Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Good Omens, Part IV

Don’t get in that car—it’s on fire. We’re back with more Good Omens!

Summary

The four horsepeople (er, bikers in this case) meet up at a café, arriving one at a time; Death is already there, playing a trivia game with Hell’s Angels surrounding him. The human bikers are quite perplexed to meet real Hell’s Angels. Aziraphale takes over the bodies of various holy men around the world, trying to get back to England. Crowley sees a note left by the angel in Agnes’s book and heads in the direction of Tadfield. The radio gives way to Hell telling Crowley that he is going to suffer terribly whether the war is won or not; Crowley decides in that case that he might as well go out in style. The human bikers following the four bikers of the apocalypse decide to change their names to better go with War, Famine, Pollution, and Death, so they become Grievous Bodily Harm, Cruelty to Animals, Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Given Them A Good Thumping (secretly No Alcohol Lager), and Really Cool People.

Madame Tracy has a group over for a séance, and begins it as usual with her “Indian spirit guide” character. Suddenly, Aziraphale takes over her body. One of the clients, Beryl Ormerod, demands to speak to her husband, so Aziraphale lets him through—the husband is very keen to finally get the chance to tell his wife to shut up. Aziraphale then has everyone leave, and Madame Tracy asks him to explain himself. At Jasmine Cottage, Newt suggests that he and Anathema could have sex again, but she explains that they can’t because Agnes only said they did it once, then proffers the prophecy that says so. She instructs him to go take a shower. Shadwell wakes up after having a dream about Agnes’s death, and hears Aziraphale talking to Madame Tracy. He comes out to confront the man, but finds no one. Eventually, Aziraphale speaks through Madame Tracy, and Shadwell threatens to exorcise him again. Madame Tracy tells him he has to listen to Aziraphale about the end of the world, which Shadwell is adamantly against. But she calls him “you old silly,” so he does as she says.

While various signs and portents are occurring (raining fish and whatnot), Aziraphale explains the situation to Shadwell (who pretends he understands, but doesn’t at all), and tells Witchfinder that he will have to kill the Antichrist. In order to convince him of this, the angel has to lie quite a bit about his number of nipples and so forth. He asks if he’s got a weapon, but all Shadwell has is the old Witchfinder thundergun, which he goes to retrieve. Madame Tracy has a little scooter as their only means of transport; Aziraphale ends up having to make it fly, since it can only go about five miles per hour. The four human bikers wipe out in another rain of fish, and only one survives the crash. At a call center, Lisa Morrow has Crowley’s number come up and dials to get the ansaphone, releasing Hastur and killing everyone in her office. Crowley, in the meantime, has driven the Bentley through a lot of obstacles, including the Thames, and now has to get it through the burning ring of fire that is the M25. He charges ahead, terrifying the cops.

Pepper finally asks Adam what part of the world he will get while he’s busy divvying it up amongst his friends. Adam is perplexed, then insists that he’ll have Tadfield and the surrounding area because they’re all he’s ever wanted, and he could make it even better. The Them aren’t happy with this—Tadfield belongs to all of them, and he can’t make it better. Adam insists that he could make them do whatever he wants, then realizes what’s he’s saying, and something finally breaks. He screams for a long time, and when it’s over, he’s truly himself again. He asks the Them for help, and comes upon a metaphor to try and explain what’s happening: Even though they don’t like Greasy Johnson and his gang, if one group won over the other, it wouldn’t be any good. People need sides; they need to stand for something. Newt gets out of the shower and tells Anathema that one of her prophecies refers to the air base, which Anathema finds hard to believe because there are no missiles at Lower Tadfield Air Base. They drive over.

The Them get on their bikes and also head to the air base. On their way, they cross the path of R. P. Tyler, the Chairman of the Lower Tadfield Residents’ Association, who is already bothered because he had to give directions to the four bikers of the apocalypse and found them quite upsetting individuals. He tries to tell the Them off for general delinquency, in which Adam isn’t particularly interested. The four bike onward to the air base. Then a scooter arrives, driven by a middle-aged woman who asks where Adam Young is. Tyler presumes her to be a ventriloquist with her dummy (Shadwell), and gives her instructions on where Adam has got off to. Shortly thereafter, he’s approached by a flaming lump of metal, and the man inside of it asks for directions to the air base too. Tyler gives them, is generally mortified by the state of things, and tells Adam’s father that his son has gone to the air base with this friends.

Commentary

This is the point in the book where everything gets a little wild, and there are dozens of asides about all the things going on in the world as Armageddon approaches. It’s effective as far as building chaos goes, but some of the jokes don’t really go anyplace. Like the bikers, for example—I want to care about their escapades, but it doesn’t really add up to much in the end. They’re good for a chuckle… and then they’re dead. Same with Aziraphale’s body-hopping and the rest. The only thing that section is really good for is Aziraphale having his “come to Heaven” moment while Crowley is having his “come to Hell” moment, and what they’re both realizing is that no one has any idea what’s going to happen, they’re probably all screwed, and the best bet is trying to do whatever they possibly can to prevent the end times.

And they do such a terrible job of it. They haven’t even reached the relevant site, and they’re both a mess. Crowley’s in a melted car; Aziraphale is in another person; no one can get where they need to go with any kind of expediency. And they’ve both utterly lost faith with their own sides (if they really had any left to begin with, which was probably all for show at this point). The optimistic demon and the pessimistic angel are on their way to stop an Antichrist they were supposed to help raise and inconveniently never met.

