American Gods

American Gods

American Gods Coming to America. 813 A.D. Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A ship of sailors from the “Northlands” ask the “all-father” for protection as they make their way across the ocean. They finally reach the land to the west, claiming this land for the all-father, and begin to build a hall out of the trees they find in this land. The day the hall is finished, a great storm rises and the men give thanks that “The Thunderer” is with them.
The Northlands refers to the regions of Scandinavia where the Norse pantheon held sway, including parts of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. Expeditions from these regions really did reach America around this time period, hundreds of years before Columbus “discovered” America. The all-father is Odin, and the Northmen bring him to America with their belief. The Thunderer is Thor, one of Odin’s sons.
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
In the hall, a bard sings the old songs, including those about how Odin, the all-father, was sacrificed to hang for nine days on the world-tree and learned nine names, nine runes, and twice-nine charms. The next day, the men find a scraeling (the Norse word for foreigner) dressed in feather and furs. They take the scraeling to camp and give him a feast, then carry him to an ash tree and hang him in tribute to the all-father. The next day, two ravens peck at the dead scraeling’s eyes and the men know their sacrifice was accepted.
The number nine is of great significance to Odin, representing most of the aspects of the ritual that will later be known as Odin’s vigil. As the gallows god, Odin accepts sacrifices that are hung, exacting a great price in return for protecting his people in this new land. Ironically, the Norse men call the original inhabitants of the land “foreigner,” though they themselves more accurately fit that role. Odin’s ravens, Hugin and Munin (Thought and Memory) are said to be his messengers. Here, they seem to signal that Odin is pleased.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community 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
Through the long winter, the men dream of spring and the time when they can send the boat back to the old country for their wives and refreshed supplies. On midwinter’s day, it begins to snow. The men huddle in their encampment, but a scraeling war party invades and kills each of the men. The scraelings burn the men’s camp and their boat, hoping that no other Northmen will arrive. A hundred years later, Leif the Fortunate lands in this place, which he calls Vineland. He finds the gods Tyr, Odin, and Thor already waiting for him there.
Winter is a time to be endured, not a time to celebrate. These seasons roughly correspond to death and life, with winter being the time for death and spring the time for rebirth. It is thus fitting that the scraelings achieve their revenge against the Norsemen during winter, though it is obviously a hollow victory, as more invaders will follow in a few generations. This is the first explicit sign that gods literally accompany their believers when they move to a new place. Tyr is the Norse god of law and glory.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community 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