A recent article in The Atlantic argues that British children’s stories are better than American ones, because the British often tap into fantasy and paganism in a way that really captures a child’s imagination. The heroes of these stories are not setting out to learn a moral, but are “trickster[s] who triumph through wit and skill.” Well in the case, Good Omens is the story of that British child growing up and viewing religion and fantasy with common sense and a deep understanding of humanity. And that child happens to be the Antichrist, also known as the Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness.
In Good Omens, angels and demons, Heaven and Hell, Revelations, witches, and prophecies are all real. And not just real as in they exist, but depicted with an everyday sort of common sense. Written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the whole novel has a quintessential wry British humor. The gently mocking tone reminds me a lot of the Edward Eager books I grew up with, with its affection for the book’s flawed characters and the dramatic irony that they act out (almost every character thinks they are either thwarting or acting out a Great Plan, and boy do they have no clue).
The story follows an angel and demon who have lived on Earth for so long that when the Apocalypse comes, they decide that since Earth is far more interesting than Heaven or Hell, they should save it. Other forces fighting for or against the Apocalypse include the Antichrist, various angels and demons, a witch, the Witchfinder Army, and the four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse. They get themselves into a beautiful mess of things, and as in any good pagan tale, it’s ultimately up to a child to sort all these adults, heavenly beings, and agents of hell out. ”It’s just sense” he says to them.
Pratchett and Gaiman do a beautiful job of telling a story with wit, cynicism, irony, and yet somehow warmth. It’s an incredibly funny and smart view of humanity and what we’ve got ourselves into, and the triumph of good old common sense.