American Gods and Stubborn Myths

by Mark Rodgers

"I'm the idiot box. I'm the TV. I'm the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I'm the boob tube. I'm the little shrine the family gathers to adore.'

'You're the television? Or someone in the television?'

'The TV's the altar. I'm what people are sacrificing to.'

'What do they sacrifice?' asked Shadow.

'Their time, mostly,' said Lucy. 'Sometimes each other.' She raised two fingers, blew imaginary gunsmoke from the tips. Then she winked, a big old I Love Lucy wink.

'You're a God?' said Shadow.

Lucy smirked, and took a ladylike puff of her cigarette. 'You could say that,' she said.”

American Gods is a new series on Starz, based on the groundbreaking novel by Neil Gaiman about conflict in America between the "old gods" of religion and the "new gods" of media.This is being called the New Golden Age of Television, with story depth, production quality, quantity and reach of serial content on "television" (or your cell phone) unparalleled in its relatively brief history.Conversely, as television consumption is up, American's religious affiliation is on the decline.  In fact, Millennials are the least faith-affiliated of any generation at their age, and the trend seem to be escalating for Gen Z.Religion: out.  Binge watching: in.Gaiman, perhaps the greatest living graphic novelist, fiction novelist and all-around myth-maker, foreshadowed in American Gods the death of what C. S. Lewis called "the deeper magic." The fact that its killer is triumphantly parading religion's lifeless body on Starz' adaptation of the novel is probably not lost on Gaiman.But like every good myth, I believe a resurrected Phoenix will RISE from the ashes.  I believe that we are entering the Golden Age of Myth Making, which will be forged through graphic novels, and with Gaiman serving as their high priest.Gaiman credits C. S. Lewis with planting the passion for myth in his soul:

"C.S. Lewis was the first person to make me want to be a writer ... I think, perhaps, the genius of Lewis was that he made a world that was more real to me than the one I lived in; and if authors got to write the tales of Narnia, then I wanted to be an author."

But not only Lewis:

"Chesterton and Tolkien and Lewis were, as I’ve said, not the only writers I read between the ages of six and thirteen, but they were the authors I read over and over again; each of them played a part in building me. Without them, I cannot imagine that I would have become a writer, and certainly not a writer of fantastic fiction. I would not have understood that the best way to show people true things is from a direction that they had not imagined the truth coming, nor that the majesty and the magic of belief and dreams could be a vital part of life and of writing."

Myth is a stubborn thing.  And despite the rise of secularism in the West, it isn't going away any time soon.  Why?   Because we were made to believe, and despite our growing disbelief, myth resonates with our soul's desire to discover the "deeper magic."There was time in which Lewis was a religious skeptic, even though he was a student of myth.  According to Humphrey Carpenter in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, it was myth that led Lewis to belief through a conversation with J.R.R. Tolkein:

"But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.

No, said Tolkien, they are not.

Just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil."

The power of myth to lead us to truth became central to Lewis, and consequently to Gaiman.  But there is a risk.  We can grow to love the made thing more than the maker, as Lewis warned in Weight and Glory:"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things -- the beauty, the memory of our own past -- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself, they are only the scent of a flower which we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."Romans 1:25 warns us of the cost of this idolatry:So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us.  (The Message)None of us are immune to the temptation to love the culture more than the Creator, the story more than the Storyteller.For many people of faith, the response to this risk has been to reject myth altogether, embracing Lewis’ immature view that “MYTHS are lies breathed through silver”, and thereby abandoning the telling of new myths altogether.However, imagination is a key onramp to the road called The One True Myth.  Without people who believe in the “deeper magic” being encouraged to write modern myths, we impoverish our own imaginations, leave only dead-end stories as options for those who would otherwise be “surprised by joy” and do a disservice to our Creator. This is why I am starting a small graphic novel publishing venture: to give a platform to this generation's Chestertons, Lewis's and Tolkeins, and perhaps introduce a new generation of skeptics to myth pioneers such as George MacDonald.We are calling the project Cave Pictures Publishing, after Plato's The Allegory of the Cave: “whereby the prisoners are set free from their chains and, along with that, cured of their lack of insight.” (Plato)After being involved in the production and marketing of numerous films, I have not given up on them, but even they start with story, with myth. Joseph Campbell said: "The Cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” I believe modern myths, told by believers in “the deeper magic” will be able to offer the Treasure that society really seeks.