Wed
May 22 2013 1:00pm

(Trying-Mightily-Hard-To-Be) A Comprehensive Reference Guide to Good Omens

Tchaikovsky's Another One Bites the Dust Good Omens

Part of what makes Good Omens such a fantastic read is the plethora of referential material that the book offers up in categories ranging from history to art to literature. Here’s a list (though it’s a titan’s feat trying to be comprehensive in this case) of shout-outs this book manages to pack into every crevice, be they sneaky or hammer-worthy on the Obvious Scale.

 

Art

  • Hieronymus Bosch—is proclaimed to be a “weirdo.” He was painting around the time that Crowley got a look at the Spanish Inquisition and decided to get drunk for a week, so it’s no wonder.

MC Escher, Angels and Devils

  • MC Escher’s “Angels and Devils”—Referenced in an attempt to address the sameness of heaven and hell: “the hosts of Heaven and Hell, wingtip to wingtip. If you looked really closely, and had been specially trained, you could tell the difference.”

 

Film and Television:

  • Alf Garnett—Some suggest that the inspiration for Sergeant Shadwell’s “roaming accent” is based on this famous British TV character played by Warren Mitchell.
  • Bruce Lee and Lee Van Cleef—Crowley mimics both of these guys at the same time, proving he really has a problem letting good and evil go hand-in-hand where he’s concerned; Bruce Lee is the well-known martial arts film hero, and Lee Van Cleef was often the villain in action and Western films that audiences rooted for the good guys to kill.
  • Cheers and The Golden Girls—Depending on whether you have the U.K. or U.S. version of the book, Crowley is interrupted while watching Cheers or Golden Girls to hear tell of the Antichrist receiving his hellhound. (Since they’re both American shows, who can say why the change was made....)

Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood

  • Dirty Harry—Crowley talks about his plant-mister as though it’s Harry’s .44 Magnum when he tries to bluff his way out of a nasty situation with Hastur and Ligur.
  • Doctor Who—There is a pepper pot robot that comes out of a UFO for the End Times. It’s is probably a Dalek, though it apparently beeps like R2-D2.
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial—An airbase guard wants to know if any of the Them were carrying the alien in a basket on their bikes.
  • The Exorcist—Aziraphale in Madame Tracy’s body makes comments about her head going around and vomiting pea soup when Shadwell seems wary of him. Not that we believe Aziraphale has actually seen the movie.
  • Ken Russell films—The Ken Russell film Mr Young is thinking of is probably The Devils, a 1971 film about a French nunnery that turned to Satanism. Naturally, he has no idea how close he is to the truth.
  • Kung Fu—This series comes to mind for the Them when Tibet is mentioned.
  • Leading men and Angela Lansbury—Names considered for Adam include Errol (Flynn) and Cary (Grant). Sister Mary expects the American diplomat—an attaché in certain American versions of the book—who is meant to adopt Adam to look more like Blake Carrington or J.R. Ewing, both leading men on the popular soap operas Dynasty and Dallas, respectively. It turns out that he looks more like a sheriff from Murder, She Wrote.
  • The Living Planet—Wensleydale makes reference to a program where David Attenborough talked about volcanoes, likely this series, which first aired in 1984.
  • Night of the Hunter—One of the bikers has LOVE tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and HATE on the other. This was first used by Robert Mitchum’s character in Night of the Hunter.

The Omen, Damien, tricycle

  • The Omen—References to the movie are made in several places; Adam was meant to be raised by a U.S. diplomat, just like the father in the film. The suggestion that Adam be named Damien is a direct shout-out, as well as shards of glass decapitating people, and giving Warlock a tricycle.
  • Star Wars—The Them’s favorite game is based on the galaxy far, far away. Apparently, Adam does the best Darth Vader impression.
  • Them! and Mad Max—Wensleydale mashes these movies up together when trying to convince Adam that perhaps taking over the world isn’t such a good idea.
  • Transformers—Long before Supernatural made the joke, the Metatron is confused for Megatron.

