and live a quiet, simple life. Unfortunately, things are not that simple: Shortly before being released, Shadow discovers that Laura was killed in a car accident alongside the aforementioned friend and gets out early. At loose ends in the world, Shadow finds himself sharing a flight with a seedy old con man who asks to be called Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday is strangely interested in Shadow, and offers to hire him on as a bodyguard and accomplice; Shadow, with nothing left of his old life and nothing better to do, agrees.

Shadow runs errands for Wednesday and travels into the very heart of America, visiting its small towns and meeting its people and its old, forgotten gods, struggling to stay relevant in the modern era. But unbeknownst to him, he has a much larger role in the oncoming conflict than he thinks...

A novel by Neil Gaiman, interesting for its examination of the intersection between myth and Americana. It is interspersed at various points with stories of immigrants who brought their gods and their beliefs to America with them, and the gods themselves have integrated just as well as their former worshipers. The novel elevates the ordinary and the everyday to mythic status, finding significance in the smallest of things. This quality is exemplified by its protagonist, Shadow, who is both the eternal everyman and something more, something special.

There is a spinoff sequel, Anansi Boys, focusing on Anansi's son(s) in the wake of Anansi's "death".

Shadow's own story is continued in two novellas: The Monarch of the Glen (collected in Fragile Things) and Black Dog (published in Trigger Warning). Gaiman has said there is at least one more novella in Shadow's future and that if he "survives that" he'll make a return to America

The novel directly inspired White Wolf's tabletop roleplaying game Scion.

Various television adaptations have been announced. A TV miniseries written by Gaiman was announced and abandoned by HBO. A fantasy drama series produced by Fremantle Media, with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green as showrunners and Gaiman as Executive Producer, began airing on Starz starting April 30, 2017. Gaiman also serves as one of the show's writers.

Shortly before the TV series aired, Dark Horse Comics began a comic adaptation of the book, written by P. Craig Russell.


Tropes featured include:

  • All Myths Are True: No, seriously, all of them (except Paul Bunyan and similar manufactured legends). This includes cultural heroes based on real people; Johnny Appleseed is hanging around in one scene, but he isn't the same person as John Chapman.
    • According to Wednesday, all of those legends about different groups visiting or settling in America before Erikson's voyage are also true.
  • Alone with the Psycho: The ending, when Shadow figures out that Hinzelmann is a serial killer.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: The House on the Rock is a real place in southern Wisconsin and is, if anything, even weirder than described in the book.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Shadow is asked on several occasions what his ethnicity is, with other characters guessing him to be Hispanic, Native American, or part African American. Shadow himself has very little knowledge of his heritage, but his mother suffered from sickle-cell anemia and is described as dark, so she is almost certainly African-American; his father is a Norse god. His skin colour is finally described as 'coffee and cream' some 450 pages into the novel. Neil Gaiman sees him as The Rock.
    • Double Subverted by the case of Jacquel and Ibis, two ancient Egyptians who used to be able to pass for either white or black...until the Civil War, whereafter they were always seen as black.
  • American Title: American Gods. Of the sort that only describes a nationality.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Lots of 'em. For example, all the new gods, and the buffalo man (who seems to be the Anthropomorphic Personification of America itself).
  • Arc Words: "Storm's on the way" and "I know it's crooked, but it's the only game in town."
  • Artistic License – Economics: The narration is dismissive of the term "Information Age" and insists that all of history could be accurately described as an Information Age since information has always been one of the most important resources. But most of what that term actually refers to is a rise in the availability of information, not its value (and where the rising value of the latter is merely symptomatic of the rise of the former).
  • Asshole Victim: Bilquis is one of the first victims of the war between the Old Gods and the New, overlapping with a certain other death trope. But the reader is unlikely to have much sympathy considering she murdered a man in cold blood in her very first scene, and was looking for a fresh victim when she was killed.
  • Attractive Zombie: Laura, until she rots severely by the end.
  • Basement-Dweller: Technical Boy, the personification of the internet, is a fat, sweaty, smelly, rich kid with no social skills. The other characters all treat him like an Internet Tough Guy.
