Reader beware: here there be spoilers. This is a discussion, NOT a review. We (the glorious and fearsomely beautiful powers that be) shall be reviewing the book, yes, but we do so to open a discussion based upon intimate details in the plot. Please do not read further unless you’re either taking part in the discussion or you don’t care about being spoiled.
If you do and you are, don’t come crying to us.
You’ve been warned.
The Book Club commences! Remember to let us know if you posted a review on your own blog. As we’re gracious overlords, we’ll even include a link.
Before we get into this, a few ground rules. To discuss this book we’re going to have to (at some point) discuss religion. Be respectful. Thus far I know we’ll have a few flavors of Christian, Wiccan, atheist, and a few of a more spiritual persuasion. We have no compunction against deleting any intolerant comments. So play nice.
We also promised a giveaway, didn’t we? So, take part in the discussion and we shall be randomly selecting someone to win a chapbook of Colin Gilbert’s poetry! It’s good stuff, it is, and this particular chapbook is suitable for school children as well. The more you take part, the better your chances of winning. Just don’t be a jerk and post things just to post. We’re quick on the uptake and will delete your nonsense quicker than Meghan finishes off an apple pie.*
*note: that is, very quickly indeed.
That being said, let’s get onto it!
I have a 2007 Harper Collins edition of the book, which also comes with a 2-page forward and two other extras: one 4-page story called “Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman” and one 5-page story called “Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett”. The forward discusses the current cult-like status of the book while the latter two bits tell each author’s rendition of how they met, how they wrote the book, and their thoughts on the other man. Honestly, if you can get your hands on these I’d highly suggest them.
Speaking of “the current cult-like status of the book”, I warn you now: this book will go through more damage than any book you’ve ever known. It’s something about the very nature of the book and I don’t quite understand it. I’m on my second copy (which is a really good track record, actually). The first I lent out and it was never returned. That happens a lot with Good Omens. So does lending it out and getting it back slightly more destroyed than before.* And you’ll destroy it to. Drop it in a bathtub, have it held together with celo-tape. You name it, it will happen to this book.
(*What is it with people borrowing books and giving them back in bad condition? I HATE this. If I lend you one of my precious books, I expect it returned in the same condition [which is pristine, unless it’s Good Omens]. I think I should get book plates that read, “If you break this spine then I will break yours.”)
The story is about the Apocalypse. It’s time for the Anti-Christ to come into his powers and bring about the end of days. Problem is, Hell seems to have misplaced him (the Anti-Christ), and Heaven isn’t too sure where he is, either. To top is off, certain emissaries of both Heaven and Hell kinda don’t want the world to end. Cue hilarity. What results is a rather deep and poignant discourse on free will, predestination, and God’s ineffable plan. Deep issues like this are best explored through comedy. Aristotle stated that tragedies concentrate on the virtuous, while comedies concentrate on the less-than-virtuous. So it is here. I mean, the main characters in Good Omens are the Anti-Christ and an angel and a demon who don’t actually want (what they think is) God’s plan to come to fruition. They don’t play the roles they’re supposed to, whether that be good or bad. In fact, everything and everyone in Good Omens is a shade of grey. (This is, arguably, a discourse on human nature, but more on that later.) The point is, when you think about it, this is a story that best be told through comedy.
The style and tone are very Pratchett-esque. I think this has something to do with Gaiman deferring to Pratchett’s writing when they were collaborating; at that point, Pratchett was far more published than Gaiman. This isn’t a Pratchett novel, though; there are definite differences between the voice in Good Omens and the voice in Pratchett’s other works. Gaiman and Pratchett’s voices meld together and become a third entity. And it works. It’s seamless; it doesn’t feel like two people writing one book at all, if feels like one. And can we please talk about the footnotes? I’d totally forgotten about them (I think I always forget about them until I’m rereading the novel). They add so much to the novel, both in humor and back story. I feel like this might be an idea born from Pratchett, but I’m not entirely certain. I wonder which author came up with the idea of the footnotes first?
I think the central theme is the question of human nature. Adam is the Anti-Christ, but he’s raised as a regular human with no influence from either Heaven or Hell. What results is Adam as a representation of humankind as a whole. Is he evil because he’s born evil? Is he good? Are humans a blank slate?
I also enjoy that we as readers don’t find out precisely how Adam turns out in the end. The ending really isn’t an ending, but it’s not necessarily ambiguous either. The conflict is resolved (the Apocalypse doesn’t happen as everyone supposed it was going to), but we don’t know how it will turn out later, whether Adam will succumb to his evil nature (if he is evil by nature) and bring about the end of the world later on. Instead, we’re struck by God’s Great Punchline – we just don’t know what will happen, and no other being (besides, perhaps, God, although even that’s not a given) knows how it’s going to end, or if it will. It’s a situation that’s mirrored by Anathema Device throwing away the second part of Agnes Nutter’s prophecies. The rest is left for us to find out as it happens, not to read in a book. There’s even a line at the beginning of the Eleven Years Ago section:
“This proves two things:
Firstly, that God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players,* to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”
All of this, of course, was foreshadowed in the beginning. When Crowley and Aziraphale are discussing the fall of Adam and Eve they go back and forth over their own natures. Aziraphale states that he’s not sure it’s possible for Crowley to do good, and Crowley later (sarcastically) quips that he’s not sure Aziraphale can do evil. This is, of course, because they’re both worried that they had. As Crowley states:
“‘Funny thing is,’ said Crawly, ‘I keep wondering whether the apple thing wasn’t the right thing to do, as well. A demon can get into real trouble, doing the right thing.’ He nudged the angel. ‘funny if we both got it wrong, eh? Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?'”
And of course, who’s to say what’s right or wrong in this case? And who’s to say that what we think is the way things are isn’t actually completely wrong and ludicrous?
Ok! Onto some questions. Feel free to pose your own, answer any and all of these, and to comment on what others have said.
- What do you think is the main idea behind the novel? Do you think it works?
- How does the humor work with the subject matter?
- Do you think that in the world of the novel there’s a divine plan? Were the events in the book part of some larger plan unknown by any other character, or is there no plan at all? Explain.
- Do you think Adam would have ended up differently had he not been lost? How?
- Do you think that Aziraphale and Crowley are distinctly either good or evil? For that matter, do you think any character is either good or evil? Why or why not?
- How do you think humanity is portrayed as juxtaposed with the angels and demons?
- How do you think this novel treats Christianity? Is it more or less favorable, more in line with different views, etc? [Again, this is all based on the novel; no arguing about your own beliefs unless you’re somehow applying it to how it relates to the novel.]