Good Omens Reread

Good Omens, Part Five: Witchfinder Army, Assemble!

Hello and welcome again to the Good Omens reread! This Monday, we’re tackling Friday. Pour yourself some coffee and strap in—here’s where things really start to go off the rails!

Summary

We begin with Famine and his vast empire of not-foods. He’s proud of his work—and, if we can be honest, he’s somewhat ahead of his time vis-à-vis the vast array of deadly diet foods he produces. It’s an incredible and lucrative feat. He stops to inspect a fast food restaurant he owns and is met by a delivery man who has something special for him: a nifty tool he’ll need for when the world truly begins to end. Delighted, Famine tips him well and heads directly to England.

Adam holds court with the Them, explaining all the exciting things he’s learned in the magazines Anathema has lent him. The Them are skeptical at first since all the New Age stuff doesn’t sound half as cool as it should. Aliens in UFOs should go around destroying planets, not bringing messages of peace and hope. That’s no fun at all. Adam coaxes them around to the idea in the end… and imparts information about Atlantis as well. Not bad for a day’s work.

Returning to Anathema, she’s back to pouring over maps and checking her ley lines in Tadfield. Something is going on here. She can feel it in her bones. As she works, the radio has a breaking news story about a nuclear power plant that has somehow lost its reactor. It’s a bizarre story but Anathema barely notices it. Her maps all point to something big happening in Tadfield. She’s so close to a breakthrough.

We next come to a small interlude concerning a private ship. It has run aground on a new bit of recently risen land covered in buildings shaped like pyramids; men in togas and diving helmets come aboard to visit. Thankfully, the International Maritime Codes book has a signal to communicate that you’ve just stumbled upon the lost city of Atlantis. Very handy.

Adam and his friends continue to wrestle with big, unwieldy ideas—a process which continues to produce consequences they have no idea about. Trying to bring them around to the idea of a Hollow Earth fails, but they all light up at the idea of secret tunnels full of Tibetan wise men.

And…here they come, finally! The Witchfinders make their glorious entrance into the story. Can’t have a story about a witch with no witchfinders, after all. They have an impressive, illustrious history but have since fallen on hard times. The Witchfinder army is vastly depleted and there are no more generals or admirals. There is only a Witchfinder Sargent and a poor, bored Witchfinder private. His name is Newt Pulsifer. He is more important than he could ever know. We meet both the marvelous Madame Tracy and Shadwell, Witchfinder Sargent extraordinaire. Shadwell drills Newt on the state of both his teeth and his soul, grumbles over the forces of evil, and we’re off to the races…

Aziraphale finally pulls himself away from Agnes’ book. It’s unusual for a seer to get this far. Usually Heaven throws up some misdirection, but Agnes seems to have flown entirely under their radar. Aziraphale is a smart angel who can put two and two together. One phone call later and he has the Antichrist’s location. Lower Tadfield. What a coincidence.

Joining the Witchfinders should have been exciting. Instead, Newt is stuck inside all day cutting out newspaper articles about suspicious goings on in England just in case. It’s boring, repetitive work. This isn’t quite what he had in mind when he joined, but, well, at this point he has to see it through. It’s part curiosity and part horrified interest. Despite himself, he likes Shadwell and feels for the old guy. What’s the harm in sticking around? It’s not like the world is going to end or anything. Witches don’t really exist. A call about Tadfield gives Newt the chance he needs to take a break from the newspapers and get some fresh air. He decides to head over on Saturday to check things out. It’s sure to be a nice, quiet day.

 

Commentary

We finally meet the Witchfinders! Shadwell is one of my favorite characters. He’s like something you would find in an old BBC comedy. I can imagine him so clearly in my mind, and can hear his accent clear as a bell. He springs fully formed off the page into your head. He’s fantastic. Madame Tracy is also wonderful. I love how she dotes on Shadwell even though he’s so surly to her. Newt is also an underrated charmer. He’s a little lost, a little oblivious, but he has heart. The three of them work perfectly together.

While the book was cowritten between Gaiman and Pratchett and we’ll never know for sure who is responsible for what, I can’t help but think that the Witchfinder army is all Pratchett. It just has his special brand of absurdity all over it; I could easily see them fitting into Discworld somehow. Imagine Granny Weatherwax going up against Shadwell! I’m sure it’s clear by now, but the Witchfinders are some of my favorite parts of the book. They’re just so goshdarn charming and hilarious. They’re the perfect comedic foil for the seriousness that’s just up ahead.

I also like the way the book gives us glimpses of what’s happening in the world due to Adam’s unwitting influence: just separate little vignettes of bizarre happenings tied in to whatever Adam and the Them happen to be talking about. The harder he tries to convince his friends that something is real, the more actually real it becomes. He has no idea what he’s doing and we actually starts to feel a kernel of curious dread growing, in spite of the humor. At some point he’s going to do something too big, too dangerous, and there will be hell to pay. Presumably. (Can you have heaven to pay?)

I’ve always found the Friday chapter to be the major turning point of the book. Now the pieces are well and truly coming together. We have all our characters assembled, and all signs are beginning to point to Tadfield. Aziraphale is now in the know about what’s happening and it’s only a matter of time until everything comes to a head. It’s impressive how the story balances its jovial, good-natured tone with the growing darkness and seriousness that’s beginning to seep through into the narrative. You can really see this with the Four Horsemen—every time one of them is on the page it’s sends chills up my spine. Think of the ramifications, in terms of what we’ve already seen: they’ve already racked up quite a body count, and they’re just getting started.

Gaiman and Pratchett are masters of their craft and their skill really comes to the fore in this chapter. Friday is the long, arduous journey to the top of the roller coaster. Now we’re perched on the highest arch of the hill, staring down at twists and loops we’re about to hurtle through at a breakneck pace. Right now there’s a moment of peace… but we can see what’s coming and we better brace ourselves.

 

Pun Corner

Despite being a slightly more serious chapter, there are still plenty of marvelous puns and jokes packed into every page. These are some of my favorites.

The Them nodded sagely. Of this at least they had no doubt. America was, to them, the place good people went to when they died. They were prepared to believe that just about anything could happen in America.

There’s a beautiful childlike innocence in this, especially since America’s number one export really seems to be pop culture. Hollywood has reached every corner of the globe and made America seem like a magical place. Funny how that works.

“All that lather comes up from the center of the Earth, where it’s all hot,” said Wensleydale. “I saw a program. It had David Attenborough, so it’s true.”

This is also how I think about David Attenborough. If he went into an empty glade in Scotland and said “here are the majestic Scottish unicorns, notice the difference in their hooves from the unicorns of Ireland” I’d believe him without a second thought.

“My granny used to put a glass against the wall,” said Brian. “She said it was disgustin’, the way she could hear everything that went on next door.”

I love Brian so much. This is just a perfect little sentence. It tells us so much with just a few words and I have to laugh every time I read it.

Even though it’s still Monday, we’re going to head into the weekend next! Saturday is a very long day so we’re breaking it up into manageable chunks. Read pages 189 to 230, ending on the sentence “It began to hail.” It’s going to be a wild ride, so buckle up!

Have a fantastic week and I will see you back here, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel for more Good Omens!

Meghan Ball is an avid reader, writer, and lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. When she isn’t losing to a video game or playing the guitar badly, she’s writing short fiction and spending way too much time on Twitter. You can find her there @EldritchGirl. She currently lives in a weird part of New Jersey.

citation

19 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.