  • Battle-Interrupting Shout: Although he doesn't shout, this is how Shadow defuses the impending war between the gods.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Mr. Wednesday robs a bank (or, rather the people who are trying to make deposits at the bank). His con was based on a Real Life con that Frank Abagnale Jr. claimed to have once pulled off. Some people attempted to pull off the same trick after reading the book.
    • The Spookshow agents are not authorized by the US Government, but acting like they are to play on Government Conspiracy fears is enough to convince the local authorities to cooperate without showing any credentials whatsoever. The other side pulls it by pretending to be them.
  • Being Good Sucks: Shadow sometimes hates that doing the right thing has its price. Trying to serve Mr. Wednesday and then realizing Wednesday had used him leads to him having to break up the battle. He then reveals a mass murderer god in the town of Lakeside, which will in turn destroy its idyllic nature, and talk the god's murderer out of committing suicide. Then in "Black Dog" he finds himself no longer welcome in town after he exposes Oliver as the one who killed Cassie.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Shadow is normally gentle and friendly, but he is a very big man. It is not a good idea to piss him off. The aftermath of his rage is one of the reasons he was sent to prison. In "Monarch of the Glen" he nearly beats Grendel to a pulp under Mr. Alice's orders and exposes Oliver as a murderer in "Black Dog".
    • To a much more sinister extent, Hinzelmann.
  • Big Bad: Mr. Wednesday, with Mr. World/Loki as his Dragon.
  • Big Bad Friend: Low-Key Lyesmith is Mr World/Loki.
    • Hinzelmann to a lesser extent.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Easter is described as a very curvy - and very attractive - lady. Fitting, since she's a fertility goddess.
  • Bi the Way: Sam.
  • Black Helicopters: The Valkyries.
  • Book Ends: The plot truly begins when Shadow meets Mr Wednesday, the declining incarnation of Odin in the New World. The last scene has him meet Iceland's Odin, an example of a god in an old country who has moved well with the times.
  • Butch Lesbian: In one of the Coming to America flashbacks, Kalanu the scout who walks and dresses like a man, and took a girl to be her wife.
  • Call-Forward: At the World's Largest Carousel, Mr Nancy displays amusement at the prospect of riding a lion statue. This is later visited briefly upon in Anansi Boys, where Lion is one of many gods that Anansi has antagonized in the past.
  • Came Back Wrong: Laura's a revenant. She could speak normally and still had her human memories and intelligence, and she never tried eating anyone, but she was a revenant nevertheless. She had already been embalmed when she was raised, so she rotted slowly over many months.
  • The Cameo: A blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Delirium from The Sandman. The girl with the talking dog.
  • Canon Name: Shadow is very clearly stated to be a nickname, and although the book drops hints, it never reveals the character's real name. It is eventually revealed to be Baldur in the follow-up novella The Monarch of the Glen.
  • The Casanova: Mr. Wednesday, in addition to conning men, loves the art of seducing females (especially virgins) via something as simple as asking for Christmas gifts. He uses spells to seal the deal once his natural charms have the subject warmed up to him.
  • Catch-Phrase: "Is good" from Czernobog and the three Zorya.
  • Cat Girl: Bast. Does not have cat ears, sure, but a rough tongue and feline eyes.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The apparently throwaway line about a few hitchhikers and kids going missing and never coming back in regards to the small town Shadow stays in. As well as the Notes from Lakeside City Council book that Shadow buys at a Library sale. And the klunker, mentioned many times before it comes apparent what it's function to the story is.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Low-Key Lyesmith, who is both the God Loki and Mr. World.
    • Easter, goddess of fertility and rebirth. She resurrects Shadow after he dies on the World Tree.
    • The mad-eyed hawk Shadow sees briefly in Cairo. It is, of course, the Egyptian deity Horus, and it's the one who finds him on the tree and brings Easter to him.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Shadow's coin tricks.
  • Chess with Death: Shadow plays Checkers with Czernobog, wagering his own life in the process.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: It is the fact that people believed in the gods that gave them purchase in America, and now that the belief is lessening they are fading away.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Czernobog.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Sam, a random hitchhiker, and Audrey, one of the few people who knows Shadow's real identity, somehow both have connections to the sleepy little town Shadow moves to, and somehow both come to town on the same night? It was all the will of Hinzelmann.