 

History

Aleister Crowley

  • Aleister Crowley—There is some confusion made over Crowley’s name for most of the book—this is because his first initial is “A,” alluding to the famous occultist Aleister Crowley. Crowley’s assumed first name, for human-seeming purposes, is actually Anthony.
  • Bubonic Plague—1665 is the answer to one of the trivia questions at the bar where the bikers and Horsepersons meet, the year when the bubonic plague was ravaging London.
  • Charles Fort—Adam tells the Them about Fort, a gentleman who spent his life trying to debunk scientific conventions by publishing books about unexplainable phenomena.
  • The Cold War—Crowley and Aziraphale’s friendship (though they’re on “opposing teams”) is meant to be reminiscent of Cold War spies; operatives who could relate to one another due to being mutually stranded away from home and eventually going native. Their tendency to hang out at St. James’ Park and the cafe at the British Museum together are the biggest cues, as both are well-known places for spies to chill.
  • First Nuclear Reactor—When the Turning Point power station’s nuclear reactor suddenly goes missing, it’s noted that the space where it used to be could now be used to play a game of squash. The very first nuclear reactor was built under a squash court by Enrico Fermi.
  • John Maskelyne, magician

    John Maskelyne—Aziraphale learned to do magic from Maskelyne, who was a stage magician in the 19th century known for mentoring young hopefuls.
  • Kennedy Assassination—Agnes Nutter predicts the breakdown of an English house on 11/22/1963, but doesn’t mention the bigger historical strokes at work... because why should she? She’s not related to him, after all.
  • Real Witches—The surnames of Anathema and her ancestor Agnes (Device and Nutter) are surnames of real families who were persecuted for “witchcraft” in the 17th century.
  • South African War of 1899—War claims to have not seen Famine “since Mafeking,” the place where the Jameson Raid started, which eventually precipitated the South African War of 1899.
  • Tomás de Torquemada—Adam mentions him (though he calls him “Torturemada”) after being grounded for playing Spanish Inquisition. Torquemada was an inquisitor general who was largely responsible for getting the Jewish population kicked out of Spain in the late 15th century.
  • Various Wars—Crowley namechecks WWI, The War of Jenkins’ Ear and the Cuban Missile Crisis in this quote: “You think wars get started because some old duke gets shot, or someone cuts off someone’s ear, or someone’s sited their missiles in the wrong place.”
  • Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins—was a real person, and the story told about him in the book is entirely true, including his eventually getting hung for witchcraft himself.

 

Literature:

  • 1984—The final paragraph of the book is a direct homage to the final paragraph of Orwell’s classic.
  • DC Comics and Butch Cassidy—Adam names his gang after things that he reads, leading him to adopt similar names to the Justice Society of America, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.
  • Discworld—Though they don’t appear to be the exact same version, the Good Omens version of Death is undoubtedly a variant on Discworld’s Grim Reaper. They even both speak in ALL CAPS. There’s also a man selling hot dogs on the M40 highway who is very likely Cut Me Own Throat Dibblers.

So Long and Thanks For All The Fish, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, dolphins

  • Douglas Adams—Indirect shout-outs to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s series here and there, including Crowley’s long-winded aside about dolphins and their big damn brains. Crowley’s terrible experiences in the 14th century are also an aside in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency where Professor Chronotis notes that it was a “rather grim” period.
  • G. K. Chesterton—receives the dedication in this book. He was known for playing around with aspects of good and evil in his work, using Christian allegory to get his themes across.
  • H. P. Lovecraft—So many bits here and there that owe a debt to Lovecraft, from the use of the names Hastur and Dagon to Crowley’s maggot-y transformations. Shadwell also has a copy of Necrotelecomnicom, a pun on Lovecraft’s novel, Necronomicon.

Crowley, black 1926 Bentley

  • Ian Fleming’s James Bond—Crowley’s beloved automobile could have only ever been a Bentley; we know how much the demon is fond of action heroes, and a Bentley was the original car driven by super-spy James Bond. (Technically, Crowley had the car before Bond did. Perhaps Fleming saw the demon driving down Oxford Street at 90 miles an hour and the image stuck.)
  • “It was a dark and stormy night”—“It was going to be a dark and stormy night” and variations thereof are used in the book, playing on the infamous line that began Paul Clifford, an 1830 novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
  • Just William series—These books (about William Brown, also 11 years old) were the foundation for Adam’s character, particularly his way of speaking, his gang of three friends, and the rival gang he had to contend with. Gaiman had originally intended Good Omens to be a parody of these books by Richmal Crompton, but later scrapped the idea.

