Good Omens

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Good Omens
Goodomenscover.jpg
1st edition cover
Author Terry Pratchett
& Neil Gaiman
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Fantasy
Comedy
Publisher Gollancz (UK) / Workman (US)
Publication date
1 May 1990
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 288 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-575-04800-X
OCLC 21299949

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) is a World Fantasy Award nominated[1][2] novel written in collaboration between the English authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book is a comedy about the birth of the son of Satan, the coming of the End Times and the attempts of the angel Aziraphale and the demon (Anthony J) Crowley to avert them, having become accustomed to their comfortable situations in the human world. A subplot features the growing up of the Antichrist, Adam, and his gang, and the gathering of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—War, Famine, Pollution (Pestilence having retired in 1936 following the discovery of penicillin), and Death—the last of whom is characterised in a manner reminiscent of the personification of Death in Pratchett's Discworld novels and calls himself Azrael before his final exit. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 68 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

It is the coming of the End Times: the Apocalypse is near, and Final Judgement will soon descend upon the human species. This comes as a bit of bad news to the angel Aziraphale (who was the guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden) and the demon Crowley (who, when he was originally named Crawly, was the serpent who tempted Eve to eat the apple), respectively the representatives of Heaven and Hell on Earth, as they have become used to living their cozy, comfortable lives and have, in a perverse way, taken a liking to humanity. As such, since they are good friends (despite ostensibly representing the polar opposites of Good and Evil), they decide to work together and keep an eye on the Antichrist, destined to be the son of a prominent American diplomat stationed in Britain, and thus ensure he grows up in a way that means he can never decide between Good and Evil, thereby postponing the end of the world.

Unfortunately, Warlock, the child everyone thinks is the Anti-Christ is, in fact, a perfectly normal eleven-year-old boy. Due to mishandling of several infants in the hospital, the real Anti-Christ is Adam Young, a charismatic and slightly otherworldly eleven-year-old who, despite being the harbinger of the Apocalypse, has lived a perfectly normal life as the son of typical English parents and as a result has no idea of his true powers. As Adam blissfully and naively uses his powers, creating around him the world of Just William (because he thinks that is what an English child's life should be like), the race is on to find him. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse assemble and the incredibly accurate (yet so highly specific as to be useless) prophecies of Agnes Nutter, 17th-century prophetess, are rapidly coming true.

Agnes Nutter was a witch in the 17th century and the only truly accurate prophet to have ever lived. She wrote a book called The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a collection of prophecies that did not sell very well because they were unspectacular, cryptic and, ironically enough, all true. She, in fact, decided to publish it only so that she could receive a free author's copy. There is only one copy of the book left, which belongs to her descendant Anathema Device. Agnes was burned at the stake by a mob (because that is what mobs did at that time); however, because she had foreseen her fiery end ("Ye're tardy; I should have been aflame ten minutes since") and had packed 80 pounds of gunpowder and 40 pounds of roofing nails into her petticoats, everyone who participated in the burning was killed instantly.

Anathema teams up with Newton Pulsifer, the descendant of the man who initiated the burning of Agnes, to use the prophecies and find the Antichrist. Unfortunately, that is exactly what everyone else is trying to do, and time is running out.

Origins and authorship[edit]

Gaiman and Pratchett had known each other since 1985 and it was their own idea, not that of their publisher, to collaborate on a novel.[4]

According to Gaiman, he originally began the book as a parody of Richmal Crompton's William books, named William the Antichrist, but it gradually outgrew the original idea.[5]

Neil Gaiman has said:

We were both living in England when we wrote it. At an educated guess, although neither of us ever counted, Terry probably wrote around 60,000 "raw" and I wrote 45,000 "raw" words of Good Omens, with, on the whole, Terry taking more of the plot with Adam and the Them in, and me doing more of the stuff that was slightly more tangential to the story, except that broke down pretty quickly and when we got towards the end we swapped characters so that we'd both written everyone by the time it was done, but then we also rewrote and footnoted each others bits as we went along, and rolled up our sleeves to take the first draft to the second (quite a lot of words), and, by the end of it, neither of us was entirely certain who had written what. It was indeed plotted in long daily phone calls, and we would post floppy disks (and this was back in 1988 when floppy disks really were pretty darn floppy) back and forth.[6]