  • Cool Old Guy: Hinzelmann. Subverted, in that he's a Serial Killer.
  • Country Matters: The "C word" is dropped a number of times, most notably by Sam to Audrey.
  • Crossover Cosmology: Most Gods and Goddesses are there, with figures hailing from most continents and the majority of known religions. Jesus is mentioned, but is not a character encountered in the story. In the Author's Preferred Text, a man appears in a scene cut from wide release (prior to the 10th Anniversary Edition) that has Shadow talking with a man in a villa mentioned to have something like Moorish or Moroccan influences; he wears a baseball cap, a suit, jokes about turning water into wine, and is indubitably American Jesus.
  • Curse: Though it isn't explicit, when Czernobog tears into Mr Town at the Hotel at the Center of America he's probably cursing literally in addition to figuratively. Not dying in battle and being killed by no man alive at first seem a product of his warped perspective. But look how it turns out for Mr Town...
    • Similarly, Bilquis curses the Technical Boy as she lays dying after he hit her with his limo. It's ambiguous whether the curse stuck or he's just really traumatized or both.
  • Day of the Week Name: Mr. Wednesday. The day name is derived from "Wotan's Day," which was the original name for Wednesday, Wotan being another name for "Odin" in early Germanic Paganism. He goes so far as to point out during his introduction that "seeing as today certainly is my day..." and comments on the stormy weather with "Although it may as well be Thursday" (Thursday being Thor's Day).
  • Dead All Along: In "Black Dog" Cassie is revealed to be a ghost who started a relationship with Shadow so that he could find her body and bring her murderer to justice. She apologizes for using him, but he's not that regretful about it.
  • Deal with the Devil: One of them, anyway. The truth about the town of Lakeside.
  • Death of the Old Gods: All of the ancient deities who were forgotten completely by mankind.
  • Deus Sex Machina: Shadow's wet dream with Bast is another turning point for the protagonist. Though it might not have been a dream... (See Or Was It a Dream? below)
  • Divine Parentage: Shadow.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal: Wednesday uses magic to charm girls into having sex with him. This does make Shadow uncomfortable (especially when he finds out that he is the Child by Rape of one such girl), and Wednesday is eventually regarded as an out-and-out villain, but it's not treated as any kind of Moral Event Horizon in the way you'd usually expect more mundane forms of sexual assault to be. Also, see below about Bast.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: It's very strongly implied that the goddess Bast had sex with Shadow while he was asleep (and clawed him up a bunch in the process, because she's part cat). The fact that performing sex acts on a sleeping person is illegal is never brought up, Bast is not treated as a villain, and even when he works out what happened Shadow doesn't seem to particularly mind having been molested by a cat while unconscious. The whole thing is treated as far less of a problem than Wednesday's male-on-female equivalent crimes. It isn't completely cut and dried however; they simultaneously had fully consensual sex in his dreamscape, which is a very real mystical dimension the gods can access and that he is fully conscious inside of (he was not aware of this at the time). Shadow himself notes the scratches as little more than proof that their one night stand really happened.
  • Dying Curse: Bilquis lays one on Technical Boy when he kills her. We never get the specifics, but it's apparently pretty awful. In the Hotel at the Center of America, he can be seen suffering from it, although this could just be withdrawal due to it being a dead zone with no wifi or cell signal.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: From the book being written by Mr. Ibis.
  • Eureka Moment:
    • The greater your knowledge of Norse Mythology prior to reading the book, the sooner you'll get it.
    Shadow: Jesus, Low-Key Lyesmith... Oh, Jesus. Loki. Loki Lie-Smith.
    • The Lakeside killings.
    • It's a two-man con.
  • Evil Twin: Mocked by Czernobog.
    My brother... when we are young, everyone says he is fair-haired, he must be good, and I am dark-haired, so I must be the rogue. Now, the years have passed, we are both old and grey. Now, who can tell which brother is which?
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Inevitable since All Myths Are True.
  • Flyover Country: For the most part, the main plot takes place on the Great Plains and Midwest.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The Christmas conversation: Shadow notices that all of Wednesday's favorite cons require two people and asks if Wednesday had a partner..
