“Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman

I loved this book! I got totally sucked into the story and blew through it in no time. I’ve read other works by Gaiman, including American Gods, Good Omens, and part of the Sandman series, and Anansi Boys is right up there with these other works.

The story follows two brothers, children of the god Anansi, who were separated and reunited. Sibling rivalry ensues and their lives become a tangled web. Essentially, the two brothers represent the two aspects of an individual: the Divine, represented by Spider, and the human, represented by Fat Charlie. So the reunification of the two brothers essentially represents the reunification of the two parts of the self, which is the goal of most spiritual quests.

There are some great passages woven into this tale and I would like to look at a couple of them.

The first occurs when Fat Charlie visits the realm of the gods: “The mountains and their caves were made from the stuff of the oldest stories (this was long before human people, of course; whatever made you imagine that people were the first things to tell stories?).” I see a lot of symbolism in this passage. The obvious one is the connection to the creation story in Genesis, how in the beginning was the Word. It is from the Divine Word that everything is created. But then I also look at this from a Jungian archetype perspective, where the mountains represent the conscious mind and the caves represent the subconscious, inner mind. Considering the passage this way, you could say that the stories that comprise the collective unconscious are what create our conscious and subconscious selves.

The other passage that really struck a chord with me concerns the relationship between songs and stories: “The important thing about songs is they’re just like stories. They don’t mean a damn unless there’s people listenin’ to them.” As a musician, I know this to be true. Sitting by myself and playing my guitar is great, but it is nothing like playing for people, where there is a shared energy that is passed back and forth between musician and audience. This shared experience is the key to storytelling also. It is the act of sharing the story that makes it a magical and transcendent experience. Otherwise, to paraphrase Hamlet, it’s just words.

As Anansi states in the book, “People take on the shapes of the songs and stories that surround them.” We are all influenced by the stories and songs to which we are exposed. They help define how we interpret our experiences in life. This book is an amazing analogy of how stories help create the world around us. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

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