Pippin Galadriel Moonchild, Pepper, Lord of the Rings, The Neverending Story

  • Lord of the Rings and The Neverending Story—Pepper’s real name is Pippin Galadriel Moonchild, with the first two names coming from Lord of the Rings and the last coming from The Neverending Story. I guess we know who her mother’s favorite characters in the books were.
  • Malleus Maleficarum—In the witchfinder’s library, a real guidebook from the 15th century written for witch-hunters.
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—When Crowley drunkenly talks eternity with Aziraphale, the scenario he expounds upon (with the bird flying to the other end of the universe) is lifted directly from a damnation speech given in James Joyce’s novel.
  • The Screwtape Letters—The suggestion that Adam be named Wormwood is probably a reference to this work by C. S. Lewis, where Wormwood is a junior devil trying to tempt man.

 

Locales:

  • Burger King and McDonalds—...are smushed together to create Burger Lord in this universe.
  • Top of the Sixes

    Top of the Sixes—The restaurant we first find Famine eating at, which sported the address 666, Fifth Avenue in New York City, is sadly no longer in business.

 

Music:

  • “A Frog He Would-a Wooing Go”—The narrative gives a shout to this odd song because it contains the lyrics “Heigh ho, said Anthony Rowley.” Since there is a character named Anthony Crowley, clearly something had to be done. Crowley does indeed say “Heigh ho,” and drive off.

  • “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”—The lyrics to this song are referenced by virtue of Crowley and Aziraphale’s last dining jaunt in the book: “That certain night, the night we met / There was magic abroad in the air. / There were angels dining at the Ritz / And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.”
  • Best of Queen—Of course, all tapes left in Crowley’s car for over a fortnight turn into Best of Queen albums. Fans have pointed out that at the time the book was written there were no Best of Queen albums that contained all the hits mentioned on Crowley and Aziraphale’s ride to Tadfield. There is now, of course.
  • Blue Oyster Cult, Some Enchanted Evening

    Blue Osyter Cult—The bikers recognize Death from the cover to the BOC album Some Enchanted Evening.
  • Elgar and Liszt—Some of the only music in Heaven comes from Edward Elgar and Franz Liszt, according to Crowley and Aziraphale’s inebriated conversation. Elgar’s symphonies and concertos were viewed as consummately British, despite the fact that his influences came from continental Europe. Liszt was a virtuoso at the piano, and a well-known member of the New German School in classical music. He invented the symphonic poem.
  • Elvis—The popular theory that Elvis Presley never died (because he was an alien or some other equally delicious suggestion) is joked about when Death claims he never laid a finger on the guy. We find out that he’s working at a Burger Lord, singing to himself all day. Then again, a later point suggests that aliens took him away with other artists years before—he, Bing Crosby and Marc Bolan are all said to have died in 1976 in the trivia contest being played by the bikers, when all three actually died in 1977. Is the Elvis flipping burgers returned after touring the stars, or is this a reproduction set in his place? Maybe they all came back, and Bing runs a B&B while Marc is teaching kids at a summer camp.
  • Eurovision Song Contest—The winner of the 1967 contest in Britain was Sandie Shaw with “Puppet on a String,” which is also an answer to a trivia question at the bar where the Horsepersons end up.
  • “I Should Be So Lucky”—Crowley’s car radio is playing this Kylie Minogue hit when he contacts Dagon after Warlock’s birthday party.
  • Led Zeppelin—In the Garden of Eden, Crowley (then Crawley) points out that the whole business with the apple and knowledge “went down like a lead balloon.” This is a direct reference to how Led Zeppelin got their band name in the first place.

 

Religion:

 

Shakespeare and Poetry:

  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum, Harry Clarke

    Edgar Allan Poe—Anathema has a family heirloom in the form of a wall clock that it’s said Poe would “cheerfully have strapped someone under.” This is a reference to The Pit and the Pendulum.
  • The Lost Plays of Shakespeare—The publishers of Agnes’ prophecies had apparently also obtained one of the “Lost Quartos,” which are lost Shakespeare plays. They had the one titled The Comedie Of Robin Hoode, Or The Forest Of Sherwoode, and the two others are listed in the footnotes as The Trapping of the Mouse (referring to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap) and Golde Diggers Of 1589 (referencing a bunch of musicals made in the 1930s with similar titles). Two real titles that scholars do believe to be lost Shakespeare works are Love’s Labour’s Won and The History of Cardenio.
  • On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer—John Keats’ poem is touched on when Adam thinks of Cortez on a peak in Darien: “Of like Stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes / He stared at the Pacific—and all his men / Looked at each other with a wild surmise / Silent, upon a peak in Darien”

The Tempest, Ben Whishaw

  • The Tempest—Crowley thinks on the Bard when he recalls a line from the show: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
  • W. B. Yeats—The very last line of the book also invokes Yeats’ poem The Second Coming; both the beast and Adam are “slouching toward” someplace.

 

Weird Asides:

  • Complan—Crowley confuses Compline (a religious time of day) with Complan, which is a British company that makes energy drinks to help with weight loss.

Dick Turpin

  • Dick Turpin—An appropriate name for Newt’s car, after a famous highway man who was executed for horse theft. The car is so named because it, too, holds up traffic everywhere.
  • Folk Sayings—Death says to the dead delivery man “RED SKY IN THE MORNING. IT WAS GOING TO RAIN,” a play on the old saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.” It’s referenced again when Newt is trying to remember the saying and not doing a very good job of it.
  • Hell’s Angels—The Four Horsepersons effectively become Hell’s Angels, biking to the Apocalypse.
  • Page 3 Girls—British tabloids often had pictures of topless women on page three, which is why Newt was required to count nipples there as part of his Witchfinding job. Currently, it seems only The Sun still participates in the practice.
  • Sushi—Newt’s car is called a Wasabi, a made-up brand of automobile named after the sushi condiment. Wasabi’s only agent is said to be in Nigizushi, which is a type of sushi, not an actual place in Japan. There is also a whaling research ship called Kappamaki, another type of sushi. Heaven has no sushi restaurants, according to Crowley.
  • Talking Plants Into Growing—Crowley talks his plants into growing by intimidating them. While this seems to be an act of redirection on his part (treating the plants the way he is treated by Hell), it is also a jab at the “talking nicely to plants to help them grow” theory. It dates back as far as 1848: the German professor Gustav Fechner published a book suggesting the idea. There has been a lot of pop science supporting the theory, but though there is evidence to suggest that plants respond to sound and vibration, there is no direct proof in favor of this method.

 

BONUS Outside-the-Book Reference: South Downs and Sherlock Holmes

Sidney Paget, Sherlock Holmes

For some time it was unclear whether Good Omens would ever have a sequel. There was even a slated title tossed around, but at this point it is sadly doubtful that it will ever get written. All the same, fans have always wanted more of Crowley and Aziraphale, and Gaiman and Pratchett have been constantly quizzed on their aborted plans for the book. They made mention of the angel and demon in “South Downs,” which fans proceeded to ask for clarification on, and at a much later book-signing event Gaiman said that the two were “sharing a cottage” there. (Word of mouth here, no recording of said event.) While that set most slash fans on their ears, the real fun of the suggestion is in the reference—Sherlock Holmes retired to Sussex South Downs, on a little farm where he kept his bees.

 

Alright, your turn! There must be missing gems, so fill ’em in! Don’t forget, next week the religious themes and references will get a good long look....

Top image was found on this website.