Terry Pratchett has said:

I think this is an honest account of the process of writing Good Omens. It was fairly easy to keep track of because of the way we sent discs to one another, and because I was Keeper of the Official Master Copy I can say that I wrote a bit over two thirds of Good Omens. However, we were on the phone to each other every day, at least once. If you have an idea during a brainstorming session with another guy, whose idea is it? One guy goes and writes 2,000 words after thirty minutes on the phone, what exactly is the process that's happening? I did most of the physical writing because:

  1. I had to. Neil had to keep Sandman going – I could take time off from the DW;
  2. One person has to be overall editor, and do all the stitching and filling and slicing and, as I've said before, it was me by agreement – if it had been a graphic novel, it would have been Neil taking the chair for exactly the same reasons it was me for a novel;
  3. I'm a selfish bastard and tried to write ahead to get to the good bits before Neil.
Initially, I did most of Adam and the Them and Neil did most of the Four Horsemen, and everything else kind of got done by whoever – by the end, large sections were being done by a composite creature called Terryandneil, whoever was actually hitting the keys. By agreement, I am allowed to say that Agnes Nutter, her life and death, was completely and utterly mine. And Neil proudly claims responsibility for the maggots. Neil's had a major influence on the opening scenes, me on the ending. In the end, it was this book done by two guys, who shared the money equally and did it for fun and wouldn't do it again for a big clock.[4]

Reception[edit]

  • World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novel, 1991[1]
  • Locus Award nominee for Best Fantasy Novel, 1991[1]
  • Mir Fantastiki Special Award for "The most anticipated book", 2012
  • Won FantLab.ru poll for "Best Translated Novel”, 2012[2]

Alterations between versions[edit]

The United States edition of Good Omens had numerous alterations to the text. The most significant alteration to the main text is the addition of an extra 700-word section just before the end, dealing with what happened to the character of Warlock, the American diplomat's son, who was swapped with Adam.[7] The American edition also adds numerous footnotes not found in British editions.

The Dutch translation of Good Omens contains a preface by the translator wherein he asserts that no extra footnotes were added to clarify matters that might be unclear to a modern audience—annotated with footnotes explaining omen and Crowley.

In the French version, some characters were given French-sounding names. Agnes Nutter became Agnès Barge (barge is French for nutter), Anathema Device became Anathème Bidule (Bidule being French for Device). Crowley became Rampa (as 'Crawly' became 'Crowley', 'Rampant' became 'Rampa'), after the infamous author of The Third Eye, T.L. Rampa. The French publisher of Good Omens (J'Ai Lu) was also the French publisher of the T.L. Rampa books.

Possible sequel[edit]

668—The Neighbour of the Beast was slated as the title for a sequel to Good Omens, but after Neil Gaiman moved to the United States, Terry Pratchett expressed doubt that a sequel would be written.[7] Neil Gaiman later affirmed this in one of his essays, titled Terry Pratchett: An Appreciation.

Film version[edit]

A film, directed by Terry Gilliam, was planned. As of 2002 Gilliam still hoped to make the film with its already completed script,[8] but by 2006 it seemed to have come to nothing. Funding was slow to appear and Gilliam moved on to other projects. There was a rumour that Johnny Depp was originally cast as Crowley and Robin Williams as Aziraphale. However Neil Gaiman has said on his website, "Well, Robin's worked with Terry Gilliam before as well, of course, most famously in The Fisher King. But I have no idea about Good Omens casting (except for Shadwell. Terry told me who he wanted to play Shadwell. I immediately forgot the man's name, although I can assure you that it wasn't Robin Williams)."[9] According to an interview in May 2006 at The Guardian's Hay Festival, Gilliam is apparently still hoping to go ahead with the film.

