What? Can’t get away with the ineffable explanation? Fine, the long version it is.
Once upon a time, there was a Witch named Agnes Nutter. Unlike most other psychics or clairvoyants or witches, Agnes actually could see the future. A little too well.* She wrote her prophesies down in a book, and completely accurately and nicely (in this case, “nice” meaning precise) predicted the The Second Coming and subsequently the End of Days–a.k.a. The Apocalypse.**
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*Agnes’ book, being completely accurate, was unfortunately a dud in the 17th century Impending Doom Book Genre.
**Coincidentally, Agnes also predicted her own death by firey inferno, to which her Witchfinder and angry mob were 10 minutes late; however, Agnes was still completely and nicely prepared for the occasion, having loaded her skirts with 80 pounds of gunpowder and 40 pounds of roofing nails.
Fast-forward three centuries later, on a surprisingly mild and somewhat forgettable night (hardly appropriate for the momentous occasion), and the Anti-Christ is brought into the world. The Son of Satan is carried to the appropriate hospital to be swapped with the appropriate newborn baby (who happens to have powerful diplomat parents) by the demon Crowley. Coincidentally, Crowley is the same demon that had talked Eve into taking a bite of the forbidden fruit, and so on and so forth (he also is responsible for the design of the M25 motorway–which actually is in the shape of the symbol ‘odegra’ which roughly translates to “Hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds.” Naturally. Had this book been written in Los Angeles, I’m certain that we would find Crowley was behind the construction of the 405, particularly around the nexus of the 101 and 110 freeways). Crowley deposits the baby, dispenses of the spare, and waits patiently for the Anti-Christ to come of a sentient age to bring on the Apocalypse. One of his buddies–actually, in all likelihood his only buddy (technically their relationship is one of convenience and common interest)–is an angel named Aziraphale (who not surprisingly was the angel of the Garden of Eden–and is described quite tidily as being very English, very Intelligent, and “Gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.”)
The two try to influence the child whom they (erroneously) believe to be the Anti-Christ: Crowley (predictably) sends an Evil Nanny that teaches the child to kill living things; Aziraphale sends in a Wizened Tutor that teaches the child that all life should be respected. The confused child ends up driving both Tutor and Nanny nutty (err…not to be confused with Nutter)–and does not exhibit promising behavior, either way.
Then, the false Anti-Christ’s 11th birthday comes, and as a present from his Father (Satan, that is), a Hell Hound is dispatched to seek out his young master. Crowley and Aziraphale attend the lavish child’s birthday fiesta…only the Hell Hound never shows up.*
Inadvertently, the Anti-Christ has been misplaced.
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*Said Hell Hound actually DOES show up to his rightful master, who has been growing up untouched by either Hellish or Heavenly intervention, and is representative of a slightly precocious but otherwise very normal Human Boy
Crowley and Aziraphale, dreading any answering they will have to make to their higher-ups, decide to deal with the lost Anti-Christ themselves. Aziraphale comes (quite by accident) in possesion of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies et al, having hit Anathema Device (that would be a direct descendant of dear old exploding Agnes) whilst she was riding her bicycle. The Angel discovers that the Apocalypse really is nigh and tries to decipher the very nice and accurate predictions of the Witch, while Crowley dithers about trying to discover the location of the Anti-Christ (and avoiding any status report demands from his higher ups).
And then, the anthropomorphic shit hits the fan. Armageddon strikes. Uranium disappears (along with whales), rain forests start repopulating South America, Atlantis rises, the sky turns a pinkish bloody sort of color, the whole shebang. The real Anti-Christ (coincidentally named Adam–not Damien, despite the suggestion of a Satanic Chattering Nun) is re imagining the world in his image. That is, in the image of an eleven year old boy. Meanwhile, the Four Horsemen (technically horsepeople) of the Apocalypse are assembling and riding the storm.
Crowley and Aziraphale, along with Anathema, the Witchfinders Shadwell and Netwon Pulcifer (not to be confused with Lucifer–Pulcifer has the proper, normal amount of nipples after all), and a ‘hoor’ named Madame Tracy (who is at one point possessed by Aziraphale) are on a mission to stop the impending Apocalypse, since they all like Earth and their lives the way they are at present Thank You Very Much.
