While I was in London, my friends Gwen and Rob gave me a gift — a copy of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. At some point in our rambling conversation the book had come up, and I confessed that I had never read it. Rob wanted to make sure that this horrendous gap in my cultural literacy was repaired, and quickly.
How glad I am that he cared! I devoured the book on my plane ride home, making it easily the most enjoyable transatlantic flight of my life thus far. I post this as a way of publicly saying “thank you” to G & R, and also as a way of paying it forward to whomever else out there might not have had the pleasure of discovering just how Messrs. Gaiman and Pratchett envision the (near) end of the world.
For this is what the book explores: the end. The grand climax, the great denouement, the big burst of fireworks at the end of an evening to wake up the snoozing grandparents and announce to everyone that the show is all over. Of course, like just everything else in the history of our fair planet, the end of the world is subject to the same assortment of goofs, flubs, mishaps and sheer idiocies that bedevil anything in which humanity is involved. In other words — no matter how attentively the angels and the demons orchestrate their carefully devised final encounter (read: Armageddon), the wild card that is mortal free will continually lobs successive monkey wrenches into the works. For example, the antichrist’s carefully scripted birth goes terribly awry when babies get inadvertently swapped in the hospital. That’s at the beginning of the book, and matters just go downhill from there.
As you might expect from these authors (who to the best of my knowledge have only collaborated this one time), Good Omens is populated by a wonderful and bizarre assortment of characters, including Crowley, the very demon who tempted Eve in the garden (it’s never explained why he didn’t leverage a better career out of that early success), the four horsemen (er, riders) of the apocalypse (my favorite: War, a deliciously sexy redheaded she-demon), and of course, the antichrist himself, who is given the mortal name of (of course) Adam. But even the relatively minor characters (like the aging masseuse-cum-spiritualist who lives across the way from England’s most dedicated latter-day witchfinder) are lovingly depicted. It’s an odd and hapless mess of characters who characterize the worst possible mess: a Saturday afternoon where just anything that can go wrong does… even the plans for the end of the world…
As an added bonus, I can also say that, beneath the surfeit of laughs, this book is theologically insightful. An old spiritual director of mine once said that she believed in our day all the best theology is found in novels. Good Omens certainly lives up to her way of seeing things. It suggests that love (and friendship) can change everything — even cosmic plans for the apocalypse. That is a message (the love bit, I mean) entirely compatible with the teachings of one certain rabbi from first century Nazareth.
Get it. Read it. Enjoy it. Or at the least, save it for your next long flight.
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