Neil Gaiman is no stranger to the screen. His novel “Neverwhere” began its life as a BBC mini-series. His novels, “Mirror Mask,” “Stardust,” and “Coraline,” have all been adapted as movies. Gaiman wrote an adaptation of Beowulf for the big screen and, more recently, penned two episodes of “Doctor Who.” So while it is unsurprising that his fiction is being adapted for television, the news that his novels, “American Gods” and “Anansi Boys,” are on their way toward production, by Freemantle Media and Red Productions respectively, is being cheered by Gaiman’s fans. If you are looking for a good research paper topic in media studies or for a speculative literature course, consider speculating on the elements in these novels that will translate well to the screen.
In “Neil’s odysseys and oddities: Neil Gaiman’s new book is a history lesson for Americans,” Alison Jones of the Birmingham Post called “American Gods,” the novel, upon its release, “a surreal road trip that seems to be part Jack Kerouac, part ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.’” It begins as an ex-convict, Shadow, returns to his life only to find that nothing is the same: his wife is dead, and his job is no longer available. When he finds work with Mr. Wednesday, who claims to be a god, the pair embark on a journey across America where they run into a number of gods who are no longer being worshipped. Despite the divine figures, Jones attested that the story isn’t about religion, but “the superstitions and beliefs that the immigrants brought with them to the new world, then replaced them with other objects of worship like hamburger bars and television.”
The acclaimed novel was optioned for adaptation by HBO, but things didn’t go well. As Gaiman explained, quoted by Michael Calia in the Wall Street Journal in “Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ gets a new TV deal,” in the years that HBO owned the rights, “it went through three different pilot scripts.” When none of those panned out, HBO passed the rights to Cinemax, who eventually let the option expire.
Playtone, the production company initially slated to develop the series for HBO, is owned by Tom Hanks. One of the “brightest stars at Playtone,” according to Gaiman, Stefanie Berk, recently made a move to Freemantle Media, the company that now has the rights to develop “American Gods.” There is no news yet on who will be the show-runner and what actors might be cast. Gaiman will serve as executive producer.
How will the television program represent the divine characters? In the BBC mini-series “Neverwhere,” an angelic figure wore a strange, light-catching fabric, setting him apart from the rest of the cast. Possible research topics that can be drawn from this idea include:
- How are gods depicted as different from humans in special effects films based on Greek mythology, such as the “Percy Jackson” films, “Wrath of the Titans,” or “Immortals”?
- How are the Marvel versions of Norse gods set aside from humanity?
- In television series like “True Blood” and “Vampire Diaries,” how easy is it to identify supernatural characters? In what ways are they distinct from humans?
Set in the same world as “American Gods,” “Anansi Boys” was a not-quite-sequel centering on two sons of the African god Anansi, one mortal, and one divine. The main character, Charlie Nancy, was designed after Gaiman’s friend, actor and comedian Lenny Henry, who narrated the audiobook edition of the novel. Henry is now 55—much older than the novel character.
David Barnett of the Guardian, in “Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys will be adapted for TV,” quoted Gaiman as saying that while Freemantle Media would have to open up “American Gods” to develop it as a series, all that Red Productions has to do is “make an absolutely brilliant faithful version of ‘Anansi Boys.’” A spokesperson at Red Productions told Barnett that people at the company were “very excited.” Asked for further comment, the spokesperson demurred, saying, “I’m afraid we are in very early development with Neil at the moment.”
Red Productions is developing “Anansi Boys” for a BBC run; there’s no official news yet on where “American Gods” will be broadcast.
How do you think Gaiman’s works will fare on the small screen? How do you expect forgotten gods to be portrayed in television? Tell us in the comments.