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Literature / Anansi Boys

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Anansi Boys is a 2005 novel by Neil Gaiman, set in the same fictional universe as his earlier American Gods, although not a direct sequel to that story — more of a Lighter and Softer spinoff, and it was conceived earlier. The protagonist is the nice but unambitious and chronically unlucky Charles Nancy — nicknamed 'Fat Charlie' by his father at age 10 and dogged by the name ever since, despite not actually being fat — who's somewhat nonplussed to be told that his recently deceased father was the African trickster god Anansi. Oh, and the reason Fat Charlie doesn't have his dad's godlike powers is that they went to the brother he never knew existed, who he can contact by giving a message to a spider. Not believing a word of this, Fat Charlie nevertheless gets drunk and tells a spider to invite his brother to come for a visit.


Within a couple of days of Spider turning up, Fat Charlie has lost his job and fiancée, and is also wanted by the police. Willing to do anything to make his brother go away again, he finds a way to contact the other gods and makes a deal. And then things start to really go wrong.

Lenny Henry has voiced the audiobook and voiced Mr Nancy in a BBC Radio adaptation. A film version allegedly fell through because the studio wanted a predominantly white cast (despite the characters' Caribbean heritage being central to the mythic elements of the story), and Neil Gaiman steadfastly refused. However, he eventually resumed working on an adaptation, which was originally supposed to be a BBC mini-series, but is now being made into a mini-series for Amazon Prime


This book provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Mr. Nancy strides the line between this and Amazingly Embarrassing Parents. It's one thing to play little pranks on your child; it's quite another to use your powers to give him a nickname and Informed Attribute to make him the world's Butt-Monkey. Charlie only grows out of it when he has to fight.
  • A Mythology Is True: While it is part of the same universe as American Gods, this story deals exclusively with West African and Caribean mythology.
    • The quartet of grumpy old women Charlie knew as a boy, one he was certain was a witch. He was right, but they didn't use magic until he needed them to, and they were grumpy and disapproving, but ultimately friendly and sympathetic to his cause.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Fat Charlie's father even dies in an embarrassing way.
  • Animal Motifs: Grahame Coats' is a weasel. He even takes that form when he gets sealed away with Tiger. Anansi and Spider's are the latter's namesake.
  • Ax-Crazy: Grahame Coats, eventually.
  • Babies Ever After: For Charlie anyway. Spider hasn't gotten there yet. Gods have a rough time of it, but they're half-and-half, after all.
  • Bed Trick: Spider gets Rosie to have sex with him by impersonating Charlie.
  • Big Bad: Tiger, who wants Anansi's power over stories for himself.
  • Big Damn Heroes: A wholly unexpected role for venomous spiders.
    • Maeve Livingstone might also qualify.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: To be honest, Tiger and the Bird Woman have pretty good reasons to be upset. Anansi can be a righteous asshole and is known for tormenting them and many other gods, who merely refuse to help Fat Charlie, rather than actively seek revenge. Of course, they are just as liberal in their own Jerkass Gods tendencies, and they're targeting Anansi's sons for Revenge by Proxy, so any sympathy points they may have dry up pretty quickly.
  • Butt-Monkey: Fat Charlie, though it wears off by the end.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Fat Charlie does this to Mrs. Higgler. He also does this to his father, though his father refuses to answer why he spent his whole life making fun of Charlie.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Tiger wants to get his stories back from Anansi by wiping out his bloodline mainly because he thinks the world should be a cruel, violent place again.
  • Catchphrase: "Absatively" for Grahame Coats.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A mermaid mentioned in a story near the beginning of the book shows up again near the end of it.
  • Chubby Chef: This is what Spider becomes at the end of the story. He becomes the owner and chef at a restaurant, and, according to the book: "He's fatter than he used to be, though not as fat as he'll wind up if he keeps tasting everything he cooks."
  • Cliché Storm: Any attempt to converse with Grahame Coats results in this; he seems to think an abundance of well-worn un-witticisms make him seem far smarter than even a single original thought ever could. When he takes Rosie and her mother hostage, it even describes how delighted he is to have whole new vistas of clichés open to him that he never would have gotten to pull out otherwise. invoked
  • Closet Sublet: When Spider comes to visit, he stays in Fat Charlie's closet. Kind of. The closet door actually opens up into a ridiculously big room somewhere tropical.
