American Gods is a novel and television series that is about America and its character, combining elements of fantasy with real-world themes such as immigration. Neil Gaiman’s inspiration for his novel did not come from the title country, however, but from Iceland. How, therefore, can one of the most influential books and compelling television series of the 21st Century be traced back to this little island nation?

Neil Gaiman first came to Iceland in 1998, well before the tourism industry started to undergo the exponential growth it has since the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Already an accomplished novelist and writer, most known for the Sandman series, he saw it as an obligation to his readership to travel and learn about the influences that have shaped cultures around the world, even in corners little-known at the time.

He found Reykjavík to be a quiet town with empty streets, all shops closed on the Sunday of his arrival, providing the air of mysticism for which this country is so renowned. The one place he would find open was the Icelandic Viking Museum, and it was here that the seeds of the novel American Gods were planted.

Gaiman found himself drawn to the story of one of Iceland’s most famous explorers, Leif Erikson, who was the first European to land and settle in North America. His community at Vínland (within what is now Newfoundland) was the westernmost settlement of Norsemen, and those that lived there were America’s first immigrants in a millennium.


See Also: Vikings and Norse Gods in Iceland 


A diorama within the museum depicts the longboats and turf houses on the shores of the New World, and the information provided tells of how the settlement was established then later abandoned. This story of immigration left Neil Gaiman with a question; if the Norse arrived with their Gods, what happened to them when they left? Did they take them home with them, or did the Gods remain?

Neil Gaiman signs copies of his acclaimed novel. Credit: Flickr.

Like many writers who have been to or studied Iceland will agree, the country’s nature is the perfect place to find further inspiration for stories. For Gaiman, it was on the shores of Lake Kleifarvatn—the largest lake on the haunting, barren Reykjanes Peninsula—that the tale of American Gods wrote itself in his mind.

The novel, American Gods, was published three years after Gaiman’s visit to Iceland, under the working title he had decided when admiring the beauty of the lake. It went on to receive Hugo and Nebula Awards, and in 2017, the novel was adapted to the screen and the story of its conception captured in the short documentary American Gods: Origins.


See Also: Icelandic Literature for Beginners 


2019 will see the acclaimed US series’ second season, exciting fans across the globe.

Now a worldwide phenomenon, Gaiman’s story goes to show how just a small snippet of Iceland’s history, and one experience within its nature, can inspire a fascinating tale that combines important modern themes with classic, awe-inspiring fantasy. Watch American Gods: Origins below.