Terry Pratchett is most famous for his Discworld series and Neil Gaiman for his fantasy novels and his work on Doctor Who, but in 1990, the two worked together on a novel that would be a near-perfect example of collaborative fiction, using Pratchett’s wit and Gaiman’s talent for bringing sympathy to huge mythological concepts to create Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (BOOK ZONE 823.91). Since the BBC’s radio adaptation aired over Christmas and is still available on BBC iPlayer, we’re looking at the novel that started it all.
Good Omens tells of an Odd Couple-style pairing of an angel called Aziraphale and a demon called Crowley as they contend with the impending apocalypse. You see, neither of them really want the world to end. They like the world. It has so many fun things in it. An infernal mix-up means that the Antichrist, Adam, ends up living with a normal family in a tiny village called Lower Tadfield, far away from the interference of the demons or the watchful eyes of Aziraphale and Crowley, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are on their way. Meanwhile, a witch called Anathema Device loses the book of prophecies by her ancestor, Agnes Nutter, which foretell the end of the world with complete and often confusing accuracy, and accidentally manages to befriend the Antichrist.
Aziraphale and Crowley are one of the best doubt-acts ever. Aziraphale is an angelic bookseller whose kindness tends to make him commit little sins accidentally. Crowley is a demon whose self-interest tends to make him do good things accidentally. Over the centuries they have come to a peaceful accord where the forces of good and evil sort of balance each other out.
For seemingly serious subject matter, Good Omens is a hilarious romp through the end of the world. Crowley and Aziraphale are brilliant guides to the weirdness of the war between heaven and hell and the combined powers of two classic fantasy authors produce a novel that will have you laughing out loud. The complicated plot keeps going without losing the reader along the way and the number of asides and extra details mean that it definitely stands up to multiple readings.
It’s a brilliant example of a collaboration of two authors with very distinctive writing styles that really works. Pratchett’s humour, familiar from Discworld, is definitely present, as is Gaiman’s whimsical writing, but the two of them blend together so well it’s really difficult to tell which is a Pratchett joke or a Gaiman line. As a fan of both authors, I think that together they wrote one of their very best books.
If you liked Good Omens…
Try some more of Pratchett’s work. His Discworld series is hilarious (see our review of Going Postal here), and his Johnny Maxwell series is also great (the first one is Only You Can Save Mankind, QUICK READS 823.91).
Try other Gaiman books, such as The Graveyard Book (QUICK READS 823.91), in which a young boy is raised by ghosts in a graveyard and Coraline (QUICK READS 823.91) in which a girl called Coraline discovers a magical but sinister world inhabited by creepy copies of her parents and friends.
Watch the film The Odd Couple (DVD LOBBY 791.43). While it was not the first story of two clashing personalities, it has been a massive influence on any story using that concept since.
For a Christmassy angel that must have been an influence on Aziraphale, watch Clarence the angel try to save George Bailey from despair by showing him how much he matters to the people who love him in It’s A Wonderful Life (DVD LOBBY AREA 791.43).