  • Companion Cube: Fat Charlie is given a lime. For some reason, everyone except Charlie seems to take this as a matter of great import, and the lime is regarded as his companion or guardian somehow, despite not displaying any qualities beyond being, well, a lime.
  • Continuity Nod: Spider takes his coffee "dark as night and sweet as sin," just like the Slavic deities in American Gods.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: The fate of the former dictator of the Caribbean island where the second half of the novel is set. After ruling with an iron fist for decades, he died by "falling out of bed". His fall was apparently hard enough to break a number of bones, and he didn't survive despite all of his bodyguards being in his room during this time, who did everything they could to "help" him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Grahame Coats, who has been embezzling Maeve Livingstone's deceased husband's royalty earnings for years, and murders Maeve when she finds out.
  • Compelling Voice: Spider's even works on computers, though it's apparently more a matter of lies than orders.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Tiger is trapped inside a cave with Grahame Coats for a very long time.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: When the brothers are on the run from the Bird Woman, Spider complains that they could have avoided this if Fat Charlie had just asked him to leave. Fat Charlie retorts that he did ask Spider to leave; Spider was the one who refused.
  • Creepy Crows: The Bird Woman, one of many people who are still upset at Anansi's antics.
  • Dating What Mommy Hates: Part of Rosie's reason for dating, and eventually becoming engaged to Fat Charlie. Spider too, but, unlike Charlie, she does fall genuinely in love with him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Charlie and Spider.
  • Demonic Possession: Grahame Coats by Tiger, which starts subtly after he kills Maeve. During the climax, he performs a Fusion Dance with Tiger and transforms into a large, shadowy tiger.
  • Divine Parentage: Charlie and Spider are the sons of the god Anansi.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal: Spider uses his supernatural powers to convince Rosie that he's her fiance and has sex with her when she believes he's someone else. They end up together in the end. Of course, all he really did was tell her he was Fat Charlie. She slept with him entirely for his own qualities. She does feel confused and conflicted about it when she finds out the truth, especially since she really did fall in love with him, and his feelings of guilt about the matter are what drive him to confess.
  • Easily Forgiven: Spider commits rape by fraud with Rosie, and she marries him in the end.
  • Enfant Terrible: Charlie, before Spider is split off from him.
  • Evil Feels Good: After murdering Maeve Livingstone, Grahame Coats finds himself invigorated and proud of himself.
  • Fair Cop: Daisy.
  • Fake Brit: invoked Charlie is said to have spent years trying to overcome his American accent to sound British.
  • Faking the Dead: In one of the stories about Anansi, he pretends to be dead after requesting that he be buried in a vegetable garden so that he can sneak out of his grave and eat all of the food (while his family slowly starves). In the main story, Anansi has "died" so that people will stop taking him for granted. He intends to come back to life in about 20 or 25 years.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Tiger and Grahame Coats are trapped inside Tiger’s cave by Spider, with Coats being turned into a stoat that continuously revives. Thus, Tiger has to deal with Coats, while Coats is continuously killed, and this will go on until Spider forgets about them.
  • Feathered Fiend: The Bird Woman, who's got a bone to pick with Anansi's bloodline.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Fat Charlie has a dream about Anansi, who goes off on a tangent about starfish.
    • Happens again when Fat Charlie goes to the cliffs at the end of the world to find someone to deal with Spider. He meets Monkey, who says two things that later prove to be portentous.
    Monkey: Who are you? What are you? You seem like half a thing.
    Monkey: (On learning that Anansi is dead) Dead there. Maybe.
    • More subtly, Fat Charlie's bad luck disappears when he's an usually cheerful mood, hinting that his emotions also influence the world around him, like his brother.
  • Forced Transformation: Grahame Coats has been turned into a literal weasel by the end of the novel, rather than the metaphorical one he was at the start.
  • Formerly Fat: Played with. Fat Charlie was indeed fat at one point in his life, but only for a handful of years, from "shortly before the age of ten" to fourteen years old when he had a growth spurt and started exercising. Yet the nickname stuck with him for all of his life, thanks to his father giving it to him.