    • In one of Shadow's dreams, the people who had been hung in sacrifice to Odin smelled of the alcohol they had drunk beforehand. Mr. Wednesday's corpse smelled of Jack Daniels, hinting that he was a sacrifice to himself - which is actually accurate to Norse Mythology.
    • Wednesday tells Shadow that he reminds him of Thor, who is a son of Odin. Guess who Shadow's father is? Additionally there are many associations of Shadow with thunder and lightning.
      • Towards the end of the book, Loki makes a comment about sticking a spear of mistletoe into Shadow's eye. In the Norse myths, Loki killed Baldur, another son of Odin, with mistletoe; the follow-up novella reveals that Shadow's birth name is Baldur.
    • Misdirection is a running theme (Shadow's coin tricks, Wednesday's cons, all the talk about crooked games, etc). Of course it turns out that Wednesday (and the book itself) have been misdirecting everyone the whole time.
    • When Shadow has been captured by the Spookshow, the goons tell each other a joke about the CIA. ("How do you know the CIA wasn't involved in the Kennedy assassination? Well, he's dead, isn't he?") Later, Easter is about to tell the same joke, but Wednesday says he's heard it. This is because Wednesday is working with Loki, who runs the Spookshow.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The reason why the old Gods are dying, and the new Gods have arisen. Wednesday is very disdainful of Neo-Pagans in general considering them pretenders, strongly implying their worship is inadequate. It hit Easter hard when Wednesday showed her a self-proclaimed Pagan that did not even know Easter was originally a Pagan holiday, labeling it as "Christian" instead. In their world, Pagans without traditional rituals and well-defined gods and goddesses might as well be Atheist or Agnostic.
  • God Was My Copilot: Wednesday was a god all along. So was Shadow.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: The Spookshow do this automatically, whether or not it makes any sense.
  • Good Old Ways: Subverted. The New Gods represent different facets of America's modern, technologically advanced culture, and for most of the novel Shadow sympathizes more with the primitive — and seemingly more benevolent — old gods. But, over the course of the story, the point is hammered in over and over that quite a few of the old gods were violent, bloodthirsty monsters in their day, and many of the new gods are just terrified of becoming as obsolete as the current crop of old ones. At the end of the day, Shadow eventually realizes, old or new, gods are just like the people that spawn them, and that, just as for better or worse people aren't going to change, so too the gods are going to be the same mixture of okay people and assholes.
  • Government Conspiracy: Subverted. The Spookshow is not part of the US Government. They just act like they are because it intimidates people.
  • The Heartless: Many of the gods
  • Hell Hotel: The hotel at the center of the United States. Literally, for the Technical Boy, as it sits in a deadzone. In the night, Shadow hears him throwing himself against the walls as the unaccustomed isolation causes him to have a breakdown.
  • Human Sacrifice: Old and new, there's always a god or two that's a fan. Chernobog in particular charges up during the trip by visiting a field where people were brained to death with rocks in his name, and the car gods are mentioned as receiving it "on a scale unheard of since the Aztecs."
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Atsula the priestess of Nunyunnini has her tribe drink a cup of her urine.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think - Mr. Wednesday's answer to Shadow's questions about what's going on.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: A major plot point.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Attempted by Media to convince Shadow to switch sides. Its an offer Shadow finds easy to ignore, since the boobs in question belong to Lucille Ball.
  • I Have Many Names: Mr. Wednesday explicitly says this; given the subject matter, it also applies to most of the major characters.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • "This must look so undignified."
    • "Rigged games are the easiest ones to beat."
  • Irony: After a prim lecture (to Odin) about being a pagan, the coffeeshop waitress exclaims "Jesus..." when Shadow hands her a bill she dropped.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Wednesday claims to know a couple charms that work like this, he mostly uses them to get laid. While helping with one of Wednesday's cons Shadow actually wills a police officer into believing his story. And in the epilogue Shadow not only talks down a suicidal man, but alters his memories as well.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Czernobog and Bielebog
  • Jerkass Gods: Considering the god's resemblances to humans in this book, it can be expected.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: When the cop who kills Hinzelmann feels guilty and talks of committing suicide, possibly due to Hinzelmann's psychic influence before he died, Shadow removes his memory of the event.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Shadow arrives at Rock City only after the war between the gods had already begun. Thankfully, he manages to end it just in time to keep Loki and Wednesday from achieving the power levels they craved.