What can I say about Good Omens that hasn’t been said before me? I laughed. I laughed a lot. My significant other lost a lot of sleep because of my giggling while reading this book (at times the giggling became a full out chortle. Yes. I chortle). As a fan of both Terry Pratchett (in my middle school days I was introduced to the wonderfully zany world that is Discworld) and Neil Gaiman (no explanation required), I felt that I could pick out each author’s voice in this book–I’d frequently be thinking to myself, “Oh that must be Terry,” or “That has GOT to be Neil” (and yes, in my head, the authors and I are on a first name basis. It’s my head. I can imagine things how I want).
The humor is so wonderfully…English. Many reviews compare Good Omens to Douglas Adams, in a similarly dry, quirky sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide sensibility. That’s not to say that Americans should be scared off–indeed, I am an American, and was exceedingly pleased to see that translations of a sort were helpfully provided throughout the book. For example:
She was in the middle of a city* at the time.
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*Nominally a city. It was the size of an English county town, or, translated into American terms, a shopping mall.
“Right, then,” he said. “Ye’re all ready. Hae ye got it all?”
“Pendulum o’ discovery?”
“Pendulum of discovery, yes.”
Newt swallowed, and patted a pocket. “Thumbscrew,” he said.
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*Note for Americans and other city-dwelling life-forms: the rural British, having eschewed central heating as being far too complicated and in any case weakening moral fibre, prefer a system of piling small pieces of wood and lumps of coal, topped by large, wet logs possibly made of asbestos, into small, smoldering heaps, known as “There’s nothing like a roaring open fire is there?” Since none of these ingredients are naturally inclined to burn, underneath all this they apply a small, rectangular, waxy white lump, which burns cheerfully until the weight of the fire puts it out. These little white blocks are called firelighters. No one knows why.
At least, I found these asides astoundingly useful.
Notable Quotes/Parts: When I read books, I dog-ear pages with notable quote sections that amuse me. My copy of Good Omens is practically a giant dog-ear. Or at least a top-notch collection of dog-ears.
I loved all of Agnes’ wonderfully obscure, yet always exact and highly accurate predictions. For example:
“She managed to come up with the kind of predictions that you can only understand after the thing has happened,” said Anathema. “Like, ‘Do Notte Buye Betmacks.’ That was a prediction for 1972.”
“You mean she predicted videotape recorders?”
Additional Thoughts: Ana will kill me if I don’t at least mention the Horsepeople of the Apocalypse and the fun little twist put on them here. The Four Horsepeople are as follows:
War – a perpetually 25 year old bombshell redhead, who has turned from arms sales to journalism to keep things exciting;
Famine – a man that sells both diet food (CHOW™–no matter how much you eat of it you will lose weight, then hair, skin tone, and vital signs) and junk food (SNACKS™ and MEALS™–which will make you get incredibly fat while simultaneously making you die of malnutrition)
Pollution – who has taken over the spot for Pestilence, who quit back around the discovery of Penicillin in the ’30s)
DEATH – well…Death.
Wonderful, wonderful stuff. OH! And they ride motorcycles. Or, as Agnes would put it, “iron horses”. They are also followed around by four additional bikers of the Apocalypse, who are Hell’s Angels, and create their own badass codenames: Grievous Bodily Harm, Embarrassing Personal Problems, Cruelty to Animals, Ansaphones, Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Thumped Them, Really Cool People, No Alcohol Lager, Treading in Dogshit, and All Foreigners Especially The French.
I should also mention that the new reprints of the book include a foreword from both authors–involving stories about fans who inevitably bring their destroyed, haphazardly taped together water-damaged copies of Good Omens for autographs. I’m happy to report that my copy is sufficiently water damaged (having brought the book out with me on a boat), and attractively tattered. I’m working on the cellophane taped binding. The new version also contains an afterward from both authors, talking about each other, how it was to work together. Good times.
Verdict: I loved this book. Everything about it. They say that laughter is the greatest gift of them all and while I am laughing, I am inclined to believe this. Wonderful, intelligent, side-splittingly funny book. Everyone should get a copy, drop it in the bathtub a couple of times, and enjoy a good hearty laugh.
Rating: 10 Perfection – A classic. Ineffably.