    • Then played with yet again alongside Formerly Fit. While Fat Charlie begins the novel as neither fat nor chubby, he is still said to be "soft around the edges", while his twin brother Spider is noted to be slender and much slimmer than him. Comes the end of the book, Fat Charlie is not called "fat" anymore, has lost his softness and became a "lean man", while Spider has become fatter thanks to tasting all the delicious food he cooks for the restaurant he owns, and the narration implies he might gain even more weight in the future. See Hourglass Plot below.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Two of them. In a strange way it kind of fits with the text because, well, they're gods.
  • Full-Name Basis: Grahame Coats is always referred to by his full name in the narrative.
  • Fruit of the Loon: A lime becomes a very important plot element.
  • Ghostly Goals: Maeve Livingstone gets killed and is invited to move on to the other side, but prefers to stick around a while longer to wreak some vengeance. She eventually does avenge herself by taking out Grahame Coats and Tiger, and moves on to be reunited with her husband Morris in the hereafter.
  • Giant Spider: A rare, rare friendly example.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Spider is almost always seen in a black and scarlet leather jacket.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Anansi really liked stealing other peoples' fables and myths, or at least claiming they were based on his antics.
  • Hourglass Plot: When the twins meet, Fat Charlie is a nervous, unlucky and responsible everyman Butt-Monkey, while Spider is a magical Trickster God party animal who goes through life without a care. And although Fat Charlie is not actually fat - Spider is described as being slimmer than him. As the story goes, Charlie learns to connect with his Trickster heritage and grows more confident and free-spirited - while Spider learns to care about other people and becomes more down-to-earth and human. Charlie arguably ends up as the more magical twin, as he learned how to warp reality via song. By the end of the book, Spider has become the owner of a restaurant and has grown fatter, while Charlie has become a singer and has gone slimmer.
  • Informed Attribute: In-universe. Fat Charlie was never actually fat or even very chubby but merely a little bit pudgy. By the time the story started, he hasn't been like that for years but the nickname stuck anyway.
  • Inhuman Resources: Grahame Coats fires his employees just before they qualify for the severance package; Fat Charlie is unusual in this regard, as Coats found him so useful that he's been employed for an unprecedented two years. This ends up biting Coats in the ass; when he tries to pin his embezzlement on Fat Charlie, his employee turnover rate is all the evidence the police need to put together the fact that the embezzlement predates even Fat Charlie.
  • Ironic Fear: Fat Charlie is phenomenal singer, even when he's barely trying, but has such severe performance anxiety that the powers he possesses never have an opportunity to manifest until late into the book.
  • It's a Costume Party, I Swear!: When he was little, Mr. Nancy told Charlie that President's Day meant you actually dressed up as your favorite President. Hilarity ensued, for Nancy, at least, when Charlie, not wanting to be just another Lincoln, Washington, or Kennedy, went as Taft.
  • Jerkass: The opportunistic, greedy weasel Grahame Coats.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Mr. Nancy tends to swing wildly between the two.
    • Spider is a swaggering party animal who is trying to steal and/or ruin his brother's life, but he does care about him and Rosie deep down.
  • Kavorka Man: Mr. Nancy and Spider.
  • Karma Houdini: Mr. Nancy for his antics and Reality Warper powers in turning Charlie into a Butt-Monkey for a good portion of his life. When Charlie asks him why he spent all his time making fun of him, Mr. Nancy says that they don't have time to be arguing.
  • Knows a Guy Who Knows a Guy: When Charlie asks the old women from home to help him rid him off his brother, they tell him they did something that worked once that can't be done again. But they knew someone who could help, and sent him to the land of the Gods (more or less that of the African pantheon) to ask the Gods to catch a deal for assistance.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Spider with Rosie, leading to some confusion on his part, as this usually doesn't happen.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After an incident with his cab driver, Fat Charlie finds himself forced to carry a lime everywhere, because word got around about the man with the lime and everyone demanded to see it.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to American Gods, this is almost pure comedy. It's as good, though.
