A shadow of Shadow: The Adaptation of American Gods and what’s changed

I want to get this laid out right at the beginning here, I really like the American Gods show. I like the book more, but still, the show is good. (Also I couldn’t get any images of the show through creative commons, so enjoy my vaguley related pictures.)

It is on almost all accounts a great adaptation and I would advise that if you have Amazon Prime and like mythology and gods (because surprise surprise it is to do with gods, who could have guessed with such a title aye?) urban fantasy, or fantasy in general, give it a go, it is awesome, and may even get you interested enough to read the book it was adapted from, also awesome.

Thor going for a nice dip in the sea while nude men struggle with horses in the background, you know, usual Norse god stuff.

So now that’s out of the way I want to talk to you about Shadow Moon. He is the protagonist of American Gods and interestingly his personality underwent a slight transmogrification for the adaptation.

I know that may sound completely and utterly horrible to some, and I could imagine someone who specifically gets pissed off when books are made into films or tv shows or whatnot, getting livid at the prospect.

However while it doesn’t sound great, there is a reason why he didn’t transfer over perfectly to screen, and it actually has to do with the sort of person Shadow is. One of his main defining features is that he is a very thoughtful, and a mostly quiet character.

Now I know there are quiet characters in TV and film who are very good. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terminator was great and he only had like, four lines in that whole film. But the thing is he wasn’t the leading character. Granted he was probably one of the biggest draws for people to go to the film, but he wasn’t the character through which we were meant to be viewing the world, Sarah Conner was.

How they didn’t make this beautiful face the emotional heart of the piece I’ll never know, I mean look at those deep and expressive eyes.

You may be thinking here, “Why would Shadow’s quieter, reserved character not work as a tv show protagonist? It worked fine for a book.” and you see the issue comes from the way the mediums each have the viewer/reader engage with the characters.

In a book you inhabit the protagonists mind, you can hear their thoughts and share their feelings as they come. But when your protagonist is on screen, aside from them narrating, you more or less have to gage their feelings and thoughts the same way you gage all the other characters’, you have to see what they feel, hear what they feel, decipher what they feel for yourself, through their performance.

This creates a degree of separation between the viewer and the protagonist that isn’t there for readers.

So instead of the very quiet and reserved Shadow, we get one who is far more outwardly expressive, he explodes with emotion in a way book Shadow mostly did internally. Making him seem quite different, despite the character having similar feelings, the medium just effects the way he expresses them.

The more vocal, less coolly accepting Shadow changes the feel of the show a bit too. You see in the book there is this wonderful feeling of the strange melding perfectly with the mundane.

Here we have a picture of Ganesh having a loveley cart ride pulled by rat… dog… things, what are those? …oh you wanted something relevant to the point I was trying to make? I couldn’t really find anything, however pictures from mythology are so fun, and I’m not sure when I’ll get another chance to show these to you, so just take a moment to drink in this wonderful image with me… alright all done? Let’s get back to me trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

I did not realise it when reading the book, but Shadow’s quiet internal either acceptance, explaining away, or straight up not acknowledging of the weird is one of the main things that makes it seem so strangely fitting in the world, due to the fact that his regular life up to that point has been strange in a less fantastical way, meaning he is dealing with the normal world the same way he’s dealing with the mystical.

Unfortunately that means the finely done moulding together of the odd and the regular is mostly lost with the change in how Shadow deals with the events around him.

Interestingly though, despite the fact that this uniquely book way of making the strange and normal worlds meld is lost in the scenes with Shadow. However, there is a character in the show who is focused on a lot more than in the book, (A certain lady who gets a few episodes pretty much to herself, trying to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen the show here, hopefully calling the person “her” or “that character” won’t get too old) and in the new scenes unique to the show focusing on her, the filmmakers do a great job of conjuring a filmic version of that feeling.

Specifically a great scene first to do with art craft supplies then to do with a toilet and an old friend… this must sound very odd to anyone who hasn’t seen the show but I assure you it is a good scene which has a great weird but kind of normal in a horrible way feel to it.

For those of you who haven’t seen the show and don’t understand what I’m talking about, I give to you this drawing of Vidar from Norse myth, which shows us just how far modern dentistry had come. I’m just kidding this is actually him during the apocalypse of Ragnarok… which I guess means it shows us how far future dentistry will fall?

They manage to tease out that otherwise lost feeling in a way that is so good to watch, since they obviously had a lot more freedom in how to write the original scenes focused on character, and make her and those around her react to things in a way that works better in the medium of film to illicit that mood.

Of course, we only have the first season of the American Gods tv show as of yet, and while the character of Shadow is unlikely to change in coming seasons the way the writers meld the fantastical and the normal in that “other characters” new scenes will hopefully leak into the scenes with Shadow in future.

If I’ve got you interested in either the book or the show, here are links to both, have a good day you beautiful reader you.

All images were sourced through creative commons from Lorenz Frølich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, tenaciousme via Flickr, Shakti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, W.G. Collingwood (1854 – 1932) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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