American Gods

American Gods

American Gods Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter opens with an excerpt of a letter from Lord Carlisle, dated 1778, that expounds on the grand scale of everything on the American continent. The chapter begins by describing the most important place in the southeastern United States: Rock City, atop Lookout Mountain. The Cherokee considered it sacred, as whoever controlled Lookout Mountain controlled all the land that could be seen from this peak. Now, it is an ornamental garden that hides the entrance to caverns housing fairy tale dioramas.
1778 is close to the start of America as a separate country, and Lord Carlisle’s letter is full of the incredulity he felt at seeing America as one of the first British ambassadors. It makes it seem almost inevitable that America would become a great country, with the scale of American dreams matching the scale of its land. The American gods have large ambitions as well, and Gaiman places their ultimate battle at another real yet often overlooked location in Tennessee. This place is also recognized as sacred because of its land, though it’s covered with odd monuments and tourist traps by Americans who do not know how to respond to the divine feeling here (or who seek to exploit it).
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Gods flock to Lookout Mountain, from every corner of America and every pantheon and mythology. Gods from Europe, Asia, the Indian sub-continent, and America itself gather, getting what weapons they have ready for battle.
Gaiman tries to include gods from every known pantheon from all the many cultures that have made their mark on America, showing how the Old Gods are strong precisely because they can combine all of these diverse worldviews.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Laura thinks of the spark of life she saw in Shadow when he was hanging on the tree. After staying the night at Shadow’s request, she goes to the farmhouse to ask for a drink. The farmhouse is dusty and cold, despite the fire in the fireplace, though Laura thinks that the chill might just be because she’s dead. She notices three women (The Norns) sitting on the sofa and tells them that Shadow said to give her water. The smallest woman nods and leaves the room, then returns with a jug of water.
Laura noticed the radical change in Shadow’s demeanor after he decided to live life to the fullest. She now follows his advice, going to the Norns as Shadow said. The Norns seem to respect Shadow, whether as a fellow member of their pantheon (due to his identity as Baldur) or because Shadow has shown strength through Odin’s vigil. The smallest sister represents the future, and her gift of the water suggests that Laura still has a future even though she is dead.
Themes
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Change and Growth Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Laura thanks the small woman for the water, then drinks the entire jug, finding it cold as ice. Laura starts shaking and coughs up bile, formalin, and bugs. All her memories rush around her head, the consequence of drinking the water of time from the spring of fate. Laura passes out, then wakes in the farmhouse alone with a bleeding scratch on her hand. Now that she has drunk the water of time, she knows exactly what she has to do and the mountain she must go to.
Laura drinks water from the magical well that the Norns guard, “Urd’s well,” which holds some of the most powerful forces in the universe (according to Norse mythology) and can reverse time and fate. The water revives Laura’s body, bringing her back to when she was freshly dead so that she can continue to protect Shadow.
Themes
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Change and Growth Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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On a wet day in March, crowds of people gather in Rock City on Lookout Mountain. New Gods begin to arrive, wearing the confidence of being worshipped and adored. Technical Boy walks among them, looking for Mr. World.
The calendar creeps closer to spring, and the New Gods are ready to fight once the dead season of winter is over, though they obviously consider the battle to be already won.
Themes
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Change and Growth Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Mr. Town can’t find Ash Tree Farm on his GPS and is forced to ask for directions. He finally finds it, thinking that he is too old for this nonsense. Mr. World has asked him to cut a stick from this specific tree (the world tree), but gave him strict orders not to turn Shadow into a martyr for the Old Gods to rally behind. Mr. Town hates Shadow fiercely, but agrees to follow orders.
As Mr. Town is most comfortable in civilization, the rural location of the world tree naturally confuses him. Mr. World’s orders not to turn Shadow into a martyr ironically echo the way that Wednesday’s death has already done that, making it seem as though Mr. World knew he was martyring Wednesday when he killed him.
