Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

It's funny to be writing about Good Omens just a week after a group of people got together to petition the wrong network to cancel the TV series because it means it's given me extra food for thought, which is always a very fine thing. Short version: Good Omens is a satire about the Apocalypse. Now the longer version.

Good Omens is about an angel, Aziraphale, and a demon named Crowley who have been on Earth since the dawn of humanity. There's a running joke about the flaming sword that Aziraphale loaned out when he was guarding the Garden of Eden (never returned), throughout the book. Aziraphale and Crowley have gradually become friends of the Odd Couple sort, dramatically different yet cordial and frequently thrown together so that they've become comfortable with each other's quirks and even playfully pick on each other a bit.

Now, the end of the world is coming. When the Antichrist is born, it's the demon's task to make sure he is placed with the right family (an underhanded, work-addicted American ambassador and his wife) so that he'll be brought up horrid and bring on the fight between Heaven and Hell. But, a little mix-up occurs and the Antichrist, Adam, is placed with the wrong family. They're a lovely, very British couple and Adam is brought up to be kind and curious if a little bossy. He has his gang of friends and is about 11 or 12 years old, as I recall, when the time comes and the Hound of Hell is brought to help him with his task.

Meanwhile, Aziraphale (who currently runs a book shop) and Crowley (who slouches about causing trouble and driving his beloved classic car) are not particularly thrilled about the coming apocalypse because they've grown quite fond of life on Earth and would prefer that it just continued on, as is. So, if it's possible to throw a spanner in the works, so to speak, they're going to do so. There's also a witch who is carefully counting down the clock to the end of the world and observing as the prophecies of her ancestor, Agnes Nutter, unfold, while a witchfinder who has failed at pretty much everything ends up tracking her down and finding that he's there primarily to fulfill the prophecies in Agnes Nutter's book.

The hilarious thing about people protesting the TV series is that Good Omens is not evil in any way. Rather, it points out the fact that people are basically awful but some are fairly pure and good. And, it's because of the inherent goodness in the parents of the misplaced Antichrist, Adam, that things turn out rather different than expected. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are in there, too.

Bottom line: This is really a book about how the good in the world can overcome the bad and a lesson that being surrounded by kindness and positivity turns out well, in the long run, although bad influences may try to thwart you. It's honestly quite a positive message in a tremendously funny, twisted satire. And, for crying out loud, it's just fiction. People need to get a grip.

Highly recommended - I'll talk about the TV series and how closely it follows the book, in a sec, but for now the book. The combination of Terry Pratchett's wit and humor and Neil Gaiman's wild imagination makes for an absolutely brilliant and immensely entertaining read. The dialogue is a hoot, the message that good influence can overcome evil intent well plotted, and the perfection of the writing a given. The only thing I had a problem with was that there was enough complexity that I had a little trouble getting it all straight in my head, at first. That was one reason I opted to go ahead and watch the Good Omens TV series while reading Good Omens, the book. I thought it might help me with some of the bits that I wasn't visualizing well. That worked out quite well.

How about the TV series? I went back and forth between book and series as I read part of the book and then watched an episode while eating lunch or supper (or split the viewing of an episode between both) and then went back to the book and read some more at bedtime, etc. Naturally, there are bits of the book that are left out because they're a little superfluous and that worked fine for me. Neil Gaiman did the screenwriting and he often chose to use the exact wording from the book, particularly in dialogue. So, it's not the kind of book that you feel like, "Ack! I can't bear it. So many changes!" It sticks pretty close to the book with just a few minor additions and deletions. The ending is where the biggest changes were apparent to me. Because the book was written and published in the 90s (then updated in the early 2000s), the technology is a bit dated. That just adds color, to be honest.

The Good Omens TV series can be gross, at times. There's one demon, for example, who has what appear to be festering wounds and flies buzzing around her head. I found myself cringing when that character appeared, but otherwise it's not too difficult to watch if you've got a weak stomach. The casting is fabulous. You can't beat David Tennant as a demon or Michael Sheen as a slightly incompetent angel; and, Jack Whitehall is absolutely perfect as the disastrous-with-electronics witchfinder. There's a bit of the bumbling, sweetly innocent Brit of Hugh Grant's romantic comedy days in Whitehall's performance. And, I adored Adam's parents. So, the TV series is highly recommended by me, as well.

I've read quite a few Neil Gaiman books and a couple of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (my youngest son is a big fan of Pratchett, so I'm grateful that I had one of his books on-hand during one of those, "I'm bored and can't find a thing to read!" moments). Good Omens is definitely going on the favorites list for Gaiman, whom I've found iffy. I love about 60% of Gaiman's work, so far. The rest gets a meh. I like Pratchett but found his humor a little exhausting. I think it was nicely tempered by Gaiman's slightly darker bent.

I received a copy of Good Omens from HarperCollins (the TV series tie-in with the cover shown above) in exchange for an unbiased review. I had been thinking, "Oh, oh, oh, I've got to read that and watch the series!" before the offer to review arrived, so I was absolutely giddy when it arrived and I'm so glad I got to read and watch at the same time. I don't often advise people to read the book right away or watch the movie/series anytime soon if I've read and viewed both because the changes can be jarring but they really seemed to complement each other, in this case.

Many thanks to HarperCollins!

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  1. I read Good Omens years ago and definitely one of my favorite Gaiman works. Neverwhere is probably my favorite and The Graveyard Book, not far behind. I'm not a (big) fan of Pratchett. I don't get the Discworld series; I guess too fantastical for my tastes. I like books based in the real world, I think.

    1. Neverwhere and Stardust have been my favorites for a while but Good Omens was such fun that it's definitely a new favorite. I think the humor in the Discworld series was just too over-the-top for me. What I read was fun, but his sense of humor tired me. I like sci-fi, so I'm okay with things that are otherworldly. If you haven't seen the Good Omens TV series, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. He did a fantastic job of sticking close to the storyline.


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