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Raining Cats and Dogs

It is a bit too wet to take a photo for you, but the next time you walk or drive by the windows on the Katharine Lee Bates Road side of our building, take a look at the books in the windows. We are currently featuring books on cats and dogs, which seems very appropriate for the day, given that it is raining cats and dogs as I write this. Which got me to thinking about what the origin of this phrase is, so I turned to one of my favorite reference books, Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. This is what they have to say:

raining cats and dogs goes back many hundreds of years to the Dark Ages, when people believed in all sorts of ghosts, goblins and witches and even thought that animals, like cats and dogs, had magical powers. The cat was thought by sailors to have a lot to do with storms, and the witches that were believed to ride in the storms were often pictured as black cats. Dogs and wolves were symbols of winds and the Norse storm god Odin was frequently shown surrounded by dogs and wolves. So when a particularly violent rainstorm came along, people would say it was raining cats and dogs—with the cats symbolizing the rain and the dogs representing the wind and storm.”

And mentioning Odin reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s fabulous novel called American Gods, which he recently updated in a tenth anniversary edition, with “the author’s preferred text”.

Here’s a brief description of this novel which is both dark and funny:

“Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow’s dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost--the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and darkly funny, just like the rest of the book.

Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow’s road story is the heart of the novel, and it’s here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book--the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. “This is a bad land for Gods,” says Shadow.

More than a tourist in America, but not a native, Neil Gaiman offers an outside-in and inside-out perspective on the soul and spirituality of the country--our obsessions with money and power, our jumbled religious heritage and its societal outcomes, and the millennial decisions we face about what’s real and what’s not.”

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