Anansi Boys

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Anansi Boys
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Central Theme:
Genre(s): Modern fantasy
First published: September 20, 2005
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Anansi Boys is a 2005 novel by Neil Gaiman, set in the same fictional universe as his earlier American Gods, although not a direct sequel to that story -- more of a Lighter and Softer spinoff, and it was conceived earlier. The protagonist is the nice but unambitious and chronically unlucky Charles Nancy -- nicknamed 'Fat Charlie' by his father at age 10 and dogged by the name ever since, despite not actually being fat -- who's somewhat nonplussed to be told that his recently deceased father was the African trickster god Anansi. Oh, and the reason Fat Charlie doesn't have his dad's godlike powers is that they went to the brother he never knew existed, who he can contact by giving a message to a spider. Not believing a word of this, Fat Charlie nevertheless gets drunk and tells a spider to invite his brother to come for a visit.

Within a couple of days of Spider turning up, Fat Charlie has lost his job and fiancée, and is also wanted by the police. Willing to do anything to make his brother go away again, he finds a way to contact the other gods and makes a deal. And then things start to really go wrong.

Lenny Henry has voiced Fat Charlie for both the audiobook and a BBC Radio adaptation. A film version allegedly fell through because the studio wanted a predominantly white cast, despite almost every character in the book being black. However, he has since resumed work on it, and a first draft of a script has been completed.

Tropes used in Anansi Boys include:
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Fat Charlie's father even dies in an embarrassing way.
  • Animal Motifs: Graham Coates' is a weasel. He even takes that form when he gets sealed away with Tiger.
  • Babies Ever After: For Charlie anyway. Spider hasn't gotten there yet.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Grahame Coats by the end of the novel.
  • Big Damn Heroes: A wholly unexpected role for venomous spiders.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Fat Charlie does this to Mrs. Higgler.
  • Cliché Storm: Any attempt to converse with Grahame Coats results in this; he seems to think an abundance of well-worn un-witticisms make him seem far smarter than even a single original thought ever could. When he takes Rosie and her mother hostage, it even describes how delighted he is to have whole new vistas of clichés open to him that he never would have gotten to pull out otherwise.
  • Closet Sublet: When Spider comes to visit, he stays in Fat Charlie's closet. Kind of. The closet door actually opens up into a ridiculously big room somewhere tropical.
  • Continuity Nod: Spider takes his coffee "dark as night and sweet as sin," just like the Slavic deities in American Gods.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: The fate of the former dictator of the Caribbean island where the second half of the novel is set. After ruling with an iron fist for decades, he died by "falling out of bed". His fall was apparently hard enough to break a number of bones, and he didn't survive despite all of his bodyguards being in his room during this time, who did everything they could to "help" him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Grahame Coats
  • Compelling Voice: Spider's even works on computers, though it's apparently more a matter of lies than orders.
  • Dark-Skinned Blond: Lion.
  • Dating What Mommy Hates: Part of Rosie's reason for dating, and eventually becoming engaged to Fat Charlie.
  • Demonic Possession: Grahame Coats by Tiger, starts subtly after he kills Maeve.
  • Double Standard Rape (Divine on Mortal): Spider uses his supernatural powers to convince Rosie that he's her fiance and has sex with her when she believes he's someone else. They end up together in the end. Of course, all he really did was tell him he was Fat Charlie. She slept with him entirely for his own qualities. She does feel confused and conflicted about it when she finds out the truth, especially since she really did fall in love with him, and his feelings of guilt about the matter are what drives him to confess.
  • Enfant Terrible: Charlie, before Spider is split off from him.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Fat Charlie has a dream about Anansi, who goes off on a tangent about starfishes.
    • Happens again when Fat Charlie goes to the cliffs at the end of the world to find someone to deal with Spider. He meets Monkey, who says two things that later prove to be portentous.

Monkey: Who are you? What are you? You seem like half a thing.
Monkey: (On learning that Anansi is dead) Dead there. Maybe.