Gaiman confirmed in a podcast interview with Empire in 2013 that the majority of the funding for the film was in place in 2002, but the project couldn't attract the initial funding to begin production.

Even in 2008, Gilliam was still hopeful about the project. Neil Gaiman's Stardust and Beowulf were successful as films in 2007, which has given the Good Omens adaptation a better chance to get picked up. A Gilliam quote from an Empire interview: "And I thought with Neil, with Stardust and with Beowulf and there’s another one – an animated film, a Henry Selick thing he's written Coraline, I was thinking he's really hot now, so maybe there's a chance. I mean it's such a wonderful book. And I think our script is pretty good, too. We did quite a few changes. We weren’t as respectful as we ought to have been. But Neil's happy with it!"[10]

The history of this project and similar experiences with Gaiman's various other works (including The Sandman series) have led to his cynical view of the Hollywood process, a view which occasionally surfaces in his weblog[11] and in some of his short fiction. Terry Pratchett shares a similar opinion, and has been quoted as saying, "The difference between me and Neil in our attitude to movie projects is that he doesn't believe they're going to happen until he's sitting in his seat eating popcorn, and I don't believe they're going to happen."[citation needed]

Terry Pratchett has had many of the same issues with Hollywood 'suits',[12] but he, too, would love to see the film made.[citation needed]

In August 2012, Rhianna Pratchett, Terry Pratchett's daughter, announced an establishment of a new production company, Narrativia, which will, among other projects, produce a TV film based on Good Omens.[13][14]

Theatre version[edit]

In March 2013, Cult Classic Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland, performed Amy Hoff's adaptation of Good Omens with the permission of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.[15][16]

Television adaptation[edit]

In February 2011, it was reported that a television adaptation may be produced, with Terry Jones and Gavin Scott being "in talks" to write the series.[17]

On 19 March 2011 Neil Gaiman announced on his website that a television series adaptation of his novel Good Omens "is in the works from Terry Jones." with a link to Terry Pratchett's webpage confirming the news.[18] On December 11, 2013, both Gaiman and Pratchett posted the same picture of them together. Gaiman commented "No we are not plotting anything. Why do you think we are plotting something?" Pratchett stated "Not discussing Good Omens TV."

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "1991 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 5 August 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "2012 FantLab's Book of the Year". 
  3. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
  4. ^ a b "L Space – Words from the Master". 
  5. ^ An afrerword to the book; e.g., in the Harper paperback edition, ISBN 0-06-085397-2, p. 377
  6. ^ Neil Gaiman – Neil Gaiman's Journal: Several days of unposted mailbag
  7. ^ a b Leo Breebaart and Mike Kew. "Good Omens". The Annotated Pratchett File (version 9.0). Retrieved 28 February 2007. 
  8. ^ Dreams: Good Omens, by Terry Gilliam
  9. ^ Neil Gaiman – FAQs
  10. ^ Empire: Movie News – Gilliam Says He Will Make Don Quixote
  11. ^ Neil Gaiman – Neil Gaiman's Journal
  12. ^ The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 – Words from the Master
  13. ^ Pratchett, Rhianna (27 August 2012). "Announcing the birth of Narrativia – a production company run by myself, Rod Brown & @terryandrob. First up are Good Omens & The Watch.". Twitter. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  14. ^ Pratchett, Rhianna (29 August 2012). "@thebitterguy @terryandrob Good Omens will be a TV movie & The Watch is planned as a 13-part TV series.". Twitter. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  15. ^ http://www.terrypratchett.co.uk/?p=2459
  16. ^ http://glasgowcomedy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/amy-hoff-good-omens.html
  17. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (8 February 2011). "'Good Omens' TV series in development?". Digital Spy. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2011. 
  18. ^ Gaiman, Neil. "Points of Departure". blog. Neil Gaiman. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 

References[edit]

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams is referenced several times in Crowley's bad memories of the 14th century. In Dirk Gently, Professor Chronotis says, "Most of the fourteenth century was rather grim." In 1988, Gaiman authored Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion.

External links[edit]