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American Gods

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ISBN: 9780063081918

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American Gods

An astonishingly incomplete Bibliography.

There are two main reasons why this is going to be a very incomplete bibliography.

The biggest is that, like most writers, I did most of my research a long time ago. This is what you do, when you're a writer, especially a writer of fiction: You read it. You half-forget it. It composts down into something fertile and useful and out of which a story will grow. Essie Tregowan's story in American Gods comes from the tone of voice and the life-stories from the Newgate Calendar and Lives of the Great Criminals - huge volumes that tell, in encapsulated form, of the lives and the deaths of seventeenth and eighteenth century criminals. No particular life, or person. The books are part of me.

The second reason it's incomplete is that I wasn't paying attention: the books on this page were assembled for this bibliography by the not incredibly scientific method of walking around the house grabbing all the books I could see that I knew I'd hauled somewhere with me while I was writing American Gods, and then dragging them down to the office, where I've made a huge pile of them beside the computer as I type this. Some of them aren't here: I've lent them to people, or in a few cases left them with their owners. Many of them are back in the shelves in the cabin in which I go to write. (In the case of one book - a huge and mostly thoroughly useless for my purposes book of goddesses, I gave it to a friend as a gift. So that one's gone.) Many of the books I used are in that nebulous state of "I know it's around here somewhere". There's the archeological book on the various lost African cities and civilizations, for a start....

The books on this list range from the "Really Important to American Gods" to the "I checked a few things in here while I was writing it." I'll try and indicate which was which.

Richard M. Dorson
Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of The Upper Peninsula. Harvard University Press. 1972

American Folklore. University of Chicago Press. 1977.

American Folklore and the Historian. University of Chicago Press. 1971

Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States

Dorson's work is where the book's opening quote comes from, and was one of the places that American Gods as a whole came from. I'm a writer with an interest in myth, so to understand something I try and understand its folklore, and, over a span of several years, I picked up each of the Dorson titles, read it, learned from it, enjoyed it enormously - and failed to realise until John M. Ford said something about Dorson, that the same man had written all the books I had enjoyed so much and learned so much from. Vigorous, sensible, informative. When I read his account of John Chapman - Johnny Appleseed - I knew that I wanted to put that character in a book one day.

Jack Barth, Doug Kirby, Ken Smith and Mike Wilkins
Roadside America Fireside/Simon and Schuster 1986
Mike Wilkins, Ken Smith, Doug Kirby
The New Roadside America. Fireside/Simon and Schuster 1992
There's more crammed in the revised edition, but the essays in the first edition are longer. The second edition is about 80 pages longer. The first edition has colour photos. Neither of them is as much fun as the website,, which has the words to the Frog of Wikkee Wachee song on it and important information e-mailed in from correspondents who are probably driving all over the US even as we speak, on their way to see a lifesized replica of what, at the 1963 World's Fair, was once the largest cheese in the world.

America Bizarro
Nelson Taylor, St Martin's Griffin, 2000
Strange festivals, state by state.

Some Handy Books That May Be of Use to the Casual Reader:

Who's Who in Non-Classical Mythology
Egerton Sykes, Revised by Alan Kendall, Oxford University Press 1993
Genuinely useful, and the place I first ran into and was fascinated by Slavonic Myth. There's a whole entry on it. There's a lengthy bibliography at the back that lists sources for everything except Slavonic Myth, which is faintly vexing.

A Dictionary of World Mythology
Arthur Cotterell, Oxford University Press, 1986
Essays on various areas of the world, followed by a dictionary of the gods of that area. Nothing on the Slavonic stuff, though, in case you were wondering, but not unuseful.

Encyclopedia of Gods
Michael Jordan Facts on File 1993
This one immediately failed my "I've never heard that before and can't find a reference to it anywhere" test - it describes Sleipnir, Odin's horse, as "winged", and I never used it very much after that. Although it has some entries on gods - like the goddess Coatlicue - that others skip.

Myths and Legends of All Nations
Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, Littlefield Adams Quality Paperbacks (1950?)
A fine potted history of about 22 cultures and their gods. Includes the Slavs. Pages 190 and 191 contain stuff on Kobolds that may be most interesting to people who have finished American Gods. Readable and interesting, and I used it to check stuff.


Dictionary of Northern Myth
Rudolf Simek (translated by Angela Hall) Boydell and Brewer Ltd. 1992
The single best reference book I've run into on this stuff. Absolutely definitive: tells you what you need to know, and tells you where you can go to read the original information. Concise, accurate, informative, and the best 298 Norwegian Kroner I've ever spent.

The Norse Myths
Introduced and Retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Pantheon Fairytale and Folklore library 1980
My copy is dog-eared, coffee-stained, has many paper bookmarks in it, and has been read more times than I can say. Really good, clear writing, which can send a shiver up my back. Notes and bibliography, and this was the book I based all the Norse stuff on in Sandman.

Tales of the Norsemen
Roger Lancelyn Green. Puffin Books 1960
This was the one I read as a child, read it until the spine gave way. The Crossley-Holland is better, but you never forget your first.

(There was also a literal translation of the Eddas I found on someone's bookshelf while I was writing the book in their house. I used it a lot, but left it behind when I moved on.)

The Sagas of the Icelanders
Viking, 2000
Well, I've only read the Vinland Sagas. I plan to read the rest, sooner or later.


A Dictionary of Fairies
Katherine Briggs, Penguin 1976
This is the book I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about the events alluded to in the Essie Tregowan chapter, or who plans to translate my novel Stardust. Wonderful tales and characters abound, although it doesn't contain all the entries it refers you to, which can be a little frustrating.


