First edition cover
|Publisher||Gollancz (UK) / Workman (US)|
|10 May 1990|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Paperback)|
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) is a World Fantasy Award-nominated novel written as a collaboration between the English authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
The book is a comedy about the birth of the son of Satan and the coming of the End Times. There are attempts by the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley to sabotage the coming of the end times, having grown accustomed to their comfortable surroundings in England. One subplot features a mixup at the small country hospital on the day of birth and the growth of the Antichrist, Adam, who grows up with the wrong family, in the wrong country village. Another subplot concerns the summoning of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each a big personality in their own right. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 68 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
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 cosy, 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.
In fact, Warlock, the child who everyone thinks is the Anti-Christ, is a normal eleven-year-old boy. Due to the mishandling of several infants in the hospital, the real Anti-Christ is Adam Young, a charismatic and slightly otherworldly eleven-year-old living in Lower Tadfield, Oxfordshire, an idyllic town in Britain. Despite being the harbinger of the Apocalypse, he has lived a perfectly normal life as the son of typical English parents, and as a result has no idea of his true powers. He has three close friends – Pepper, Wensleydale, and Brian – who collectively form a gang that is simply referred to as "Them" by the adults.
As the end of the world nears, Adam blissfully and naively uses his powers, changing the world to fit things he reads in a conspiracy theory magazine, such as raising the lost continent of Atlantis and causing Little Green Men to land on earth and deliver a message of goodwill and peace. In the meantime, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse assemble: War (a war correspondent), Death (a biker), Famine (a dietician and fast-food tycoon), and Pollution (the youngest – Pestilence having retired after the discovery of penicillin). The incredibly accurate (yet so highly specific as to be useless) prophecies of Agnes Nutter, 17th-century prophetess, are rapidly coming to pass.
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 all true. In fact, she only decided to publish it so she could receive a free author's copy. This copy was carefully passed down to her descendants, and is currently owned by her multi-great granddaughter Anathema Device. Agnes was burned at the stake by a mob; however, because she had foreseen her fiery end 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.
As the world descends into chaos, Adam attempts to split up the world between his gang. After realizing that by embracing absolute power, he will not be able to continue to grow up as a child in Lower Tadfield, Adam decides to stop the apocalypse.
Anathema, Newton Pulsifer and Sergeant Shadwell (the two last members of the Witchfinder Army), Madame Tracey (a medium and Shadwell's neighbour), Adam and his gang, Aziraphale and Crowley gather at a military base near Lower Tadfield to stop the Horsemen from causing a nuclear war and ending the world. Adam's friends capture War, Pollution, and Famine. Just as Adam's real father, the devil, seems set to come and force the end of the world, Adam twists everything so his human father shows up instead, and everything is restored.
In the aftermath of the prevented Apocalypse, Crowley and Aziraphale discuss their restored property and the possibility of a second Apocalypse between humanity and the combined forces of Heaven and Hell; Shadwell and Madame Tracey decide to get married and move into a bungalow together; Anathema receives a sequel to Agnes Nutter's prophecies but does not read it so as to not be bound by them; and Adam evades his grounding to go scrumping.
Gaiman and Pratchett had known each other since 1985. It was their own idea, not that of their publisher, to collaborate on a novel. 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.
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 other's 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.
Terry Pratchett 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:
- I had to. Neil had to keep Sandman going – I could take time off from the DW;
- 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;
- 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.
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. 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.
In the Czech version of the book, the names of Agnes, Anathema, the Satanist nuns, Pepper and some minor characters were translated too. The book contains many extra footnotes as an explanation to some of the phrases that were translated more literally than usual and to add new jokes (for example the part where Anathema meets Adam and tells him she is an occultist, noting: "You were thinking 'Nothin' wrong with my eyes, they don't need examining,' weren't you?" was accompanied by a footnote: To those who understood what was the point, congratulations. For those whom it took as long as it took me: The Dictionary's definition: Oculist – rather an old-fashioned word for an ophthalmologist.).
- World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novel, 1991
- Locus Award nominee for Best Fantasy Novel, 1991
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- Won FantLab.ru poll for "Best Translated Novel", 2012
668—The Neighbour of the Beast was slated as the title for a sequel to Good Omens, but after Gaiman moved to the United States, Pratchett expressed doubt that a sequel would be written. Gaiman later affirmed this in one of his essays, titled Terry Pratchett: An Appreciation. Pratchett died in 2015. In 2017, Gaiman revealed – as part of the filming of the television series based on the book – that he and Pratchett had done some plotting for the sequel, including that "[t]here would have been a lot of angels in the sequel", one of whom was Gabriel, who was only briefly mentioned in Good Omens but would figure more prominently in the television series. When asked if Neil had any plans on releasing a sequel to Good Omens or maintaining its status as a standalone work, Gaiman stated that there was a plot for one that Pratchett wanted to be told, but that whether or not it would be made would depend on certain factors.
In other media
A film, to be directed by Terry Gilliam, was planned. As of 2002, Gilliam had still hoped to make the film with its already completed script, 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 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)." According to an interview in May 2006 at The Guardian's Hay Festival, Gilliam was still hoping to go ahead with the film.
Gaiman confirmed in a 2013 podcast interview with Empire that the majority of the funding for the film was in place in 2002, but the project could not attract the initial funding to begin production.
Even in 2008, Gilliam was still hopeful about the project. Neil Gaiman's Stardust (based on his own novel of the same name) and Beowulf were successful as films in 2007, which had given the adaptation of Good Omens a better chance of being picked up. A Gilliam quote from an Empire interview appeared as follows: "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!"
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 and in some of his short fiction. Pratchett shared a similar opinion, and was 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."
In August 2012, Rhianna Pratchett announced an establishment of a new production company, Narrativia, with plans to produce, among other projects, a television film based on her father’s book Good Omens.
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. On 19 March 2011, Gaiman announced on his website that a television series adaptation of his novel "is in the works from Terry Jones" with a link to Pratchett's webpage confirming the news.
In April 2016, Gaiman announced that he was writing the scripts for a six-part television series as the result of a request from Pratchett, made shortly before his death. In January 2017, further details emerged. Amazon.com announced that Gaiman would adapt Good Omens into a "comedic apocalyptic" miniseries, set to be released on Prime Video in 2019. The adaption is a six-part limited comedy series for Amazon and the BBC, and Gaiman served as showrunner. On 14 August 2017, Michael Sheen and David Tennant were announced as having been cast in the respective lead roles of Aziraphale and Crowley. The village of Hambleden in Buckinghamshire is the filming location for 'Tadfield' with Jasmine Cottage being located just North of the village at Colstrope Farm. The miniseries was produced by BBC Studios in collaboration with Narrativia and Gaiman's The Blank Corporation. Distribution was handled by BBC Worldwide. All six episodes of the serial were released on 31 May 2019 on Amazon Prime.
On 5 September 2014, it was confirmed that the BBC would produce a radio adaptation of the novel, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, starting 22 December of that year. Mark Heap and Peter Serafinowicz led the cast, which also included Louise Brealey, Phil Davis, Mark Benton, Colin Morgan, Paterson Joseph, Josie Lawrence, Jim Norton, Adam Thomas Wright and Hollie Burgess. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett had cameo roles as a pair of traffic cops called "Neil" and "Terry". The series was broadcast in six episodes starting in December 2014.
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