I sit here with visions of Pratchett and Gaiman fans holding pitchforks at the ready as I write this. Good Omens is one of those books that you mention to people and they’ve either read and loved it and you are from that point on BFFs for life, or they’ve never heard of it and really enjoy Tom Clancy. In order to save my neck, I want to begin by saying that Good Omens was my gateway drug into the scifi/fantasy genre. So put down the pointy objects, you guys.
Picture this, 1999, a high schooler surrounded by stacks of horror novels. I was a major Vampire Chronicles junkie and when Lestat and I fell out for a short time, I’d tuck in with a Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel. It wasn’t all horror for me, of course, there were the ubiquitous school reading lists to keep me busy so I was attracted to “junk” reading, which I assumed was anything genre. Not Austen, Dostoevsky, or Joseph Campbell. Junk.
When I stumbled upon Good Omens, and I read the first few pages, it felt a little familiar already—Monty Python cassette tapes were a popular rebellion my older brother and I shared. But what was this? Laugh-out-loud humor and nonsensical characters in a book? If I’d read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy along with everyone else my age, I probably would have understood nonsensical comedies. I found myself reading the dialogue in different voices in my head, proper “Englishman” tweed-wearing, rare-book dealer angel, Aziraphale vs. everyone’s favorite, Crowley, conflicted, similarly accented man with a penchant for sarcasm and quick wit. Good Omens didn’t fit the mold I knew—it wasn’t totally plot-driven with stock characters, nor was it “serious literature” with all character development and no action. In retrospect, this was my first foray into the modern fantasy genre, with the exception of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Hobbit.
The knock-you-out humor on such a dark subject was another first for me…black humor was completely unfamiliar to me in literature. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” with which I was (am) obsessed, mastered this type of humor, but it was television, so it was okay to be so lighthearted about the apocalypse. I considered myself a book snob and wanted to grow up to be a professional author, like, you know, almost every kid in existence, and black humor wasn’t at all in my reading repertoire.
Another attraction with Good Omens is that there are no “good guys” nor are there characters that are all bad. You’re never quite sure whose side you’re on, which makes you question your own judgment. After all, the best books are the ones that make you look within as you put yourself in the protagonist’s place. Yes, there’s a need for the baddies to shake things up and offer up some enticing diversions from our normal moral track, but most “bad guys” see themselves doing wrong for a greater good or to make some sort of changes they deem necessary for the betterment of humanity.
Good Omens was, for me, the kickstarter into reading more genre fiction. The setting for the book was our own world, one much less daunting in my school days than most of the worldbuilding, epic fantasy available at the time. Back in those days, I thought fantasy novels were all dragons, battles, and wizards. I made the faulty assumption that so many make about the genre—it’s all made-up nonsense meant to take you away from the real world. But I now know that well-written stories inform us about the world around us, using alternate realities and made-up characters to shed light on elements of our own personalities, our own governments, and our actions. That’s what storytelling’s all about after all, right?
I think it’s about time I finally pick up Discworld and jump into Pratchett head-on. Not in a body-jumping capacity, unless that’s possible. Because I would really enjoy rocking a jaunty hat as awesomely as that man does.
Sally Feller is a senior publicist for Tor Books.