  • Literal Split Personality: They even explicitly refer to it by the old trope name (Starfish Character). Charlie and Spider aren't actually twin brothers, but rather Spider is Charlie's magical trickster nature which was split-off from him, leaving Charlie as an awkward and mundane everyman. Or at least at first. Charlie notes that, like starfish, he and Spider both grew from the severing into whole people, both capable of being down-to-earth and caring or free-spirited tricksters when the situation calls for it.
  • Little Bit Beastly:
    • The gods of the animal pantheon all have characteristics of the animals they're based on, such as tails, whiskers — and extra nipples.
    • Anansi himself is either this, completely human, or a Funny Animal, whichever he needs. It's all in how you tell the story.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Charlie, at first. He thought he was an otherwise normal guy and a single child with an embarrassing father. Turns out his dad was a god, he has a brother with supernatural powers, and things just get weirder from there.
  • Magical Camera: Early in the book, Spider passes into a photograph to travel to the location it shows. He later mentions he can go to any location he's seen, including by picture.
  • Magic Music: It was used to create the world, apparently, and it's also one of Anansi's powers, usually resulting in some sort of Reality Warp. Once Charlie Nancy embraces his heritage, he can use this power as well.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Fat Charlie, no matter how hard he tries, can't escape from it until he realizes his powers.
  • Monochrome Casting: All the main characters are assumed to be Black by default (Afro-Caribbean ancestry is a major plot point), to the point that race is only specified for the Token White characters.
  • Myopic Architecture: A police specialist bemoans Grahame Coats' security arrangements, pointing out that he installed a wonderfully secure door, then hung a lock on it that the specialist picked effortlessly. His exact words are that a five-year-old could jimmy it with a spoon handle. The specialist probably got it open by sneezing at it.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Spider complains that he and Fat Charlie wouldn't be in danger from the Bird Woman if Fat Charlie has simply asked him to leave. Fat Charlie immediately reminds Spider that he did ask him to leave, and Spider was the one who refused to go.
    • Grahame Coats. He even finds a way to blame Maeve (The woman he murdered) for his unhappiness. Eventually he decides Charlie/Spider is to blame for uncovering his shady dealings.
  • The Nicknamer: Mr. Nancy is a supernaturally good example; when he nicknames something or someone, everyone else automatically starts using the nickname even if they've never been told it before.
  • No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: Generally Spider considers his ability to make people believe or do what he wants them to a good way to have fun with people, but when he starts to get emotionally close to someone he feels a lot more conflicted about it.
    • Grahame Coats as well. After he runs to the island, he gets dangerously bored.
  • No Name Given: Is Rosie's mother ever referred to as anything other than Rosie's mother or Mrs. Noah? (Her name is Eutheria Noah, but it's only mentioned once, and it states that no one ever used her name but her husband, and he's dead now.)
  • Non-Indicative Name: Fat Charlie was never fat. Between the ages of ten and fourteen he was slightly pudgy, but the nickname got created and stuck.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Grahame Coats killing Maeve Livingstone. He goes downhill from there.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Right up to the point when Fat Charlie figures out his powers. From the next sentence, the narration and the other characters just call him 'Charlie'.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Grahame Coats sticks a few unsheathed knives through his belt. He later receives a Groin Attack, causing him to fall down and stab himself badly in the thigh and bleed out.
  • Performance Anxiety: Charles Nancy has it so bad, he passes out when he gets up on stage to perform earlier in the novel.
  • Physical God: Mr. Nancy, Spider and the rest of the animal pantheon. Fat Charlie too, eventually.
  • Race Lift: Averted; executives wanted to recast the leads as white for the film, despite the fact that most are black, and African heritage is something of a plot point for the eponymous brothers. Gaiman shut 'em down.
  • Rascally Rabbit: It is mentioned that some trickster rabbit stories were initially Anansi's.
    The story of the Tar-Baby, the one they tell about Bre'r Rabbit? That was Anansi's story first. Some people thinks he was a rabbit. But that's their mistake. He wasn't a rabbit. He was a spider.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Parodied. Mrs. Nancy writes to Fat Charlie from China that their Chinese food is terrible, and she'll be wanting the real Chinese food after she gets back home.