  • Fourth Date Marriage: Two of them. In a strange way it kind of fits with the text because, well, they're gods.
  • Fruit of the Loon: A lime becomes a very important plot element.
  • Giant Spider: A rare, rare friendly example.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Spider is almost always seen in a black and scarlet leather jacket.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Anansi really liked stealing other peoples' fables and myths, or at least claiming they were based on his antics.
  • Inhuman Resources: Grahame Coats fires his employees just before they qualify for the severance package; Fat Charlie is unusual in this regard, as Coats found him so useful that he's been employed for an unprecedented two years. This ends up biting Coats in the ass; when he tries to pin his embezzlement on Fat Charlie, his employee turnover rate is all the evidence the police need to put together the fact that the embezzlement predates even Fat Charlie.
  • It's a Costume Party, I Swear: When he was little, Mr. Nancy told Charlie that President's Day meant you actually dressed up as your favorite President. Hilarity ensued, for Nancy, at least, when Charlie, not wanting to be just another Lincoln, Washington, or Kennedy, went as Taft.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Mr. Nancy tends to swing wildly between the two.
    • Spider.
  • Kavorka Man: Mr. Nancy and Spider.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Spider with Rosie, leading to some confusion on his part, as this usually doesn't happen to him.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After the incident with his cab driver, Fat Charlie finds himself forced to take his lime everywhere, because word got around about the man with the lime, and everyone is demanding to see it.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to American Gods, this is almost pure comedy. It's as good, though.
  • Little Bit Beastly
    • The gods of the animal pantheon all have characteristics of the animals they're based on, such as tails, whiskers -- and extra nipples.
    • Anansi himself is either this or a Funny Animal, whichever he needs. It's all in how you tell the story.
  • Magical Camera: Early in the book, Spider passes into a photograph to travel to the location it shows. He later mentions he can go to any location he's seen, including by picture.
  • Magic Music: It was used to create the world, apparently, and it's also one of Anansi's powers, usually resulting in some sort of Reality Warp. Once Charlie Nancy embraces his heritage, he can use this power as well.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: Fat Charlie, no matter how hard he tries, can't escape from it until he realizes his powers.
  • Myopic Architecture: A police specialist bemoans Grahame Coats' security arrangements, pointing out that he installed a wonderfully secure door, then hung a lock on it that the specialist picked effortlessly. His exact words are that a five-year-old could jimmy it with a spoon handle. The specialist probably got it open by sneezing at it.
  • Never My Fault: Grahame Coats.
  • Nice Hat:
    • Mr Nancy's lime-green fedora.
    • Which goes on to belong to Charlie Nancy, instead, and is nice enough to vanquish his old nickname, to boot.
  • The Nicknamer: Mr. Nancy is a supernaturally good example; when he nicknames something or someone, everyone else automatically starts using the nickname even if they've never been told it before.
  • No Name Given: Is Rosie's mother ever referred to as anything other than Rosie's mother or Mrs. Noah? (Her name is Eutheria Noah, but it's only mentioned once, and it states that no one ever used her name but her husband, and he's dead now.)
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Graham Coats killing Maeve Livingstone. He goes downhill from there.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Discussed in chapter 13:

"I," it said, "am frightened of nothing."
"Nothing," it said.
Charlie said, "Are you extremely frightened of nothing?"
"Absolutely terrified of it," admitted the Dragon.

  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Right up to the point when Fat Charlie figures out his powers. From the next sentence, the narration and the other characters just call him 'Charlie'.
  • Performance Anxiety: Charles Nancy has it so bad, he passes out when he gets up on stage to perform earlier in the novel.
  • Physical God: Mr. Nancy, Spider and the rest of the animal pantheon. Fat Charlie too, eventually.
  • Race Lift: Averted; executives wanted to recast the leads as white for the film, despite the fact that most are black, and African heritage is something of a plot point for the eponymous brothers. Gaiman shut 'em down.
  • Rascally Rabbit: It is mentioned that some trickster rabbit stories were initially Anansi's.

The story of the Tar-Baby, the one they tell about Bre'r Rabbit? That was Anansi's story first. Some people thinks he was a rabbit. But that's their mistake. He wasn't a rabbit. He was a spider.

  • Ravens and Crows: The Bird Woman, one of many people who are still upset at Anansi's antics.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Parodied. Mrs. Nancy writes to Fat Charlie from China that their Chinese food is terrible, and she'll be wanting the real Chinese food after she gets back home.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Daisy, although she's outnumbered by many unreasonable ones.
  • Sand in My Eyes: "I'm not crying. It's the rain on my face." Mrs. Higgler isn't fooled.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: What happens to Tiger and Grahame Coats.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Charlie's the nicer, uninteresting, and mundane brother, while Spider is all charm, swagger, and magic. They both even out later on in the book.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Mr Nancy after a fashion. When his son was first split he commented that if he couldn't fix it himself he (Fat Charlie/Spider) was no son of his(Nancy's).
  • Smug Snake: Grahame Coats.
  • Split At Birth: Not quite at birth, but at a young enough age that Fat Charlie didn't know he had a brother. Because technically, Spider isn't Fat Charlie's brother; he's an aspect of Fat Charlie's own personality who got split off and sent away by an angry old woman who knew some magic.
  • Starfish Character: They even explicitly refer to it by the old trope name.
  • Stealth Pun: Daisy was named Daisy because at the time of her birth, her parents owned a tandem (a bicycle built for two).
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Grahame Coats has one of these about Maeve Livingston and her hypothetical identical naked twin sister, Maeve II.
  • Undignified Death: It doesn't succeed, but at one point the Bird Woman tries to kill Spider with a flock of flamingos.
    • Anansi too. Heart attack on stage while singing karaoke, falling over and ripping the tube-top off of a blonde tourist from Michigan in the fall?
  • Villainous Breakdown: Grahame Coats has a slow and subtle one starting with him killing Maeve, allowing Tiger to step in. Characters note later how he appears to have lost it.
  • The Yardies: Referenced after Fat Charlie is arrested, as he notes that his neighbors now believe he is one of these.