  • Leprechaun: Mad Sweeney. note 
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Wednesday and Loki pitting the new American gods against the immigrant gods so they themselves can gain power. Shadow even refers to the trope by name.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: Maybe not as awesome when your followers are dwindling, but the gods we see are all determined to survive even though their lives have gotten far less glamorous over the centuries or millennia. Except for Thor, who is mentioned to have committed suicide.
  • A Load of Bull: As well as several briefly-mentioned minotaurs, we have "the buffalo man," who seems to be an Anthropomorphic Personification of "the land" — meaning he's the spirit of Earth, and probably the closest thing the setting has to a Top God.
  • The Lost Lenore: Laura. But it's complicated.
  • Louis Cypher: Low-Key Lyesmith = Loki Lie-Smith.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Shadow discovers he is Wednesday's son.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: Shadow has a wet dream involving Bast, while staying with Jaquel and Ibis. At least, he's pretty sure it was a dream, but he wakes to see Jaquel and Ibis's (female) cat slip out his door, which puzzles him, as he's sure he closed the door firmly before he went to bed. Also, most of the cuts and and bruises he had are gone or at least much better than they were, except for the deep scratches on his back, which he hadn't had yesterday.
  • Magic Realism: The novel is set in contemporary America, and there are gods doing weird things.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Mr. World (aka Loki) to the New Gods, and Mr. Wednesday to Loki himself.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Shadow, as his role is to shadow Mr. Wednesday. Laura also states that he never really seemed alive or present. His real name is Baldur Moon, named for Odin's son Baldur who was his parent's favorite child and also their sacrifice to Hel.
    • Mr. Wednesday has named himself after the day that is named after him.
    • Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis? Anubis and Thoth, a jackal-headed Egyptian god and an ibis-headed Egyptian god.
    • Hinzelmann his name right out tells you he's a kobold from an actual legend.
  • The Men in Black: The Spookshow, minions of the leader of the New Gods, Mr. World. They exist, like all the gods, because so many people assume that there must be a secret spy organization out there.
  • Messianic Archetype: Shadow. He is The Chosen One, even if for all the wrong reasons. Then there is the crucifixion scene complete with resurrection. Then it is revealed that he is actually the son of Odin, and his real name is Baldur Moon.
  • Minnesota Nice: The community of Lakeside deconstructs this, taking inspiration from famous portrayals of Minnesota Nice such as Fargo (extremely friendly police) and A Prairie Home Companion (everyone being above average), before revealing itself to be a Town with a Dark Secret. Hinzelmann is a small god who sacrifices children in order to maintain the town's prosperity.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Mr. Wednesday
  • Near Villain Victory: The villains manage to begin their war and dedicate the battle to Odin/Mr. Wednesday, but Shadow manages to thwart them soon after by telling all of the assorted old and new gods what the plan actually was and convince them to just go home. While Mr. Wednesday manages to return as a ghost, Loki appears to die due to the injuries inflicted upon him, and neither of them manage to achieve the obscene amounts of power that they were aiming for with their Kansas City Shuffle as a result.
  • Nerd in Evil's Helmet: The "technology kid" acts tough, but other characters see it as rehearsed and kind of pitiful. The book narration describes him as somebody trying too hard and performing actions that should be threatening, but fall short because of his execution.
  • Never Heard That One Before:
    Shadow: Hey, Huginn or Munin, or whoever you are. Say 'Nevermore'.
    Raven: Fuck you.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted pretty hard. Practically everyone takes a leak at some point.
  • No Name Given: Shadow is known only by his various nicknames (Laura calls him 'puppy' most of the time) at least until the quasi-sequel "The Monarch of the Glen", where we learn his birth name is Balder.
  • The Nondescript: The god whose name and appearance Shadow cannot remember.