Emily Asher-Perrin agrees that Hieronymus Bosch was a weirdo. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Magic & Good Madness: A Neil Gaiman Reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
14 comments
Deana Whitney
1. Braid_Tug
Wow. I need to read the book again.
I caught many of the nods, but clearly not all of them.
Joana Dwan
2. LandRoamer
Read this a long time ago, but it seems it is time for a re-read. It is one of those books that you notice something more everytime you read it.
Colin R
3. Colin R
...so I guess I sort of get why I just didn't get into Good Omens. This sort of referential humor just does nothing for me. I say this with only a touch of sadness, not reproach--looking at Pratchett's bibliography I see that this came out fairly early in his career. It basically has the same problems I see in his other early works: lots of them seem like a funny joke that got stretched thin over the course a novel.

I'm glad actually that I stumbled onto Pratchett by reading Making Money first, and not something like this; by starting late I was inspired to read pretty much all of Pratchett's works over the past couple years (I'm still working on it, but I'm pretty far along). There's definitely a lot more good than bad, and Pratchett is the rare author who I think has really gotten measurably better with each novel that comes out.
Sol Foster
4. colomon
"The Trapping of the Mouse(referring to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap)" -- Agatha Christie's book is named after the name Hamlet gives for the play-within-the-play in Hamlet.
Colin R
5. Anna_Wing
"Wormwood" is in the Book of Revelations, and is an epithet applied to a star fallen from heaven that poisons a third of the waters of the earth; possibly a reference to Lucifer.

It is the common name of the plant Artemisium absinthum, used in absinthe (famous of its unfortunate mental effect on people who drank too much of it) and as a flavouring for a number of other spirits. Also allegedly repels fleas.
Pamela Adams
6. Pam Adams
About Crowley's car- Ian Fleming wrote about another famous car- Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.
Colin R
7. a1ay
South African War of 1899—War claims to have not seen Famine “since Mafeking,” the place where the Jameson Raid started, which eventually precipitated the South African War of 1899.

More specifically, this is a reference to the Siege of Mafeking, a famous episode in that war (and the Origin Story of the Boy Scouts).

Top of the Sixes—The restaurant we first find Famine eating at, which sported the address 666, Fifth Avenue in New York City, is sadly no longer in business.

Entertaining sidenote: the office building 666 Fifth Avenue is of course still there, and currentlyoccupying its thirteenth floor - I'm sorry, Floor 12A - is the not at all satanic institution Citibank.

First Nuclear Reactor—When the Turning Point power station’s nuclear reactor suddenly goes missing

Terrry Pratchett, as you know, Bob, used to be a press officer for various nuclear power stations (see photos!
http://combehay2.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/hinkley-point-nuclear-power-station.html)
and one of the best known nuclear plants in the UK is at Hinkley Point.
Andrew Mason
8. AnotherAndrew
While William and the Outlaws are undoubtedly the main inspiration for the Them, I'm fairly sure there is also a sideways glance at the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge; in particular Wensleydale is based on Jennings's best friend, Darbishire. (Darbishire, being at a boarding school, is quite naturally known by his surname; it needed a bit of explanation why Wensleydale was too.) I wonder if the other members of the Them may also have specific sources I don't know of.
Colin R
9. jfs
@8 - Another Andrew - and Wensleydale and Darbishire are both types of English cheese.
James Felling
10. Maltheos
I was thinking Wensleydale may have also been a Wallace & Gromit refrence.
Sorcha O
11. sushisushi
If you're going to try annotate Good Omens, a very good place to start is the venerable Annotated Pratchett File page on the Lspace website. Let's see if I can get the link past the spambot: http://www.lspace.org/books/apf/good-omens.html
Colin R
12. eaglesfanintn
I thought "It was a dark and stormy night" was from Peanuts. ;-)
Snoopy tried that for the beginning of his novel.
Michael Ikeda
13. mikeda
Possibly a stretch, but I wonder whether Brian could be a reference to the Monty Python movie "Life of Brian".
Colin R
14. CHip137
Another possible stretch: the Chattering Order of St. Beryl could be a riff on the Leaping Order of St. Beryl, from the original Bedazzled. The Leaping Beryllians are under a vow of silence (common enough in medieval times that an order compelled to talk is a rather blunt gag) who worship by bouncing on trampolines. I don't remember whether they also played table tennis.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment