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Good Omens: A Book Review

For a change of pace, here is a book review I wrote for a class in graduate school about Good Omens, one of my favorite novels.

“Good Omens”

Not many books can encompass all of human history, send an environmental message, wax philosophic on the meaning of humanity, and still generate laughter, but somehow “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” does so effortlessly.

Written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, “Good Omens” is an optimistic look at the end of the world.  Think of the Book of Revelations by way of classic satirist G.K. Chesterton and mixed with the best Three Stooges acts and you might have a hazy idea of why Armageddon makes you want to laugh out loud.

The end of the world is a busy time.  Due to a comedy of errors of quite literally apocalyptic proportions, Hell misplaces the Antichrist, who winds up raised by a nice and very English family.

Now 11, the Antichrist (given name Adam Young) is uninterested in being part of the end of the world.  Aziraphale the angel and Crowley the demon are supposed to help bring about the Apocalypse, but after 6,000 years, both angel and demon are more interested in saving their favorite hangouts than in resolving questions of good and evil.

Anathema Device, the last descendant of the witch who predicted all this in 1665, is also working against the coming end, but as the Four Horsemen ride out on their motorcycles, the end may well and truly be nigh.

“Good Omens” plays with traditional tropes and ties archetypes into knots.  Cheering for the Antichrist seems natural, not because he’s particularly good or evil, but because he is wholly human.  Pratchett and Gaiman have a clear fondness for humanity, even, or perhaps especially, at our silliest.  The depiction of a group of standard cubicle drones playing paintball who then suddenly find their weapons have become real firearms makes that point more clearly than any philosophical musings could.

While a few of the references and jokes haven’t aged very well, most of the humor reads as funny now as it did when the book was published 1990, even if not many under 25 know who Freddie Mercury, the former front man for “Queen,” was.  And the large cast of characters rushing to a final confrontation from different angles smoothes over most of the possible jarring that can come from having two authors on the same book.

Terry Pratchett is known for the Discworld series of comedic fantasy novels, while Neil Gaiman is the author of the Sandman comic book series, a dark and complex exploration of myth.  Even with those impressive bibliographies, “Good Omens” is something special.

Fantasy books are often underappreciated.  The large collection of badly written novels shelved in the genre has a tendency to prejudice readers.  If anything could cure that regrettable point of view, it is this book.

Well-disguised though the philosophy is, it’s hard not to come away from “Good Omens” with a thoughtful expression under a grin. And it’s a good idea to keep a pen handy to highlight favorite quotes and passages to read out loud so everyone can enjoy “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” as much as you did.

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