Themes
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Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
At the tree, Mr. Town ignores Wednesday’s and Shadow’s bodies and cuts a branch. He fights an instinctual urge to shove the stick into Shadow’s side. Mr. Town climbs back down the tree, imagining that he sees a woman in the window of the farmhouse smiling at him, then pantomiming slitting her throat. He shakes his head and gets back in the car. As he drives away, Shadow’s side begins to bleed.
The stick seems to have no significance to Mr. Town, who does not know the old legends, or the fact that Odin pierced his side with a stick in order to die, causing all later sacrifices to Odin to be pierced as well. Mr. Town’s desire to stab Shadow with the stick shows how it acts as a literal symbol—on a physical level it acts like the spear it represents, causing Shadow’s side to bleed. One of the Norns in the window predicts that Mr. Town will soon die.
Themes
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Change and Growth Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Easter watches the crowds at Lookout Mountain, noticing that the few mortals there seem to see nothing strange going on. A barefoot girl, introducing herself as Macha of the Morrigan, excitedly tells Easter that the battle will start soon and prophesies that the Old Gods will win. As the girl walks away, Easter greets a hawk flying above her. The hawk hops towards Easter, slowly transforming into a man. Horus awkwardly tells Easter that the man on the tree needs her, and that this man’s fate is more important than the battle.
The Morrigan are warrior goddesses of Ireland, who are naturally excited by the thought of battle, where they can show their power and be revived by the fight. This battle has the potential to benefit all gods who are sustained by war. Horus manages to convince Easter to come revive Shadow, acknowledging how important Shadow is to the future of all American gods.
Themes
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Change and Growth Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Mr. Town has been driving for hours but keeps circling back to the ash tree farm. A storm gathers on the horizon and Mr. Town notices a woman (Laura) walking along the side of the road. He asks her for directions. The woman says she can’t explain the route, but she can show him. The woman gets in the car, saying that she actually needs a ride, and Mr. Town is struck by her blue eyes and crooked smile. Mr. Town promises to take the woman as far as she needs to go.
The world tree seems to have a supernatural pull on Mr. Town until Laura is able to break him free of the cycle. Another storm in the distance acts as an omen of the gods’ fight. Laura again shows her ability to convince others to do what she wants, using her pretty appearance to hide how dangerous she really is.
Themes
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Deception Theme Icon
Back at Lookout Mountain, Technical Boy finally finds Mr. World and tells him that everything is on schedule. Technical Boy then awkwardly lingers, looking troubled. Mr. World asks him what’s wrong, and Technical Boy asks why they are waiting and why they don’t just annihilate the Old Gods now, or else just wait for the Old Gods to die out on their own. Technical Boy says that there will be too much bloodshed in this big battle. Mr. World smiles, twisting his scarred lips, and says they have to wait for a stick.
Technical Boy’s doubts about the war between the Old and New Gods echoes the Old Gods’ earlier qualms about starting a fight this large. It seems that Mr. World has had to rally the New Gods into fighting just as Wednesday had to go about recruiting Old Gods. Mr. World’s plan is actually more complicated than simply eliminating the Old Gods, and seems to have a connection to Odin through the stick from the world tree.
Themes
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Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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Disturbed, and assuming that Mr. World is lying about making such a fuss about a stick, Technical Boy says he doesn’t need to know the truth. Mr. World confesses that he needs the stick so he can throw it across the battle field before the fighting begins and dedicate the battle to Odin. Technical Boy doesn’t understand, so Mr. World says he will give a demonstration. He whips out a knife, rams it into Technical Boy’s throat, and dedicates the death to Odin. As Technical Boy dies, Mr. World hears a gruff voice in the shadows tell him, “good start.”
Technical Boy seems to recognize that Mr. World trades in lies, but he doesn’t realize how deep the lies really go. It turns out that Mr. World has been working with Odin this whole time, leading the New Gods into battle so that Wednesday will be revived by all the blood shed in his name—after Mr. World uses the stick from the World Tree to honor Odin in the battle. The gruff voice seems to belong to Wednesday, showing that even the death of one god is enough of a sacrifice to start bringing him back to life.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon