Book Review: Good Omens

GoodOmensCoverI say, old chap, did you hear the news? The world’s going to end on Saturday. Next Saturday. Just before dinner.

All this according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a ponderous tome which happens to be “the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655.” Armageddon is almost here and the hosts of Heaven and Hell are gathering. The Divine Plan is coming along splendidly… except for two itsy-bitsy problems.

First: a fastidious angel named Aziraphale and his pleasure-loving demon buddy Crowley aren’t actually looking forward to the apocalypse. In fact, they’re on a mission to stop it.

Second: a bunch of Satanic nuns have misplaced the baby Antichrist.

*cough*

Okay, so maybe the Divine Plan isn’t coming along so splendidly after all.

I’ve been a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for a few years now. Barring the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse, no writer in the English language has been responsible for more belly laughs on my part than he. More recently, I’ve come to love Neil Gaiman’s work. Just read Coraline and you’ll see why.

All that to say: I couldn’t just ignore a book written by Pratchet and Gaiman. That would be like ignoring a plateful of pie and… more pie. Or ignoring a movie with the Governator and the Italian Stallion.

Well, I could ignore the last one actually. But still. You get the idea.

Good Omens isn’t just about the world gone wrong (as most apocalyptic fiction is). It’s about the apocalypse gone wrong. And with Pratchett and Gaiman running the show, the whole thing is predictably insane. And predictably hilarious.

A lot of it, anyway.

I love madcap and thoroughly British humor. Always have. And Good Omens has some cracking good laughs. If you can listen to the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse talk business with each other and not bust a gut, there’s something very wrong with you.

But interspersed with the hilarious is other stuff that’s about as funny as hell. By which I mean, not very.

I can see the fingers pointing my way now. “Look, look! Another Christian who doesn’t have a sense of humor! Another Christian too pious to laugh at religious jokes! Another Christian who takes himself too seriously!”

With regard to the first charge, that I have no sense of humor, the answer is quite simple: I do. It just has boundaries. With regard to the second, I don’t mind jokes about religion, but I do expect the jokes to be good ones. With regard to the third, I try not to ever ever ever take myself very seriously at all. Why should I? I am human, ergo I am absurd, ergo you may aim your satirical peashooter at me all day long and I will laugh right along with you.

But watch it when you start aiming at things above your head. Like God, for instance.

That explanation probably won’t clear me of anything, but hey, I didn’t really expect it to. Christians throughout the ages have been known for taking seriously what others take lightly, and for taking lightly what others take seriously. I’m in good company.

The wisecracking about heaven and hell and humanity and angels and demons and God and the Devil – most of it is really just a childish (and strangely self-important) attempt at making fun of Christianity. I’ve seen the book called “thought-provoking” by a number of reviewers, but I must confess the only thought it provoked in me was that Messrs. Pratchett and Gaiman really don’t know much about the faith they so gleefully deride.

Good Omens, as a comedy, sets out to make ridiculous that which is not; to trifle with many things which should be left alone; and to encourage a troubling flippancy toward some very serious ideas. And of course, you have to love a book that presents God as a petulant deity with an overeager desire to wipe out mankind. Never mind that business on the cross two thousand years ago, with His Son and all.

If this review were a short, a very short, letter, it would probably go like this:

Dear Mr. Pratchett and Mr. Gaiman,

Y'all are great writers and funny chaps. 
But you suck at theology. Like, seriously.

Sincerely,
this guy
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