Caveat: Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous. Do not attempt it in your own home.
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecices of Agnes Nutter, Witch
Written by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett; Published 1990
So, first things first: I’m going to need some quality Aziraphale/Crowley fanfiction recommendations. Because these two are clearly meant to be.
I love just about every element of this book. In fact it’s difficult to write a review that isn’t just a list of praise. I love the tone, the metatextuality, and I love love love the occasional bits of medieval language. I hadn’t got to use that section of my brain since grad school. Gaiman and Pratchett blend their talents seamlessly. I only wish they’d been able to write more together.
What is charming about Good Omens, and I think the reason it’s such a hit, is that two literary geniuses got together and wrote a love letter to humanity disguised as a comedy about the apocalypse. This novel wants us to think that it’s at least trying to be detached and cynical, but we know the truth. Pratchett and Gaiman show a lovely depth of tenderness towards their main characters. This is such an English novel—we would know that even without the jokes that require footnotes for Americans. The only romantic hero in this novel is an awkward, less-than-handsome underachiever; the average person is characterized as dull and stupid but still more valuable and important than the powerful and corrupt; a good portion of the plot hinges on a medieval book written by a woman with a snarky, esoteric sense of humor; London is simultaneously celebrated and reviled; and a thousand other things besides. But most of all, even the Antichrist himself is unable to end the world because of his abiding love for a tiny village in the English countryside.
Of course the novel is not perfect. There are places when it is very clearly written by two dudes in the nineties, especially with regards to gender: War is a dangerous beautiful redhead. The retired Satanic nun Mary Hodges dismisses orgasms as too-romantic (???) and wildly misinterprets feminism. Madame Tracy’s characterization is weird and all over the place: is she actually a sex worker or just a fortune teller? Why does she tolerate Shadwell’s treatment, and why is her only response to his calling her names to giggle and say, “you old silly?” Is this an English thing that I don’t understand? Still, these faults didn’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment of Good Omens, not least because the characters of Anathema and Agnes counterbalanced a lot of the relatively mild problems above.
The first scene of the novel is also one of the most important, and my personal favorite. Crowley the demon bumps into Aziraphale the angel just outside the Gates of Eden immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve. He speculates aloud that he doesn’t understand why God expelled Adam and Eve—after all, eating the apple was their first infraction. Aziraphale responds that Crawly (as he’s known then) put them up to it, and anything he does is evil by definition. Crawly is a demon, after all. There is an awkward pause in conversation as Crawly processes this insult and deduces at the same time that Aziraphale’s flaming sword is missing. When questioned, Aziraphale hastily (and charmingly) lists his excuses for giving it to Adam and Eve—it’s cold, Eve is pregnant, etc. But then he begins to wonder, what if he did the wrong thing after all? Crawly himself is wondering whether he didn’t do the right thing—accidentally of course—by encouraging Eve to eat the apple.
Angel and demon are both suddenly uncomfortable.
They fall back on the standard line of both their camps: the ineffable plan. Now, here’s the problem with the divine plan being “ineffable:” it’s…ineffable. If by definition God’s plan is unknowable, you could desperately wish to do the right thing and have no idea whether you are or you aren’t.
On this the novel is built. All of the characters try as hard as they can to do the right thing as they understand it, and one way or another most of them do pretty well. And if we’re honest with ourselves, our lives often go the same way.
Final verdict? Worthy of the hype.