Cryptozoology A to Z
Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark, Fireside 1999
Great fun. My thunderbirds are more mythical than the ones that tried to carry off ten year old Marlon Lowe in 1977, but nonetheless dangerous.

Lies my Teacher Told Me
Lies Across America

James W. Loewen
Refreshing. Lies Across America - which reveals omissions and misstatements on those highway historical markers and in tours of historic places - is especially fun. I stole the anecdote about the Mount Rushmore noses from it, but Owl Goingback tells me he has friends who've actually done it.


God Is Red: A Native View of Religion
Vine Deloria Jr. Fulcrum Publishing 1994
Very readable book about religion from a Native American standpoint, although its wander into Velikovsky in the middle is a bit puzzling.

The Religions of the American Indians
Ake Hultkrantz, translated by Monica Setterwall,
University of California Press, 1967, 1979

American Indian Myths and Legends
Erdoes and Ortiz, Pantheon 1984

The Mythology of North America
John Bierhorst, Morrow, 1985
I bought my copy in "The Bodhi Tree" in West Hollywood, and it smells like sandalwood incense, but is none the less readable for that. Terrific summary.

A few background books while I think of them:

On the Rez
Ian Frazier,
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000
Book about the Oglala Sioux on Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest places in America, and SuAnne Big Crow, who played basketball. I picked it up in a bookstore I did a signing in in Norway, and was glad I had.

Confederates in the Attic: Despatches from the Unfinished Civil War
Tony Horwitz, Vintage 1998
I bought it in 1998, started to read it as preparation for American Gods, and couldn't get into it. Two years later, after driving all over the states and writing chunks of American Gods, I picked it up again and devoured it like ice cream.

The Forbidden Zone
Michael Lesy, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1987
I wanted to know about slaughterhouses, so I went online and I did a search, and I found a chapter from this book posted. Read it. Twenty minutes later I was on the phone to a bookstore in New Mexico confirming they had a copy of this out-of-print book, and that I wanted it. It wound up informing American Gods in a number of ways, some direct, some indirect. It's about Death, and about death, and is uplifting, informative and moving. That it's out of print is really depressing. I've been a fan of Lesy's ever since his wonderful Wisconsin Death Trip - a selection of photos and newspaper articles from Wisconsin in frontier times which paints a darker and much more disturbing picture of what it was like than I'd been used to. (A couple of the Wisconsin Death Trip anecdotes and attitudes crept into the bits on the history of Lakeside.)

The Day of the Dead and other reflections
F Gonzalez-Crussi, Harvest, 1993
My favourite essayist. Well, he's up there with David Quammen. This is where I got Coatlicue from.

Stranger from a Distant Shore: A History of Asian Americans
Ronald Takaki, Back Bay Book, 1998
One of the many books I used to research stuff that never really worked its way into American Gods. Maybe it'll turn up in another book, somewhere down the line.

Mr Nancy and the Tale of the Twins

A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore
A Treasury of African Folklore

Harold Courlander, Marlowe and Company, 1996
Both invaluable.

The African Slave Trade
Basil Davidson, Back Bay Books, 1980

The Slave Trade: The Story of the African Slave Trade 1440-1870
Hugh Thomas, Touchstone, 1997
The Hugh Thomas book was the one I took the most from. In this, and in Bullwhip Days, I found myself downplaying what actually happened, in order to stop it becoming an atrocity exhibition.

Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember - An Oral History
edited by James Mellon, Avon Books, 1988
In the mid 1930s the WPA interviewed the last few thousand surviving Americans who had been slaves. Urgent, human narratives, and utterly heartbreaking.

Voodoo In New Orleans
Robert Tallant, Pelican, 1946
Not much good for the feel of New Orleans Voodoo, but terrific on the history of the various Maries Laveau (or Marie Laveaux). As Dorson observed, the gods stay behind, and what comes to America is hedge magic -"shamanistic and magical beliefs span the waves". Tallant is much better in Gumbo Yaya.

Gumbo Yaya
Saxon, Dreyer and Tallant, Pelican, 1945
A present, years ago, from writer Nancy Collins, who told me I needed this book, and she was very right. New Orleans and Louisiana folk beliefs, magic, folklore and much else.

Voodoo in Haiti
Alfred Metraux, Schocken, 1959
Fairly useful and interesting. There are a lot of better books about, but this was the one I used then to check stuff.

A Treasury of American Folklore
B. A. Botkin, Crown, 1944
A wonderful collection of extracts, jokes, songs, essays and tales. I kept sneaking quotes from it for chapter headings in American Gods.

Myths, Legends and Folktales of America: An Anthology
David Leeming and Jake Page, Oxford University Press 1999
Which comes with an overwhelming sense of deja-vu if you've just finished reading A Treasury of American Folklore, which I think the authors enjoyed as much as I did, and borrowed from just as extensively. But there's lots of good stuff in here, including the lyrics to Greg Brown's 'Jesus and Elvis'.

Great American Folklore
Kemp Battle, Doubleday, 1986
Readable. Didn't use anything in it, though.

American Folklore: An Encyclopedia
Edited by Jan Harald Brunvand, Garland Publishing 1996
I loved it, but I'm a sucker for encyclopedias, and this is a really good one. Unfortunately, it was only published in paperback as I was about half way through American Gods. But it's the kind of encyclopedia that you look something up in, and surface a dozen articles later.

Gods and Goddesses of India
Anjula Bedi, Eeshwar, 1998
Some potted bios of Indian gods, along with nice pictures printed on translucent paper.

Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt
Alison Roberts, Inner Traditions, 1997
I just wanted an Egyptian book with plenty of photographs and illustrations, and this one was the nearest to hand.

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