Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Published in 1990
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“It was a nice day.”
Though this sentence isn’t necessarily what one would expect to begin a satirical story about the Antichrist kicking off the end of the world, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett does its best to wring the funny out of the potentially terrifying. Good Omens (as I shall refer to it from here on) follows the attempts of hilarious and well-meaning characters as they seek to save the world from a holy war between Heaven and Hell.
A demon called Crowley and an angel named Aziraphale do their best to put off the Apocalypse because they have enjoyed their time on earth. Crowley likes fast cars and making small sins that domino into large ones (i.e. telemarketers and rude drivers); Aziraphale collects books and is a connoisseur of the finer things in life such as esoteric books and music. Aziraphale doesn’t want the world to end because Hell has all of the good artists and musicians and Crowley will miss the semblance of freedom he has experienced on earth. These two, having been the only constants in each other’s lives for thousands of years, have a sort of tenuous working relationship that rests on the cusp of genuine friendship.
While Aziraphale is like most bibliophiles, he does seek out one specific type of tome: books of prophecy. The only book he doesn’t have in his collection was written by the one prophet who actually saw into the future: Agnes Nutter, who awaited her own death by greeting the angry mob and informing them that they were half an hour late. She wrote down her prophecies as a sort of heirloom for her descendants since her visions remained within her bloodline, and these prophecies go all the way up to the end of the world. Many characters who hear or read the title of her book comment on how that isn’t a very “nice” subject, but Anathema Device, a descendant of Agnes and the current owner of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, points out that “nice” used to be synonymous with precise.
Good Omens references the film The Omen (1976) by taking the premise of switching an infant Antichrist with the son of a prominent American, albeit with the help of an order of chattering satanic nuns. The “Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness” is mistakenly given to a middle class father who lives in the small town of Tadfield, England.
Tadfield becomes the nexus of all the action and where the battle for the fate of the world will happen, bringing all of the main characters together in one place. The Antichrist is Adam Young, an eleven year old with a vast imagination who runs a small gang of ruffians. He likes stories about UFOs and Atlantis, playing games with his friends, and running around with his small satanic hell hound, aptly named Dog.
The story also follows Newt Pulsifer, an amateur Witchfinder who loves electronics but cannot repair them. He is part of the Witchfinder army under Sergeant Shadwell, a little man who fraudulently receives money from both Aziraphale and Crowley by creating an entire battalion of people who don’t exist and listing them as being part of the “Witchfinder army” (the entire army is Newt, Shadwell, and the roster of fake people). Newt is sent to Tadfield to investigate the strangely ideal weather and meets Anathema Device.
Since this is a book about the apocalypse, the four horsemen are all present: War ( a beautiful red haired woman), Famine (a business executive who has created meals with zero nutritional value), Pollution (Pestilence retired after the advent of penicillin), and DEATH, who is ever present and speaks in small caps like the version in Pratchett’s Discworld novels. An international delivery man brings the horsemen their sword, scales, crown and message respectively in order to begin the apocalypse. Adam becomes frustrated with the injustices in the world and thinks we should all start over; so begins the end of the world unless his friends can bring him back from the darkness.
Good Omens may seem a simple parody at first but it posits the theory that people, when left to their own devices, will be good or choose to carry on rather than chuck it and start over. Adam grows up under the influence of neither Good or Evil, but humanity. Pratchett and Gaiman weave a story that is entertaining, complex, and hilarious; their voices and writing prowess are so similar, and complementary, that I have a hard time picking out who wrote which parts despite having read multiple works by both authors.
Filled with references to pop culture, the Bible, and literature, Good Omens is a treasure trove for those with sharp eyes that enjoy little Easter Eggs. I have three copies of this book; a dog-eared copy that I lend to other people, a nice (as in quality, not accuracy) hard cover I received as a Christmas gift, and this copy that I found in a Half Priced Books. If you are searching for a book that lands its jokes at with impeccable timing while delivering a message that could save us all, look no further.
Verdict: 5 instances of avoided Armageddon out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Terry Pratchett, fans of Neil Gaiman, the open-minded, people who enjoy wordplay and puns, those with a dry sense of humor (or humour), and you!
Not recommended for: Those who are intolerant of religions being used for parody, people who don’t like satirical footnotes, the closed-minded, or people hoping to read about the end of the world (spoiler alert?).