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Old 07-22-2014, 10:02 AM
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Zeelandia
Posts: 9,652
American Gods: What was the deal with Mad Sweeney's wrong coin?

In American Gods, Mad Sweeney is some sort of leprechaun (the large old intimidating sort that would kick yer fookin arse). When he first meets the book's protagonist, Shadow, he shows off a bit by pulling a gold coin out of thin air and gives it to Shadow.

Shadow tosses this coin onto the casket of his dead wife as she's being buried, and she later comes to life, though progressively rotting a bit, with the implication that it was the coin's doing.

And later on, Mad Sweeney shows up in a panic, asking for the coin back, babbling that it was the wrong sort of coin he had given Shadow: it should have been reserved for royalty, to be given to the King of America if there were such a thing. When Shadow tells him that he didn't have the coin any longer, Mad Sweeney is driven to despair and winds up killing himself.

So was this just an elaborate plot device, or is there some actual legend or other factor connected to the fabled coin?

Last edited by Koxinga; 07-22-2014 at 10:02 AM.
Old 07-22-2014, 11:00 PM
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 4,879
I don't quite remember it that way. I think the gold coin was something that Mad Sweeney used to keep himself alive, despite no one believing in "little people" anymore. IIRC, Sweeney only meant to give Shadow a simple, non-magical gold coin to toss into the grave (reflecting the ancient Hellenistic Greek tradition of sticking a coin in a corpse's mouth - as a payment for Charon the Ferryman. But Sweeney (and Shadow) was stinking drunk when he gave it to him. Shadow almost jokingly tossed it into the grave, but it resurrected his wife as a revenant. It was only after Shadow had done that that Sweeney realized what he'd done. He made an attempt to retrieve it, but since it was already in the grave it was too late. Hence, Sweeney simply died without his magical coin.
Old 07-22-2014, 11:47 PM
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Zeelandia
Posts: 9,652
I found the text online, and it seems to confirm what I remember: that Mad Sweeney didn't regard the coin as his property to give away, that he would be in a huge amount of trouble for doing so, and he was so despondent over the fact that he actively chose to kill himself.


"You keep hanging out under bridges, Mad Sweeney," said Shadow, "people gonna think you're a troll."

This time Mad Sweeney looked up. Shadow could see the whites of his eyes all around his irises. The man looked scared. "I was lookin' for you," he said. "You gotta help me, man. I fucked up big time. . . .You remember I showed you how to get a coin? You remember?"

"Yes," said Shadow. He saw the gold coin in his mind's eye, watched it tumble into Laura's casket, saw it glitter around her neck. "I remember."

"You took the wrong coin, man . . . I did it like he said. I did it all like he said, but I gave you the wrong coin. It wasn't meant to be that coin. That's for royalty. You see? I shouldn't even have been able to take it. That's the coin you'd give to the king of America himself. Not some pissant bastard like you or me. And now I'm in big trouble. Just give me the coin back, man. You'll never see me again, if you do, I sweartofuckenBran, okay?"

. . .

"I don't have it anymore . . . I'm telling you the truth," said Shadow. "I'm sorry. If I had it I'd give it back to you. But I gave it away."

Sweeney's grimy hands clamped on Shadow's shoulders, and the pale blue eyes stared into his. The tears had made streaks in the dirt on Mad Sweeney's face. "Shit," he said. Shadow could smell tobacco and stale beer and whiskey-sweat. "You're telling the truth, you fucker. Gave it away and freely and of your own will. Damn your dark eyes, you gave it a-fucken-way."

"I'm sorry." Shadow remembered the whispering thump the coin had made as it landed on Laura's casket.

"Sorry or not, I'm damned and I'm doomed." He wiped his nose and his eyes on his sleeves, muddying his face into strange patterns.
It was at this point Mad Sweeney begged Shadow for twenty dollars so that he could get "a ticket out of here," which turned out to be a bottle of alcohol that would aid him in drinking and freezing to death.
Old 07-23-2014, 04:00 AM
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Cape Town, South Africa &
Posts: 22,890
The coin was the Sun.

Or at least, the inner Sun, the fire of life, and the Hermetic Sun of alchemy that turns base into gold - the Philosopher's Stone, which co-incidentally also gives life.

It's the little lightpump at the heart of the rainbow, that creates pots o'gold.
Old 07-23-2014, 04:14 AM
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Cape Town, South Africa &
Posts: 22,890
Compare with when Zorya gives Shadow the Moon as protection. Lovely dualism yet reversal of the traditional Man=Sun:Woman=Moon roles there - Shadow has the Moon, Laura has the Sun.

Last edited by MrDibble; 07-23-2014 at 04:16 AM.

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