  • Not Actually the Ultimate Question: Early in the novel, after Shadow is released from prison and about to fly home, he remembers an interaction with a previous cell-mate, which the cellmate asserted had the moral of not pissing off people who work in airports. During a previous parole, the cellmate had planned to fly home to see his sister, but after losing his temper when being informed that his driver's license had expired, ended up (in that order) going on a drunken bender, robbing a gas station to get booze money, being arrested for public urination, and ultimately winding up back in prison with extra time for armed robbery. Shadow, who is very intelligent despite pretending to be dumb muscle questioned whether the moral of the story was that "The kind of behavior that works in a specialized environment, such as prison, can fail to work and in fact become harmful when used outside such an environment", but his cellmate insisted the moral was to not piss off people who work in airports.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Media tries to sway Shadow, as Lucy, with the offer of nudity. It doesn't work, to the point that it colors the rest of his encounters with her, and he goes so far as to avoid watching television whenever possible.
  • The Nothing After Death: Chosen by Shadow. Though it doesn't stick for long.
  • Now What Ending: After stopping the war between the gods and exposing Hinzellman as a murderer, Shadow doesn't know what to do with himself. He decides to travel, starting with a trip to Iceland.
  • The Old Convict: Low Key.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Shadow.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Laura is a little bit more like a lich or revenant (an undead spirit bound to its own former rotting corpse) than a zombie, in that she retains her free will, but has little sensation and deadened emotions. She's also gradually decomposing as the embalming chemicals she's preserved with are only partially effective.
  • Physical God: All of them, at least part time (who knows what was up with Media).
  • Place of Power: In the Old World people built temples on top of them, in America they built roadside attractions. Prominently featured examples include the House on the Rock and Rock City. Inverted with the Center of America. It's a place so devoid of power normal people are driven away from it, and gods apparently are at their lowest power here. Which is exactly the reason it's used as neutral ground.
  • Playing Both Sides: Wednesday and Loki are manipulating both the old and new Gods so they can draw power from the resulting battle.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The real reason why Lakeside is prospering compared to the economically depressed surrounding towns is because Hinzelmann is an old god who keeps the town thriving through murdered children without the townspeople's knowledge. This is also Hinzelmann's own backstory, as a cobold.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Laura to Mr. Town.
    Laura:"You must really want to know what happened to those friends of yours? Woody and Stone. Do you?"
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Sam, to Audrey: "You. Are such. A cunt."
  • Quick Change: Pulled by Mr. Wednesday
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Spookshow
  • Pokémon Speak: Ratatosk, the squirrel that lives on the World Tree.
  • Rape as Drama:
    • Wututu's chapter is largely about the experiences of African slaves in the Americas, and rape is a large part of that story.
    • It's revealed that Mr. Wednesday doesn't just "charm" young women. He casts a charm on them, specifically on teenaged virgins, making them magically attracted to him and destroying their ability to ever love anyone else for the rest of their lives.
  • Regularly Scheduled Evil: In Lakeside, Shadow discovers that the disappearance of teenagers over the course of several years are actually sacrifices to Heinzelmann, one of the old gods. Not even the people in the town know about the dark secret.
  • Resurrective Immortality: A god is actually not that much harder to kill than a human. Under normal circumstances (as in, somewhere where people believe in them strongly) they simply come back to life or are replaced by something identical quite quickly. In a place that lacks belief like America, they don't have that fallback plan.
  • The Reveal: "It's a two man con. It's not a war at all."
  • Schmuck Bait: Loki does this to Technical boy, mostly to amuse himself. Paraphrased: "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you." "Ha, okay, I get the point." "Hey, do you really want to know?"
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: An Ifrit working as a cab driver swaps his cover identity with a down on his luck Arab salesman for tickets home. He (unknowingly) gets out at the last minute too, as the new cab driver is assassinated in his place shortly after.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In one of Shadow's dreams, a brief mention is given to an "octopus-faced" god.
    • When Shadow needs to fall asleep, he reads the most boring thing he can find: a pile of old Readers Digests. He reads an article called "I Am John's Pancreas"
    • Two of the towns Shadow passes through on the way to Cairo are Normal Ohionote  and Lawndalenote 
    • The Spookshow is named after the military intelligence project that created all the superheroes in Miracleman.
