It’s old news now, but Amazon is making a television show of “Good Omens,” the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel on nuclear Apocalypse and what happens when the Antichrist decides he’d rather have an idyllic British country childhood instead.
I originally read “Good Omens” years ago when I was on the tail end of a Terry Pratchett binge-athon. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a non-Discworld offering, as I’d read “The Nation” a year or so before and hadn’t enjoyed it nearly as much, but “Good Omens” came highly recommended and with a back cover covered in praise as opposed to a description of the plot, which I normally abhor but will admit is generally a good sign.
The story goes thusly: the Apocalypse is upon us, and the demons of Hell have enlisted a Satanistic order to pose as nurses in order to bring Lucifer’s spawn to the world and give him to an important American family. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), there’s a bit of a miscommunication and the spawn of Satan ends up with an ordinary British family that lives in a small country town.
Meanwhile, Crowley, a devil, and Aziraphale, an angel, are busy keeping an eye on the child they think is the Antichrist, each trying to persuade him towards their side. The result is that the real Antichrist has an incredibly ordinary childhood. Admittedly, he is a bit more charismatic than your average 11-year old, but still. Mostly he just rides his bike around, pulling pranks with the posse of children who are attracted to him.
Meanwhile meanwhile, there’s Anathema Device (I know), a young woman trying to stop the Apocalypse. How does she know it’s coming, you ask? Well, her ancestor was a seer, condemned witch, and author of “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter,” the only truly accurate prophetic book written in history.
At least the Apocalypse will be funny…
So as you can see there’s a lot going on, as there would be when the Apocalypse is at hand. You’d think it would be stressful for the reader, but “Good Omens” is written in that quintessential Pratchett style – a humor that is derived from the idiosyncrasies of human beings and the ways that morphs their perspectives and priorities. Take Shadewell, a witch hunter whose morality is derived directly from his medieval predecessors – except for the part where he takes advantage of both Aziraphale and Crowley by pretending there are way more witch hunters in his organization so that they’ll pay him more.
(Why are Aziraphale and Crowley paying him at all? Apparently witch hunting is one of those things that is encouraged on both sides).
There’s a lot of Pratchett in “Good Omens.” I haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, so I obviously can’t comment on how his style influences the book. What I can say is that it reflects a recurring theme in Pratchett’s writing: humanity as being above the morality of Heaven and Hell. In the Discworld books, Pratchett repeatedly positions the complexity of the human experience against the black-and-white morality of traditional organized religion. He challenges the idea that God’s Will is always good and pure, and instead positions our own free will as being morally superior.
As a religious person myself, this theme is one that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I believe that God has given us free will, and that morality is indeed complex. Indeed, I would say that God gives us free will so that we can tackle that complexity. But on the other hand, I do believe in the ultimate judgement of God, and that He is the arbiter of good and evil and right and wrong, whereas Pratchett would suggest that it is human beings who must take on that task.
So as you can see, for being a comedic romp through the Apocalypse, “Good Omens” is deceptively complex, and a book I would highly recommend. If you’re a fan of the Discworld, you’ll enjoy the patterns it takes from those books, but even if you’re not familiar with Pratchett’s work, I think it serves as a good introduction to his style.
With the television show coming out I’m hoping that style will translate, because it’s really one of the major selling points of “Good Omens” to me. These kind of adaptations are really hit or miss, and I feel like given that the book has a definite end maybe it would do better as a movie. I do have Amazon Prime so I might give it a shot – stay tuned!
Are you planning to watch the “Good Omens” adaptation? Let me know in the comments!