I first read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods in my late teens. It was winter time and I fitted it in between college classes and bus stops and it struck such a chord with me. The book is full to bursting with rich imagination, and images from that first reading that have stuck with me ever since. Which is why I won’t be watching the new TV adaptation of the book.
Books aren’t necessarily better
I’m not the kind of person to say the book is always better than the film (although it often is). In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say I think The Shining is a better film than it was a book, despite Stephen King being one of my favourite authors. But books and films and television series are different media and connect with you in different ways. Obviously, screen adaptations are more visual. A book can throw pages of description at you but it still relies on its reader interpreting that information and forming an image from it. If it’s on a screen, well, that’s the image that will wind up in your mind’s eye.
And there lies my problem. I like the images I’ve already formed. I’ve got vivid and fond memories of Ibis and Jacquel’s funeral parlour in Cairo IL, of Shadow’s frostbitten cabin in Laketown, of House on the Rock and its hypnotic carousel (that one’s a real place, you tell me. I don’t care. I like my version). When I think of American Gods, I think of the images I’ve formed for myself. That’s my American Gods. I’d like to keep that. I don’t want my next reading to be informed by second-hand TV images.
Written word vs silver screen
That said, from what I’ve seen of trailers, the new series looks great, and true to the book. The cast looks bang on; just how imagined them. It looks like it has a dreamlike quality, which I certainly approve of. But there are some parts of the book I think might be harder to represent on screen. The ‘backstage’ world that Wednesday and Shadow escape to for one, since that relied on your mind sort of ‘unimagining’ the world and tapping into other senses besides the visual. Harder when your medium is all about the visual.
I read American Gods about once every three years (so I’ve read it three times now). I’d love to read it more, but I’m afraid that to do so would lead to me knowing it too much by heart. As it is, I find something new to enjoy, or something fresh to connect with, every time I read it. I’m worried that if I watch the series it will re-familiarise me with the story and set back some of that freshness that I’d prefer to keep within its pages.
But it’s so tempting…
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m tempted. If the casting is anything to go by, the creators of the show have a handle on the essence of the book, and I’m sure they’ll do it justice, especially with Gaiman himself as producer. Just writing this blog post has made me keen to rediscover the whole story and to see another take on it. Maybe watching it would be a good way to experience American Gods without having to read the book again? Maybe, as a true lover of the book, I should be able to watch an adaptation without it warping my own experience of it? I certainly feel a bit left out; if American Gods takes off like some recent series have, I’ll feel put out that I’m not involved, especially feeling the way I do about the source material.
Aagh, decisions. You know what’s worse? I’ll have the same conundrum when the new adaptation of Stephen King’s IT comes out in September.