Movies · TV

American Gods: The Devil and God’s Place in Modern America

By  · Published on December 28th, 2016


Bryan Fuller’s American Gods is set to bring a battle for America’s faith to the small screen.

“I can believe things that are true, and I can believe things that aren’t true, and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not,” Sam states to Shadow in Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods. A poignant statement about Gods and myth in a novel about a battle between immigrant deities in a new world. However, at its center is the story of one man and how he rebuilds his life and identity. In 2017, an adaptation of Gaiman’s American Gods will see the small screen in a Starz original series produced by Bryan Fuller.

I can believe things that are true, and I can believe things that aren’t true, and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.

Bryan Fuller, of Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, and Hannibal notoriety, is fluent in television. A guiding voice behind shows about death and the business of living, he makes an ideal candidate to bring Gaiman’s American Gods to the small screen. Fuller’s shows offer an existential take on death. In Pushing Daisies, Fuller focuses on what death does to those touched by it. Pushing Daisies follows Ned, a pie maker with the power to wake the dead with one touch. As with all mystical superpowers, Ned’s power is a monkey’s paw. Ned resurrects his childhood sweetheart Charlotte “Chuck” Charles at the cost of an unknowing bystander. After waking his Chuck, Ned can never touch her again: if he does she will be dead again, never to wake. Fate is fickle like that.

Pushing Daisies (2007)

One of the things that always struck me about Pushing Daisies is the absence of God. Every dead person Ned awakens never mentions an afterlife. They just recap and explain the circumstances that lead to their death and then fall back into permanent darkness. It’s an auspicious exclusion. Where is God in Fuller’s work?

Nowhere. So far there is no God in the Fuller universe. There is only the devil. Hannibal’s Mads Mickelsen when promoting the show referenced his and Fuller’s conception of the nefarious doctor as being “as close as you can come to the Devil, in the sense that the Devil has no reasons.” Mickelsen played Hannibal like an indifferent angel of chaos. Will Graham functions as a chess piece shifting for entertainment much like Clarice Starling does in the novels then eventually, a potential fellow player.

But Hannibal not only plays the devil, he also acknowledges God. Hannibal, like the devil in Christian mythos, covets the powers of God in a way no one equal to God could. One of the more poignant quotes from Thomas Harris’ Hannibal novels is recited by Mikkelsen in the show, “Killing must feel good to God too. He does it all the time. And are we not created in his image . . . God’s terrific. He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshipers last Wednesday night in Texas.” When Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham replies to Hannibal’s statement, he helps draw the clearest line between God and the Devil, “Did God feel good about that?” Hannibal, resigned and clear-eyed, responds “He felt powerful.” Killing for Hannibal is power, divine in its origin, art in its execution. Murder as art is a visual motif repeated throughout the show. Each murderous tableau framed in exquisite cinematography.

Hannibal (2014)

Who is God in Gaiman’s novel? Gaiman’s novel traffics in collective belief: Gods rise and die because of their relevance to humanity. A god with no worshippers is poor indeed. That is why there is a Technical Boy and Vulcan. Technical Boy is a new god and the personification of the internet. Vulcan, a joint Gaiman and Fuller creation, is described as the god of volcanoes and the forge. Fuller stated that Vulcan has repurposed himself to be the god of guns. Americans worship their phones and their guns in Fuller’s American Gods.

In a post-truth America, Gaiman’s book seems more relevant than ever. So many of our poor national decisions have been borne of faith, not fact. Therefore, Fuller’s upcoming adaptation seems to be arriving at the perfect time to raise a mirror to the nation. Gaiman, like Fuller, has always been able to do what any writer worth the intricacies of their language can do: wrestle with significant ideas on an emotional level. It is why his fairy tale, Stardust, enchants, and his Sandman comics endure. When Titans fight in his worlds, their war cries speak to humanity.

American Gods (2017)

Fuller has expressed that his interest in adapting American Gods comes from an interest in what a walking God would look like in real life. Fuller expressed that they would look normal and be normal. He stated,

They still need to have a place in the world, trying to make it in America. When you strip away the grandiosity of a god, you’re left with the basics: Rent. Tooth decay. Jobs. Commutes. Those are still things they need to deal with, like anyone else.

After all in Hannibal, Fuller already envisioned man in God’s image.

Fuller has spoken of the devil and the absence of God. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “God is dead.” What modern consciousness always misunderstands about this quote is that Nietzsche never intended to relish in this state. Rather, Nietzsche held that nihilism, in response to the death of God, is a trap for the unwary. Fear and angst is not a path toward surviving nihilism in the face of oblivion – a reevaluation of values is the only path to purpose. Let us hope that Fuller’s American Gods can help America collectively hunt for these values from the comfort of their living rooms.

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Writer and law student.