Good Omens: A Hell (and Heaven) of a Funny Book

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Good Omens is one of those very rare books that is so good that your chest feels like bursting wanting to tell others about it and so precious that you want to have a paperback version on your shelf for the rest of your life. It’s one of those books where you immediately understand why some people might call it a “cult classic”. I’ve been slowly making my way through Neil Gaiman’s works (and I hope to god he never stops writing, like, ever) and I kept putting Good Omens off mostly because of it being co-written with Terry Pratchett, whose DiscWorld series starter The Colour of Magic has always fascinated me. However, it takes me a while to actually get into an old school science fiction book where the subject matter is the antithesis of formal realism—ie. Terry Pratchett and Ursula Le Guin for instance. Therefore, a reason I decided to read Good Omens is that I mean for it to act as an introduction to Terry Pratchett.

After my first read (I know I’ll definitely read it again multiple times), it is safe to say that Good Omens is already one of my favourite reads of all time. Nearly every page is unnecessarily and unabashedly funny. Which isn’t a surprise, seeing as the authors wrote it with the intention of being as funny as possible in mind. While containing some extremely odd and hilarious humour, such as every CD in the car turning into a Queen album if left there long enough, Good Omens also makes some highly thought-provoking commentary about beliefs and how people have let these run the world. Making readers question what they believe in is a common Gaiman theme, as seen from American Gods, my review of which you can read here.

In Good Omens, it is Wednesday and the world is set to end on Saturday. In the past eleven years, an angel, Aziraphale, and a demon, Crowley, have been exerting their influences on Warlock, the supposed antichrist, in an attempt to make him either good or evil. However, they have just discovered that they have had the wrong child all along, and the real antichrist, Adam Young, has been left to his own devices, playing with normal friends and growing up like a normal boy in a small town called Tadfield. In the final days leading up to the end of the world, which he is meant to cause, Young fortuitously meets a witch, activating his powers and causing all sorts of strange things to happen. Example include an entire nuclear reactor disappearing from a nearby plant and Atlantis emerging from the ocean.

A main thread in Good Omens‘ multifaceted commentary seems to be aimed at the foolishness of superstition. There are moments where what is described as an inherent darkness threatens to overtake Adam Young’s mind. Yet, his own nature keeps returning to him—that of an imaginative eleven-year-old boy who just wants to have fun with his three friends. Like Crowley points out to Aziraphale, Young, being left to his own devices, is not God or demon incarnate, but human incarnate. As such, he intentionally and unintentionally uses his power for innocent things—preserving the childhood haven that is Tadfield, turning the books in Aziraphale’s shop into little boy’s books (first edition, nonetheless) and escaping his house when he gets grounded. By presenting the “evil” and “mighty” antichrist as a child whose only intention is to make the world a better place for himself and his friends on the day-to-day basis, Pratchett and Gaiman emphasise how foolish it is when superstitious individuals attribute erroneous and complicated meanings to inherently meaningless or simple things. Through Young’s innocent response to the four horsemen, or “Hell’s Angels”, who are meant to be his accomplice, telling them that it needn’t be the end of the world and that people would eventually sort themselves out if given enough time, The four horsemen of the apocalypse are turned into a running joke too, with the four other bikers unsuccessfully wanting to join them—my favourite being “Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Given Them a Good Thumping But Secretly No Alcohol Lager”. In the funniness, the four horsemen are reduced to small daily and human frustrations.

In the novel, a lot of the good and bad which happens in the world turns out to be influenced in turn by different demons and angels. But apart from major historical events, these occurrences tend to be small and nearly insignificant, such as the absence of telemarketers making the world a slightly more peaceful place. Aziraphale and Crowley, it turns out, are more like an old married couple than angels and demons, and they are very fond of humans after all. The continuous joking may give the impression that the novel merely trivialises the issues of religion and personal belief. However, sometimes, that may be the most effective way to make readers think and start asking the questions that matter about these “big” matters people can unintentionally waste so much of their lives on. Like Newt and Anathema who eventually choose to live a normal happy life instead of spending the rest of their lives pursuing the occult, Good Omens reminds that in the end, it is the humanness in the everyday that matters. It is not the God incarnate or devil incarnate in Young that saves the world, but the fact that he is but a human boy.

Ultimately for all its serious themes and biting satire, Good Omens is relatable, lovable and deeply funny because of the way it speaks to us on an almost personal level. I mean, who doesn’t hate it when things refuse to work properly after you’ve thumped them, or when your houseplant starts shedding leaves all over the carpet? These little details wink at the reader, making Good Omens feel like a cozy, homely read amongst it’s overarching themes of religion and the apocalypse.

You can get your copy of the book here.

For fellow fans of Neil Gaiman, also check out Tim Ferris’s interview with the man himself:

Watching it has helped me relieve and remember the joy of the act of writing and reading. Of slowing down with a notebook and pen/pencil or a paperback and simply taking the time.

Neil Gaiman is an author I’ve loved since I was a child, and have been loving more as I grow older. I hope that you will enjoy reading Good Omens and his other books, as well as the interview, as much as I do.

Happy reading!

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