Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Smaller God

Story telling has always included gods. And for their parts, gods have always had stories. The Greek, Norse and Celtic all have their stories. The Judeo-Christian god has the Torah, the Bible and the Koran telling his story.

And since gods are such well known and impressive characters, writers have included them in their own stories. Douglas Adams' "The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul" deals with what life is like for the Norse gods in the modern day. Other novels look at similar themes with other gods. Robert Rankin's "Waiting for Goldaming" is about someone investigating the death of God.

One writer who has freely incorporated gods into his stories is Neil Gaiman. "American Gods" is all about gods. In The Sandman, a number of gods from various pantheons are encountered. And this brings me to the actual purpose of this writing. In The Sandman, one particular mythos is singled out as being different. In the Brief Lives arc, Gaiman describes the life cycle of gods. They are born in the dreams of men, move into the waking world, as belief wanes they return to dreams and eventually move onto realms about which the only thing known is that there is no return. It is possible to avoid this fate by ensuring that belief, no matter how little endures. Pharamond achieves this by becoming the embodiment of transportation, something that will never go away. Ishtar, a Babylonian love goddess ekes out a meager existence working at a strip club. The Japanese gods incorporate everything from Marilyn Monroe to astronauts into their pantheon so that there's always something in there being worshipped by people.

The main point though is that people came first and that they formed their gods in their image. Only one mythos is excepted from this rule. And not surprisingly it's the Judeo-Christian mythos. First, it is stated that his home realm, called the Silver City, is explicitly separate from the rest of the universe. This is not just the material universe, but non-material parts as well, such the Dreaming and Hell. This separates it from every other realm in the Sandman universe, such as the realms of Fairie, Asgard, Destiny's Garden and others. The Sandman, during The Wake arc, states that there is a power above the Endless, although does not explicitly name that power or link it to the God of the Silver City.

Second, the Silver City, God and the angels all existed before the rest of creation. The short story Murder Mystery (not a Sandman story, but set in the same universe) is set in this before time, when the angels are helping God in designing his universe, although given how events play out, it is clear that this is just another stage in God's design, and needs to be gone through to ensure that the creation works out right, by making Lucifer into who he is destined to be.

The spin off series Lucifer, while not being written by Gaiman, continues this them of God being the overall creator of everything, and other gods being part of that creation. When God leaves, everything falls apart, including the realms of other gods.

So God is treated differently to other gods. This is not surprising given that he is the divinity of the western worlds dominant religions, while other gods are not held with such reverence by modern readers. Part of it is surely not wanting to antagonise the reader. Few gods in the Sandman are shown as unflawed beings. The gods lie, manipulate, bribe, scheme and more, while God sits above it all, watching his creation.

That was pretty much my point. God gets treated differently to all the other gods. Not the most significant of thoughts, but it is interesting to note that a difference is present, and it is a major difference in the nature of and significance of the being known as God.

End Post
Writing time: 6 hours, 10 minutes (I did leave the house for a few hours to play some chess, take about 4 hours off of that at least in reality)
Time since last post: 5 days
Current media: iTunes party shuffle

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