Clap your hands if you believe...
June 10, 2015 3:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for fictional media (novels, short stories, movies) that explore the idea of gods existing in response to human belief/desire.

I can think of a few examples: Gaiman's "American Gods", Pratchett's "Small Gods", Adams' "Long Dark Teatime of the Soul", Robbins' "Jitterbug Perfume"... Can you help me think of some more?
posted by jpziller to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This is not quite the same premise, but it explores closely connected ideas: C S Lewis' Till We Have Faces examines the extent to which human belief, anger and longing shape our understanding of the divine. Unsurprisingly, his stance is ultimately theistic but he explicitly identifies the theme of gods being called into existence by human acts and desires and I found the way he frames it quite an interesting counterpoint to Pratchett et al.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:12 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series has that premise, although it's kind of just the setting.

I just started reading the Nightside series. They have a character called the Unbeliever, who is able to "unbelieve" things out of existence.
posted by ethidda at 3:18 AM on June 10, 2015

There's a storyline in Gaiman's Sandman graphic novel series where lesser gods are kept alive only by the few that still believe. Bast is one example.
posted by tracicle at 3:39 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

The fairies in Peter pan?
posted by catspajammies at 4:51 AM on June 10, 2015

Best answer: TVTropes: Gods Need Prayer Badly, which is a subtrope of... Clap Your Hands If You Believe.
posted by sukeban at 4:57 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is quite common in anime, mainly because the dominant religion in Japan (Shinto) is animist. The Japanese word 神 kami loosely translates as "god" but it isn't like western concepts of God, even pantheons.

Kami are everywhere. They're in rocks and trees and mountains and animals; they control wind and weather. And it's not just natural phenomena; kami also control more modern things.

One anime series in which that is central is Kamichu! which is about a middle school girl who becomes a kami. (No explanation for that is ever given; you just take it and run.) She's actually a very powerful one; she's the regional god for Japan and the surrounding waters.

In one episode she's looking for another kami who is missing, and goes to something like "Kami Club Med", a place only kami can visit. And we see things like the kami of "laserdiscs", and the kami of "cassette tapes", resting in their old age.

In that story line, kami come into existence when they are needed, and once they aren't, they fade away and are gone.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:20 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's a bit of a side arc but Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Series has this as a recurring theme. Most all Gods you've ever heard of exist but their strength is limited by how well known they are and how they are known. The main arc concentrates on Irish Druids and the Norse, Navajo, Roman and Greek pantheons with a sprinkling of other gods.

Minor spoiler follows:

For example Jesus can walk the Earth semi regularly but his form is limited to how people picture him and that is usually as a (white) guy nailed to a cross or wearing a crown of thorns so he doesn't visit as much as he might wish. However he interacts once with the protagonist as an African man wearing a tie dyed tshirt featuring a peace symbol, jeans and Chuck Taylors. An image courtesy of a patron of a place called the Trippie Hippie.
posted by Mitheral at 5:30 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

John Scalzi's God Engines (MeFi's Own(TM) jscalzi [with four pages of tags!])
posted by 6ATR at 5:50 AM on June 10, 2015

If you include graphic novels, the Fable universe.
posted by monocultured at 6:00 AM on June 10, 2015

Divine Misfortune by A Lee Martinez.
posted by snaw at 6:08 AM on June 10, 2015

Louis L'amour's The Lonesome Gods explores this as a theme, but not as part of the plot.
posted by 4th number at 7:04 AM on June 10, 2015

It's a bit late in the series, but Glenn Cook's Garrett P.I. series has a books Petty Pewter Gods that's all about gods existing purely on the belief -- and the quantity -- of their followers.
posted by patheral at 8:48 AM on June 10, 2015

James Morrow wrote a series of books about the gigantic dead body of God falling to Earth and how people and religions react. They start out kind of funny and turn more depressing book by book. He also wrote a great story about a modern female Messiah. The nature of belief is his major theme.
posted by irisclara at 8:53 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you're describing a Tulpa, except that they aren't gods really... There is an episode in the TV show Supernatural (season one, episode 7, "Hell House") entirely revolving around this idea.

Also (and I appreciate this is a stretch), one episodes in The Simpsons where advertising mascots were brought to life and destroying Springfield and they wouldn't go away until people didn't pay attention to them (ie. "Just don't look")
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:24 AM on June 10, 2015

P. C. Hodgell's Godstalk: high fantasy with a complex and fascinating female main character.
posted by nonane at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, and Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone all explore this idea. Gods live and die based on belief and sacrifice from their worshippers; companies and government trade is all based on gods & belief systems.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:33 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Etgar Keret has a short story about something similar to this that might meet your criteria, in one of his collections (I think it was This One) not with Gods, but with regular old folks and different sections of the afterlife.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:42 AM on June 10, 2015

Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly is about a group of Greek gods living in modern day London. Their powers are waning because modern day humans don't believe in them any more: "Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse--and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ."
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:00 PM on June 10, 2015

This is an element in City of Stairs.
posted by Lexica at 8:46 PM on June 10, 2015

Who Mourns for Adonis? -- Star Trek Original Series
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:35 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fritz Leiber's sword-and-sorcery Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories have this, although it's not the central theme of all of the stories.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:07 PM on June 14, 2015

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