    • During the build-up to the meeting in Georgia, the girl that Baron Samedi is possessing is said to be a goth girl with a black silk top hat. Hm, sound familiar?
    • From the scraps of description we get of Mr Town (the second-highest ranking member of the Spookshow and a walking incarnation of conspiracy theory lore), he sounds an awful lot like the Cigarette-Smoking Man.
    • When the word kobold is mentioned, Shadow wonders what a kobold is. Many people will be familiar with the term through its use in Dungeons & Dragons, an rpg originally created by TSR who were based in Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. Hinzelmann is a kobold who lives near a lake in Wisconsin.
    • The name "Technical Boy" alludes to the first paragraph in William Gibson's cyberpunk classic short story Johnny Mnemonic. note  The short story also had a film adaptation starring Keanu Reeves, suggesting that the Matrix-emulating Technical Boy may resemble that actor.
    • Sitting by mother's bed in the hospital Shadow is reading Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"
  • Serial Killer: Hinzelmann is behind the disappearing teenagers—he kills them and stuffs them in the current Klunker's trunk, and when the ice thaws the Klunker takes the body to the bottom of the lake. Being one of the old gods, Hinzelmann is technically taking human sacrifices that he needs, but he's still methodically killing one type of person.
  • So Proud of You: Wednesday to Shadow after he stands his vigil on the tree.
  • Spanner in the Works: Shadow, naturally and to a lesser extent Horus, who fetches Easter in order to bring Shadow back to life. Also Laura, although she is also partly Shadow's fault for accidentally reanimating her; she derails Wednesday and Mr World's plans more than once.
  • Spiritual Successor: A non-comedy successor to Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul.
  • Standing Between the Enemies: Shadow manages to stop the battle between the Old and New Gods by telling them both how they were manipulated into fighting by Mr. Wednesday and Loki so that they could gain power from the deaths of the other gods.
  • Stealth Pun: Shadow is the book's protagonist, and one of the most morally 'good' characters present. He's The Hero, in other words. Mythologically speaking, what does 'Hero' usually imply? He's the half-mortal son of a god.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Repeated by Mister Wednesday and Mad Sweeney.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: Media can inhabit the body of any TV character and use them as an avatar to spy on or communicate with anyone watching a TV.
  • Survival Mantra: "It's easy, there's a trick to it, you do it or you die."
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Sam to Shadow, as a Take That! against everybody else in the bar at that point, but especially Audrey.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Wednesday arranges his own assassination in order to convince a lot of reluctant Old Gods to join the war.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: "Only the gods are real."
  • Timmy in a Well: Lampshaded with a raven
  • Too Dumb to Live: Laura on the night of her death, decided to give Robbie a blowjob while he was driving, causing her to knock the gearshift with her shoulder, which caused the accident. Not helped by the fact she was drunk: both she and Shadow know it was stupid of her to do.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Lakeside—the only reason why it has continued to prosper in tough economic times was because Shadow's neighbor turns out to be a kobold that has sacrificed a child every year since the town was founded in a ritual to ensure the town stayed healthy and prosperous. Only the kobold actually knew the secret—all of the other townspeople seemed to have had no idea, many assuming the missing children were simply runaways or, in at least one case, kidnapped by their noncustodial parent from out of town.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Wednesday.
  • Trickster Mentor: Mr. Wednesday and Low-Key.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Low Key/Loki and Mr. World
  • Undeath Always Ends: Laura is brought back from the dead by a magic coin, but she's still gradually decaying and it's a minor plot point that she will continue to fall apart until restored to either full life or full death. In the end, she accepts the latter.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Shadow
    Wednesday looked at him with amusement and something else—irritation perhaps. Or pride. "Why don't you argue?" asked Wednesday. "Why don't you exclaim that it's all impossible? Why the hell do you just do what I say and take it all so fucking calmly?"
  • The Unreveal: There's a recurring god (apparently a god of wealth) about whom Shadow can never remember anything beyond a vague impression. Shadow is told his name more than once, but he always forgets it immediately and the reader never gets to hear it. In the end, despite various hints, his identity never does actually get made clear (including, thus far, by Word of God). Naturally, there are popular guesses including Pluto, Budha Mercury, the Horned God and Satan.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Virtually all the old and new Gods, and Shadow himself, are pawns in Wednesday and Loki's Kansas City Shuffle.
  • Vagina Dentata:
    • Wututu claims to have them to deter a rapist on board the slave ship.
    • Bilquis the Fertility-goddess, who swallows people.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: Several characters warn about a coming storm or similar, without elaborating. The first of these, oddly, is an in-mate in prison with Shadow with the unlikely name of Sam Fetisher, who never gets mentioned again. There is probably some sort of significance to this.
  • The Verse: Shared with Stardust, although you would only know it by reading Wall: A Prologue, and with "Anansi Boys" since Mr. Nancy not only appears in both, but even dresses the same. There is also a minor crossover with The Sandman, since Delirium makes a brief appearance in San Francisco.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend:
    • Laura as a zombie serves as this for Shadow. She kills at least one man who has it in for her husband.
    • Bastet isn't Shadow's girlfriend, but sometimes she acts like this. When Oliver tries to murder Shadow in "Black Dog," she summons an army of cats to save him.
  • Violin Scam: Commented upon by Wednesday.
  • Virtual Danger Denial: Shadow expresses lack of faith in his electronic plane ticket - where he doesn't have a physical ticket, just a number to give at check-in - because it just doesn't seem real to him. It's nice foreshadowing of his siding with the old gods against the new, technology-based ones.
  • Waif Prophet: Horus.
  • Walking the Earth: In "Monarch of the Glen" and "Black Dog," Shadow travels through various European countries, solving problems along the way.
  • Wannabe Diss: Wednesday speaks with particular disgust of a waitress who serves him and Shadow; he quizzes her about her religion, and she claims to be pagan, but when further quizzed about the particular flavor of paganism, she spits out some pseudo-mystical bullshit and acts offended when Wednesday brings up some of the more hedonistic aspects. Wednesday says she "doesn't have the faith and won't have the fun," with the implication that he could at least respect her if she enjoyed herself. He goes on to name her sins, which, from the petty to the actively criminal, show a similar propensity for half-measures and lack of commitment, with further implication that for this she is worse than the actively evil. The line about "does not have the faith and will not have the fun" is taken from a poem by G. K. Chesterton, about how dreary modern unbelievers are compared to ancient pagans. Wednesday has another reason to criticize her as well; since her version of Paganism doesn't have any specific gods, from his perspective she's an Atheist trying to appropriate the trappings of 'real' religion.
  • Wham Line: Several:
    • One for Shadow at the very start of the book: "Your wife died with my husband's cock in her mouth, Shadow."
    • "Jesus, Low-Key Lyesmith...Oh, Jesus. Loki. Loki Lie-Smith."
    • "It's a two-man con."
    • "And then, as the spear arcs over the battle, I'm going to shout 'I dedicate this battle to Odin.'"
    • Not made a big deal of at the time (because the person thinking it doesn't realize the significance), but "It had amused [Mr World] to play chauffeur, in Kansas, after all" confirms the Foreshadowed identity of a major player in the game.
    • "Shadow found that he was completely unsurprised when he recognized the man who dances with her. He had not changed that much in thirty-three years." "Her" is Shadow's mother. "He" is Wednesday.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Shadow tries to call Odin (the original) out for Wednesday's actions. Odin demurs, claiming that while Wednesday was him, that doesn't mean that he was Wednesday.
    Shadow: You tried to destroy so much for power. You would have sacrificed so much for yourself. You did that."
    Odin: "I did not do that."
    Shadow: "Wednesday did. He was you."
    Odin:"He was me, yes. But I am not him."
  • World of Pun:
    • "I was just rotting away where I was." —Laura
    • "Look in the trunk."
    • Wednesday gets the girls because of his charm. One of the eighteen charms he learned while hanging from the World Tree.
    • And then, of course, there's Loki's alias.
  • The World Tree: The Norse version, more or less.
  • You All Meet in a Cell: Well, somewhat. Loki and Shadow meet in prison.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Laura was cheating on Shadow with his best friend.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AmericanGods