The End Is Nigh! (Psst! It’s Actually Over)
I started Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett‘s Good Omens a little over four years ago with almost no expectations about the plot (except that it was about the apocalypse and it was supposed to be funny). Well, I finally buckled down this semester to finish the darn thing–during lunch breaks and in between fuming about the opinion pieces in the student newspapers. For me, I didn’t really start getting into it until the Antichrist turned eleven.
Due to the bungling of a satanic nun, the Antichrist gets misplaced at the hospital. So instead of growing up in a properly malicious environment, the Antichrist, now named Adam, is raised in a perfectly normal human home in a small British town. As the apocalypse draws closer (all omens foretold correctly in The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter), Adam speaks with his friends about the state of the world, unaware that his thoughts and speculations are put into reality (The rising of Atlantis! Trees taking over cities! The disappearance of nuclear reactors! The sudden easing of international tensions!). Meanwhile, the ambiguously gay duo who have been stationed on earth as agents, Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon), rush around in their bumbling manner trying to figure out why the apocalypse isn’t proceeding as expected. The Witchfinder Private Newton Pulsifer stumbles upon Agnes Nutter’s descendant Anathema Device and romance blossoms between the two supposed adversaries even while they try to decipher Agnes’ cryptic clues about the end of the world. And after getting significant packages from the International Express, the Four Horsemen head off to wreak havoc…on their motorcycles.
The eccentric characters were funny–like slapstick–but the normal characters were even funnier, because the authors emphasized how oblivious and self-centered they were. Despite all the strange things suddenly happening in the world, most people didn’t even consider that the apocalypse was going on. Instead, they just chalked it up to somebody else messing up somewhere. Or that they were just hallucinating.
It isn’t all comedy, though. There’s an obvious thread showing that nurture triumphs over nature–if Adam had not been raised as a human boy, he might have been the Antichrist as everyone thought the Antichrist was supposed to be. Also, the theme of balance pops up everywhere. Humans have the capacity for both evil and good and one cannot exist without the other–so as Adam probably reasoned, what is the point of having the war to end all wars when the outcome would be so unbalanced anyway? Adam gives the example of the whale. It is evil to kill whales, but without that, how can there be the good of people saving whales? Perhaps a subtler (and also funnier) scene illustrating this is that of a demon devouring a cadre of telemarketers. Now, eating people is definitely an evil thing. But some good came out of that too–people are no longer annoyed by unnecessary telephone calls.
I would recommend Good Omens, with one caveat. Don’t expect this novel to be the funny to end all funnies. In other words, don’t read any reviews if you haven’t read this book (er, it’s probably too late for that warning if you’ve already gotten to this part of the post). Comedy is such a subjective thing–something that would send someone into peals of laughter might only raise my eyebrow (or rather, eyebrows, since I can’t do the one eyebrow thing). That said, Good Omens is funny–dry, British wit funny with footnotes!–but expect to do a little thinking, too.