In light of the recent passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, I’ve decided to look into some of his books again and relive the magic of his words. Besides getting back into a few of my favorite Discworld novels, I’ve also taken a look into Good Omens, a major collaboration with fellow British fantasy author Neil Gaiman about the end of the world. I usually wouldn’t give much thought to apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories, but how could I resist something so epic and hilarious?
In the modern-day UK, an angel and a demon prepare for the End of Days. The Antichrist is delivered as a baby to his human parents by Satanic nuns—except one of them switches the babies accidentally. While the armies of Heaven and Hell put their plans into motion, a little boy named Adam Young in the small town of Lower Tadfield begins to discover that he has strange powers. Meanwhile, a young witch tries to sort everything out according to her ancestor’s book, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.
So what does Good Omens still have to offer us?
Aziraphale and Crowley
As much as I enjoyed reading about the authors’ take on the upcoming Apocalypse, my absolute favorite parts of the story included every scene between the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley. It’s so refreshing to see an angel who struggles to get what God “ineffable” plan is leading toward and to have a demon who looks the part, but tries to be evil in subtle ways like encouraging the spread of telemarketers and traffic jams. I wish there were more “wicked” characters like Crowley in literature and I love the opening idea of Aziraphale “losing” his flaming sword to Adam and Eve.
Bureaucracy is a common thread running throughout the novel. It shows up in obvious places like the Metatron speaking down to Aziraphale and Crowley trying to avoid dealing with two Dukes of Hell, but it also comes in the human world as well. Half the fun of the Witchfinder Army subplot is seeing all the archaic customs and titles that Shadwell and Newt have to manage, even when they’re effectively a two-man army without a clue.
A brilliant takedown of prophecies
I don’t often enjoy prophecies in fiction since they’re either vague enough to mean anything or so specific that any attempt to subvert it will inevitably be the act that causes it in the first place. However, no one’s done prophecy quite like Agnes Nutter, the witch whose book drives half the plot with her eerily on-the-money descriptions of modern events and plot points. It helps that the authors took the time and trouble to spell out her visions in archaic spelling, with long s‘s and extra e’s.
Clever modern updates of Biblical horrors
Everything horrific about the End of Days is spelled out the same as it is in the Book of Revelation, but with a cheeky modern spin. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride out on motorcycles and have appropriate modern-day occupations. Policemen and emergency responders have to deal with problems like fish raining from the sky and blocking up traffic. The list goes on, but it’s all a cohesive look at Biblical horrors and our mundane response to that reality.
I had a lot of fun reading this story, both for the well-researched history and lore, and for the side-splitting jabs at the supernatural (seriously, what is “ineffable”?). Good Omens is a book where Gaiman and Pratchett are both doing what they do best, playing around with the fantasy genre and common beliefs in a wonderfully cynical and uplifting way.
Bibliography: Gaiman, Neil. Pratchett, Terry. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.; New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1990.