How Neil Gaiman manages to remain such a prolific author beggars belief, considering the amount of time that he spends continent-hopping. This admitted Gaiman fangirl would have loved to bring Hudson Valley One readers an interview with the sometime-mid-Hudson resident, to accompany a review of his snappy, sprightly new retelling of the Eddas, Norse Mythology (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017). But the man has barely touched ground in this neck of the woods in recent months, so no opportunity was forthcoming — not even with the intercession of the good folks at Bard College, where Gaiman is a faculty member.
April is now here, however, which means that it’s time for him to teach his intensive classes for the spring semester. It’s also time for one of his semiannual “Neil Gaiman in Conversation with…” events at Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. Informal and freewheeling in structure, past Conversations have featured such stellar creative types as Laurie Anderson, Art Spiegelman, Armistead Maupin and Audrey Niffenegger. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 15 Gaiman will spill some teasers about his much-anticipated cable television series, American Gods, as he chats with its executive producer, Bryan Fuller. An exclusive sneak-peek screening of the first episode, “The Bone Orchard” — previously seen only at last month’s SXSW Film Festival in Austin — will be part of the program.
American Gods, which premieres on the Starz network on April 30, brings to the small screen what many fans consider Gaiman’s magnum opus (if you don’t count his Sandman graphic novels as “literature”). The 2001 book won both of the top literary prizes in the science fiction field, the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Told from the perspective of an ex-con named Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), it’s a cross-country odyssey in which the Old Gods brought over to the New World by immigrants prepare to battle the New Gods — television, the Internet, designer drugs, the stock market and so on — for dominance of the hearts, minds and souls of Americans.
In Gaiman’s fantasy universe, deities only retain power to the degree that people believe in them; so in the modern world, the pantheons of most religious traditions are in big trouble. Fresh out of prison and recently widowed, Shadow finds himself caught up in the web of supernatural conflict after accepting a gig as chauffeur and bodyguard for the mysterious traveling con artist Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). If you know your Norse mythology even a little, you won’t take long figuring out who Wednesday really is. The TV cast also includes Emily Browning as Laura Moon, Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney, Yetide Badaki as Bilquis, Bruce Langley as Technical Boy, Crispin Glover as Mr. World, Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy, Gillian Anderson as Media, Kristin Chenoweth as Easter, Jonathan Tucker as Low-Key Lyesmith, Cloris Leachman as Zorya Vechernyaya, Peter Stormare as Czernobog, Chris Obi as Anubis, Demore Barnes as Mr. Ibis, Corbin Bernsen as Vulcan and Mousa Kraish as the Jinn.
The story is a wildly imaginative ride, featuring many scenes so outrageous that it’s challenging to imagine how they can be translated to television. But American Gods is also an extraordinary literary work, deliciously written and so jam-packed with mythological references as to inspire frequent detours from reading just to do research on less-familiar themes and characters from the folklore of many lands. So rich a wallow is going to require multiple seasons to be done justice onscreen. Among fans of fantasy lit — many of them desperate for something to watch while they wait for the delayed start of the seventh season of Game of Thrones — the buzz for this new series’ unveiling is reaching fever pitch right about now.
So this weekend’s “Neil Gaiman in Conversation with Bryan Fuller” is an opportunity not to be missed, if you’re even a part-time dweller in the fantasy/science fiction fandom, or just love really good storytelling. Fuller, who started out as a scriptwriter for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, went on to become an award-winning writer/producer for such TV series as Hannibal, Pushing Daisies and Heroes. He’ll talk with the novelist about their collaborative process of bringing American Gods to life in a visual medium, and they will both take questions from the audience afterwards.
The screening and discussion start at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 15 in the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater. Signed copies of the novel will be available for sale in the lobby. Tickets cost $25 general admission and are free to the Bard community. For reservations or more info, call (845) 758-7900 or visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu.