Monday, 12 August 2013

Gods Stories

Recently, I discussed "Dead Phone" by Poul and Karen Anderson as a detective story, a ghost story, part of Poul Anderson's fantasy canon and a link between his fantasies and his mysteries. Fantasy includes not only ghost stories but also what we might call "gods stories," for example:

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson;
"A Feast for the Gods" by Poul and Karen Anderson;
The Sandman and American Gods by Neil Gaiman;
Lucifer by Mikey Carey (a brilliant sequel to the also brilliant although in a different way The Sandman);
the "Godz Bar" scenes in Top Ten by Alan Moore.
(For Gaiman, Carey and Moore, see here.)

The basic premise of gods fiction is that every god that has ever been imagined literally exists. Thus:

there can be, sometimes humorous, interactions between members of various pantheons;
characters can visit diverse supernatural realms like Olympus or Asgard.

(In the Godz Bar, when a blue-skinned super-powered cop pursues Hodr, suspect in the murder of Balder, into the male rest room, an Aztec god asks, "Friend of yours, Krish?" Krishna replies, "You think all us blue guys know each other?" In the background, a certain solitary god exclaims, "Holy Me!")

Another common premise of gods fiction is that the gods have come into existence only because they have been imagined:

"'We too are real...As real as any other mortal deed or dream.'" says Hermes in "A Feast for the Gods." (The Unicorn Trade, New York, 1984, p. 222)

Gods fiction alternates between flippancy and insight. The Andersons' Hermes says that the Olympians learned from their predecessor, the Triple Goddess, and that, in the Renaissance, Europeans who had accepted only one god realized how much of civilization was borne by the Olympians.

Often, worship strengthens gods and they retire, decline or fade away when they are no longer worshiped. Innovations like Media or Internet become new gods in all but name. The Andersons' story, published in 1971, anticipates the Internet. However, there is no single consistent theology here! Pagan worldviews do not need a Pope.

Among Pagans, the question, "Who are the gods of this land?" meant equally: "What gods are believed in and worshiped here?" and: "What gods exist here?" A secularist might ask the first question though not the second but there was a time before they had been differentiated. Gods fiction imaginatively revives that earlier period.

I suggest that the Poul Anderson Fantasy Collection should end with gods and a ghost, "A Feast for the Gods" followed by "Dead Phone."

"A Feast for the Gods," like The Broken Sword, ends with a story that is yet to be told.

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