  • Reality Warper: Spider. He claims all one has to do is "Show Reality who's boss". His father is the same, teleporting an entire marching band to his dying wife's hospital room to cheer up.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Daisy, although she's outnumbered by many unreasonable ones.
  • Sand In My Eyes: "I'm not crying. It's the rain on my face." Mrs. Higgler isn't fooled.
  • Sanity Slippage: Grahame Coats starts to lose it after escaping to St. Andrews, from a combination of his paranoia, boredom, and being slowly possessed by Tiger.
  • Show Some Leg: Flashing is used as a diversion, but it's played with in that the rear end in question belongs to the extremely bony Mrs Noah, so the would-be assailant is Distracted By The Fan Disservice.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: What happens to Tiger and Grahame Coats.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Charlie's the nicer, uninteresting, and mundane brother, while Spider is all charm, swagger, and magic. They both even out later on in the book.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Mr Nancy after a fashion. When his son was first split he commented that if he couldn't fix it himself he (Fat Charlie/Spider) was no son of his(Nancy's).
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The people at the Cliffs at the end of the world refuse to help Fat Charlie because Anansi had done most of them wrong at some point. Especially the Bird Woman and Tiger.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Grahame Coats. He is in fact a fairly successful talent agent for midlist performers (as a front for his Con Man operation), but acts like he rules the world.
  • Smooth-Talking Talent Agent: Grahame Coats again. He is clearly a weasel, but is able to charm his clients into believing he is their weasel. They are not correct about this.
  • Smug Snake: Grahame Coats, to the point that even mild-mannered Fat Charlie considers him a Very Punchable Man.
  • Split at Birth: Not quite at birth, but at such a young enough age that Fat Charlie didn't know he had a brother. Because technically, Spider isn't Fat Charlie's brother; he's an aspect of Fat Charlie's own personality who got split off and sent away by an angry old woman who knew some magic.
  • Stealth Pun: Daisy was named Daisy because at the time of her birth, her parents owned a tandem (a bicycle built for two).
  • Third Wheel: In Charlie and Rose's relationship, Spider "insists" on taking over the duties of being Rose's boyfriend, even taking on Charlie's identify. A second one is introduced at the same time when Charlie meets Daisy, and maybe, maybe-not slept with her during a night of revelry in mourning for Anansi.
  • The Old Gods: Since Homo Sapiens weren't the first species to talk about deities and tell stories, there is at least one pantheon that predates human gods. Charlie had to cut a deal with a deity (the "Bird Woman") who had apparently risen from a non-human species.
  • Token White:
    • Grahame Coats is the only significant white character and also the villain.
    • Maeve Livingstone is also identified as white, and has a role as Grahame Coats’s murder victim, afterwards a ghost.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The spirit of the deceased Maeve Livingston.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Spider after his tongue gets stolen and he becomes a Badass in Distress.
  • Trickster God: Anansi, ever so much. So was Charlie, until he got split. Then Spider got all the tricksiness and Charlie was left as the responsible one.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: The second half of the novel is set in the Caribbean.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Grahame Coats has one of these about Maeve Livingston and her hypothetical identical naked twin sister, Maeve II.
  • Undignified Death: It doesn't succeed, but at one point the Bird Woman tries to kill Spider with a flock of flamingos.
    • Anansi too. Heart attack on stage while singing karaoke, falling over and ripping the tube-top off of a blonde tourist from Michigan in the fall? He did it on purpose. It was hilarious.
  • Very Punchable Man: Every time he talks with Grahame Coats, Fat Charlie has to constantly talk himself down by reminding himself that strictly speaking he would go to jail if he punched his employer.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Grahame Coats has a slow and subtle one starting with him killing Maeve, allowing Tiger to step in. Characters note later how he appears to have lost it.
  • We Need a Diversion: Provided by Mrs Noah and her astonishingly bony bum.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: When Fat Charlie is arrested, he expects Good Cop/Bad Cop interrogation, and tells the Good Cop as much. The Good Cop informs him that there is no Bad Cop in the wings and the police are already pretty sure he's innocent.
  • The Yardies: Referenced after Fat Charlie is arrested, as he notes that his neighbors now believe he is one of these.