Analysis

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Narrative Style and Footnotes

Good Omens employs third-person omniscient narration, giving readers access to the thoughts and experiences of nearly all of the named characters at some point. This access to the perspectives of so many different characters adds depth to the story and offers insight into  the varied stakes of armageddon. Pratchett and Gaiman note the individual anxieties and sacrifices entailed in the apocalypse for each character, from Aziraphale’s books to Adam’s love for Tadfield. This speaks to the humanist message of the novel as it discusses loss and fear on an individual level rather than treating armageddon as a collective tragedy.

Though the narration primarily explores the thoughts and actions of the characters, it also retains a level of independence and often provides new and contradictory information. Indeed, the narrator occasionally addresses the reader directly by using “you” statements.

  • For instance, prior to the baby swap, the narration informs readers that “the text will be slowed down” to allow for an easier understanding of the mix-up. These instances add a level of self-awareness to the novel and imply that Pratchett and Gaiman are speaking directly to readers as opposed to merely recounting events.

In addition to the straightforward narration, Good Omens also contains footnotes. Footnotes are a signature of Terry Pratchett’s writing style, and they feature prominently throughout his Discworld novels. The footnotes in both works provide comedic quips, history lessons, and general contextual information about the setting without intruding directly on the narrative. The Dramatis Personae for Good Omens attributes the footnotes directly to Gaiman and Pratchett, enhancing the sense that readers are being addressed directly as they read. Many international editions of the text include additional footnotes not found in the original. These added notes are designed to make the humor and references more accessible to non-British audiences.

Allusions

Biblical

Good Omens explores the actualization of the prophecies laid out in the biblical Book of Revelation, which details the end of the world. Adam Young is the foretold antichrist, destined to bring about armageddon. Many of the characters around him are also biblical in origin, including Crowley, Aziraphale, and the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse. On one level, these allusions are designed to increase the comedy of the novel by merging the absurd with the serious. On another level, the biblical references deepen the humanist message of the novel by advocating for free will and innate human goodness.

Many of the comedic elements of the novel are based in how it interprets biblical lore. Instead of focusing on the more extraordinary aspects of the satanic or the divine, Pratchett and Gaiman situate the mystical within the familiar:

  • The Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse are a biker gang called “Hell’s Angels”;
  • The serpent who tempted Adam and Eve wears sunglasses and drives a Bentley;
  • Hell can communicate with Crowley through a “Best of Queen” cassette tape.

The contrast between traditional portrayals of Christian symbols and Pratchett and Gaimain’s more irreverent depictions defies reader expectations and results in absurdist comedy.

On a thematic level, the biblical allusions assert the superiority of free will over fate and emphasize the ineffability of divinity. Destiny and prophecy play significant roles in Good Omens, as the novel draws its inspiration from the apocalyptic prophecies contained in the biblical Book of Revelation. However, in opposition to the absolute nature of prophecy and fate, armageddon is ultimately diverted after the antichrist is given a normal, human upbringing. Free will and unexpected outcomes are presented as positives, with Newt commenting on how “wonderful” it is that Anathema will get to be surprised by new...

(This entire section contains 904 words.)

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things. Furthermore, Aziraphale frequently notes the “ineffability” of God’s will, indicating that even if a divine plan does exist, it exerts itself through the chaos and unpredictability of humans.

Pop Culture

In addition to biblical allusions, Good Omens also contains a number of references to popular culture. Gaiman’s initial idea for the novel sprung from a number of sources, including Richmal Crompton’s Just William series and the 1976 horror film The Omen. These influences are evident within the novel’s structure.

  • For example, the premise of the baby swap is taken directly from The Omen, wherein an American diplomat’s child is swapped out for the antichrist.
  • Crompton’s influence is seen in the interactions of the Them, which closely mirror those of the adolescent Outlaws from the Just William books.

These references place Good Omens in conversation with its inspirations, paying homage to its predecessors while also providing new insight into the horror and comedy genres.

British Humor

Good Omens is written in a classical British humorist tradition, and many of the comedic elements of the novel are built on English cultural references. London traffic, Welsh television, and the band Queen are all targets for the sly, sarcastic quips typical of English comedy. Some other hallmarks of British humor include satire, absurdity, a focus on everyday life, and an appreciation for eccentricity, all of which feature in Good Omens.

Despite the epic premise of the novel, Gaiman and Pratchett eschew grandiosity unless it intentionally punctuates the mundanity of a situation. For instance, the infant antichrist’s elaborate titles, including “Spawn of Satan” and “Destroyer of Worlds,” are contrasted with Sister Mary’s cooing over his lack of “hoofywoofies” and drinking tea. This type of intentional understatement and absurdity-via-contrast reinforce the quintessentially British origins of the novel.

Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

On the face of it, Good Omens is an extremely funny comic novel in which the end of the world is about to take place in the very unlikely setting of rural southern England. Written by comedic writers Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, its primary function is indeed to amuse: the writing style owes much to other great British humorists such as P.G. Wodehouse, and the story is largely character-driven. The two writers were living far apart when they wrote the book initially as an attempt to amuse each other, and all the characters, from the bookish angel Aziraphale and bikerish Crowley to the larger-than-life Horsemen of the Apocalypse, are vividly drawn. Pratchett has commented that part of the joy the authors found in their collaboration was in inventing more and more characters they knew would entertain the other author, and consequently the book has a very large ensemble cast.

Underneath the surface hilarity, however, the novel also tackles some deeper themes. Its use of biblical characters and concepts serves to interrogate huge philosophical questions, such as how far ideology should be allowed to divide people (the pairs Aziraphale and Crowley along with Anathema and Newt are examples of conflicting ideologies existing within firm friendships). The book also revolves very much around the idea of free will as opposed to destiny and predetermination, something which ties in to these pairings who have chosen to go against their programming, as it were, and befriend each other, working together for a greater goal.

Crowley and Aziraphale succeed in changing the life of Adam, the son of Satan, such that he still develops his powers, but does so as part of a tight-knit rural community. Nature vs. nurture also comes into play here, then: because he has found acceptance in his community, he does not want to destroy the world. And because he does not want to, he doesn't. The apocalypse is thwarted entirely because of the firm choice of a child. Free will, the novel seems to suggest, is fundamentally more important than any accident of birth; even if we do so happen to be the son of Satan, we don't have to be what others expect us to be. It is more important to take stock of what is around us, find connections with the most unlikely people, and make our own decisions for ourselves.

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