The television adaptation of American Gods is brimming with memorable characters like tall belligerent leprechauns and zoot suit wearing spider shape shifters. But in the second and third episodes of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s take on Neil Gaiman’s novel, a family of no-nonsense Slavic sisters has taken center stage.
In the show, ex-con Shadow Moon embarks on a road trip with his new employer Mr. Wednesday to recruit people who are “preeminent in their respective fields,” as Wednesday cryptically says. Thanks to the show’s name, the viewer knows that these “people” are not ordinary humans — and over the course of the first few episode, Shadow begins to realize it too. After dealing with his dead wife’s funeral and a lynch mob, Shadow’s first official stop with Wednesday is to Chicago. There, they meet a grumpy Slavic black god and his unusual “family” of three sisters.
Played by a tough-talking vodka-chugging Cloris Leachman, the oldest sister is Zorya Vechernyaya, the “evening star.” Her romance-novel reading middle sister Zorya Utrennyaya is the “morning star.” She is associated with Venus, hence the harlequin paperbacks. Their youngest virginal sister Zorya Polunochnaya is the “midnight star.”
While they do indeed have roots in Slavic mythology, Neil Gaiman has taken liberties in American Gods. Traditional stories only includes the oldest two sisters, who open the gates of heaven for the sun god, their father. When they aren’t operating gates, they protect the world from Simargl, a potentially world-ending doomsday hound trapped in the constellation Ursa Minor. The youngest Zorya sister points this out to Shadow when he meets her on the roof top in “Head Full of Snow.”
But Neil Gaiman has actually invented this youngest sister for the story, in order to give the sisters parallels to the three fates of Greco-Roman mythology. There, the three fates are women who spin the threads of destiny and determine when to “cut” them, thereby ending someone’s life. Their fortune-telling on the show is drawn from this.
This cultural melting pot of mythology has a curious impact, because the Slavic deities are guardians while the Fates are technically responsible for ending a life. The show captures this dichotomy, because the oldest sister is distant and vaguely hostile to Shadow while the youngest sister is almost warm to him. When the oldest Zorya tells Wednesday she can taste war in the rain, as a guardian deity she has a radar for these things.
American Gods Season 1 is currently airing Sunday nights on Starz.