The seance is… I get why it’s realistic for someone like Madame Tracy to fake an Indian spirit guide, but yikes. It’s not cute. It is making me wonder how often mediums do that sort of thing for real? Obviously, the spirit guide concept is a real thing, but how often do (I’m guessing mostly white) people do the “this culture seems mystical to me, I’ll tack that on here” thing? As I ask this, I’m suddenly aware that I’ve never been to an actual séance—which may seem the norm in general, but given my upbringing, I’m actually surprised that it never came up. I’ve only seen them in movies/tv, and used Ouija boards at sleepovers, and pretended to do them with friends as a kid. There were no spirit guides of any kind, and if there had been, I’m guessing we would have picked one of the creepy dead kid variety.

Also, the “dead husband gets the chance to tell his living wife that she never let him talk and now he can finally tell her to shut it” isn’t my favorite joke either. There are a lot of bad angles on that one that just get uglier on inspection, from the idea of more benign types of abusive partnerships to the old nag trope, none of which are actually funny. The only part that ever really makes me laugh is the “I don’t have a heart any longer” reply to her bringing up his heart condition. That gets me every time.

In Shadwell’s dream, he has that thought that so often comes through in sections like this, where he’s looking at Agnes and thinking her a handsome middle-aged woman, which leads to the thought that she must have been striking in her youth. And I hate this type of description. For a number of reasons, the first one being that plenty of middle-aged women are striking, thank you very much. Plenty of elderly women too. Even if you expect that sort of male gaze-y thought from a character like Shadwell (which I don’t, frankly, because he clearly finds Madame Tracy attractive, full stop), it’s just lazy. Stop reinforcing the idea that middle-aged women cannot be attractive because it’s only possible to be attractive when you’re young.

The point I’m trying to make is that Agnes Nutter is hot, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

In thinking about Adam’s breakdown this time around, I got stuck on a particular thought—which was that Adam says he only wants his home, and that he could make it even better than it was. And the Them take exception to this because changing home would ruin it… but the irony here is that Adam is already changing it. Both Newt and Anathema have noted it—the perfect weather, the picturesque scenery, the country-est country people, the fact that no one is allowed to develop there. Adam has been low-key affecting the reality around Tadfield his entire life. So why do their arguments that he can’t change it to make it even better hold water? And I think the point is supposed to be that before, Adam was doing all of these things for the people around him. He did it for his family and friends and community as much as himself. But if he starts changing things to suit only his whims, it becomes monstrous.

One of the other themes that gets more obvious in this section is the lengths people will go to in order to pretend that things are normal and fine. As the phenomena started cropping up, we saw all sorts of excuses being made, people suggesting that there were rational explanations for unbelievable things. But now we’re getting city cops talking about country cops not being able to handle the rough stuff, radio show gardeners telling other gardeners that blood raining on your roses would make for great fertilizer, people passing off sudden hurricanes as odd weather, R. P. Tyler being utterly incapable of telling Crowley that his car is on fire because acknowledging it as such would disturb the state of reality too greatly. Tyler himself is a perfect microcosm of the effect, a person who simply cannot condone any form of strangeness or disorder, and therefore resolves to write letters about it or ignore it entirely.

So we have a key juxtaposition here: People will believe irrational things, but they will also rationalize away what cannot be rational. Anything that wasn’t part of a chosen worldview will get absorbed into it, and faster than you’d expect. But more importantly—people choose what to believe. They make decisions about it all day long without ever noticing that they’ve done it. Just like Madame Tracy’s séance clients, paying her for services that have very little to do with truth or wisdom.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • As parodies of evangelical music goes “Jesus Is the Telephone Repairman on the Switchboard of My Life” is pretty great.
  • Aziraphale thinks about how demons aren’t that hard to get rid of because he only had to “hint to them very strongly that he, Aziraphale, has some work to be getting on with, and wasn’t it getting late? And Crowley had always got the hint.” And I’m sure that when this was written, they were thinking that it was just a very British way of telling someone they needed to leave, but once you add that Crowley always gets what he means, and combine that with the angel thinking that demons are sort of easy in that regard because of his experience with this specific demon, I don’t really understand how you can read this as anything but a description of a very functional, loving marriage where everyone gets the space they need.
  • The road to Hell is apparently paved with door-to-door salesmen. That sounds about right.
  • Death gets vexed because the trivia game is insisting that Elvis is dead, when he claims not to have laid a finger on him. Which we know if true because the line cook from before was clearly supposed to be Elvis. But it got me thinking about what a popular conspiracy theory that one was for a good long while, and how it’s… not really a thing anymore? People made that joke for about twenty years, and then it stopped. Conspiracies are funny that way.

Pratchettisms/Gaimanisms:

There are at least two ways to turn someone into a zombie. He was going to take the easiest.

Shadwell relaxed, and wondered why anyone would want to put a mirror on his bedroom ceiling.

London was not designed for cars. Come to that, it wasn’t designed for people. It just sort of happened.

Adam’s face looked like an impersonation of the collapse of empire.

And in their center was a circular patch of daylight; but the light had a stretched, yellow quality to it, like a forced smile.

Excuse me, young man, but your car is on fire and you’re sitting in it without burning and incidentally it’s red hot in places.

Next week we get to the end of Armageddon and the book ends too! See y’all then.

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