By Katie Garrett, Ball State University
Good Omens is a book about the possibility of an apocalypse as foretold by Revelations (as well as Agnes Nutter, an ancient prophetic witch). Instead of being all gloomy about The End, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett come together to write a quintessential comedy featuring angels, demons, witches, an order of witch hunters, and the Antichrist. It is a fantasy version of the apocalypse that isn’t afraid of being too light-hearted about the end of all things.
Initially, we might think that the apocalypse that Good Omens presents is one described by apocalyptic scholar James Berger in his study After the End: Representations of the Post-Apocalypse. Berger says that “the apocalypse would be the definitive catastrophe— not only final and complete but absolutely clarifying. It would unmistakably separate good from evil, true from false” (8). This possible apocalypse will be ‘absolutely clarifying’ in the sense that there is no grey area of morality after one side wins the war in Heaven. Either God or Satan will destroy the world if they win. However, upon closer examination, we can see that the authors of Good Omens are concerned with breaking down the dichotomy of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in order to display morality for the grey area that it is. The end of Good Omens may be a final battle, but to get there the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, War, Famine, and Pollution) must converge. Also, unfortunately, the Antichrist has been misplaced.
From the beginning, the book follows Crowley, a lower demon and part time snake, and Aziraphale, a book-wielding angel. Their banter allows us to consider the war between Heaven and Hell behind the scenes. Instead of hated enemies, the two become allies in a war that neither of them wanted to begin with. In their time on Earth, the angel and demon became a little too fond of humanity. Situated on opposite ends of the heavenly spectrum, these two supernatural beings would prefer a happy middle ground rather than the fire and brimstone of an apocalypse.
Gaiman and Pratchett use this engagement with issues of religious apocalypse to help in their message against religious extremism and the violence that results from it. The demon and angel have hilarious conversations in which they try to remember whether events like the Spanish inquisition were done by the Heaven side or the Hell side. The authors use this method to expand on complex considerations of morality.
If you are interested in a different side of the apocalyptic genre, this novel is a very unique read. It’s not often you come across an apocalyptic comedy novel. It’s even more rare to walk away from an apocalyptic novel in a good mood, which is exactly what this book may do to you. Understanding that morality is not black and white is foundational to living in modern society and to more progressive views of the apocalypse.
Berger, James. After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. Univ. of Minnesota Press,
Pratchett, Terry, and Neil Gaiman. Good Omens: the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes
Nutter, Witch. Gollancz, 1990.