Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Good Omens, Part V

A nightingale is about to sing in Berkeley Square. It’s time to finish Good Omens

Summary

The four bikers arrive at the air base and reflect that this isn’t how they’d expected it to go down. They adopt disguises to get in, posing as generals on surprise inspection. Newt and Anathema also con their way onto the base through a back entrance. Aziraphale tries to demand to speak to who’s in charge at the front gates. Crowley arrives and the Bentley finally collapses in a melted heap. The gates to the air base rise and four children plus a dog zip inside; Adam tells his friends that they have to go confront the four horsepeople, who are currently setting the base’s computers on sparking nuclear war. Anathema and Newt enter the room after the horsepeople, trying to figure out how to undo the damage. Adam and the Them confront the horsepeople with their own homemade versions of their weapons; War against Pepper; Wensleydale against Famine; Brian against Pollution. Each of them falls and is sucked back into their weapon, which Adam warns them all not to touch. Then he and Death face off, but Death points out that Adam cannot destroy him because that would destroy the world. Adam isn’t sure about that, but they end at an impasse. The Antichrist insists the whole show needs to stop.

Anathema takes out a prophecy card that calls Newt out for being a liar about saying he’s a computer engineer. His penchant for breaking all electronics works to his advantage, and World War III promptly subsides on the nuclear side of things. Adam thinks it’s wrong for Aziraphale and Madame Tracy to be two people in one, so he sets them back to being two separate people. Aziraphale thinks it’s all sorted, but Crowley knows it’s not because their sides are raring to fight no matter what the Antichrist says. Suddenly, the Metatron and Beelzebub show up. They insist that Adam fulfill his purpose and enact the Great Plan, and he explains the multitude of reasons why he’d rather not. But he’s tired and they keep wheedling, and it looks like he might give up… when Aziraphale steps in and asks if this Great Plan is the same as the ineffable plan. No one can answer that question and Crowley realizes that they don’t know. The two point out that maybe this isn’t just a test of humans, but also of Heaven and Hell itself. Crowley realizes that because Adam was left alone, he’s not good or evil—just human incarnate.

The Metatron and Beelzebub leave to get further instructions and everyone tries to decide what they should do next. Adam thinks he should probably help everyone un-remember what’s happened in the past few days; when Anathema suggests that he fix more things, Adam decides that he’s figured it out, that you can’t solve people’s problems for them. You have to let them make their choices. Everyone starts to pack in to leave, but there’s a rumbling in the ground—Lucifer is about to show up. Crowley panics, but Aziraphale insists that with all the messing about they’ve done to humans, they should stay and try to protect the ones there. Armed with one tire iron and one flaming sword, the demon and angel unfurl their wings and set off to face the devil, joined by Shadwell, Newt, and Anathema. But Adam stops the whole thing, and the devil never emerges, and Mr. Young shows up in his car to ask where his son is. Later on a delivery van shows up to collect the scales, crown, and sword while Aziraphale and Crowley sit on the tarmac drinking wine. They get into a jeep and drive back to London.

It’s Sunday and a gentleman from a law firm stops by Jasmine Cottage to deliver something that the firm has had in their possession for over three-hundred years. This turns out to be another book of Agnes’s prophecies. Newt asks Anathema if she really wants to be a descendant for the rest of her life. Crowley and Aziraphale meet in St. James’ Park to discuss what has been righted; Crowley’s Bentley is back, and so is the bookshop, though it’s stocked with adventure books Aziraphale never much cared about (but they’re first editions, so they are worth quite a bit of money). Both of their sides have been quiet, regrouping from what happened. Crowley thinks the next big fight will be Heaven and Hell against humanity. He also thinks that this all had to be the point from the beginning, with the creation of Hell and the expulsion from the Garden, all of it. They go to lunch at the Ritz. Madame Tracy invites Shadwell over for lunch and suggests that they get a bungalow in the country. He agrees once she confirms that she has the usual number of nipples.

Warlock is on his way to America, and Greasy Johnson is about to find out about American football, and Adam is stuck in the garden because he’s in trouble. The Them are heading to watch a circus set up, and they check on him, but he can’t come along. But Adam tells Dog that if he slipped out of their garden, he’d have to chase him down, and suddenly there’s a hole in their hedges. Dog bolts and Adam chases after him, then climbs up a neighbor’s tree to steal apples, and gets a telling off for it.

Commentary

This book. You get so distracted by all the wonderfully vivid side characters that it’s easy to miss, or to misunderstand, that Adam really is the point of the whole thing.

And it’s important because of how Christianity works, right? Because Adam is the Antichrist; he’s literally the flip side to Jesus, who is the Christ. And the assumption most people are going to make when you think of an opposite to Christ is “the embodiment of all evil,” but that’s not really effective counterpoint intellectually. Granted, I’m not a Christian theologian by any stretch of the imagination (and I’m not Christian myself), but as far as I’ve always understood it, Jesus embodies qualities that people are supposed to strive for—kindness, forgiveness, mercy, a sense of moral responsibility, that sort of thing. Yet here we have an entire book dedicated to this idea that Heaven and Hell aren’t inherently Good and Evil places because you find real grace and real cruelty in humanity. We have the capacity for the whole spectrum in each and every one of us.

Thus, the point of Adam isn’t showing how true evil works, it’s showing a potential flip side to the characteristics of the “savior.” Because sure, Adam saves the world, for a definition of that, but he doesn’t go around fixing everyone’s problems—and he could. He thinks that people need to take responsibility for their own messes, hence his point to Anathema that he won’t be saving whales for everyone; if he does that, then people will forget that their actions have consequences. He keeps Armageddon at bay because he hasn’t seen enough yet, which is a fair complaint from an eleven-year-old boy. This self-interest isn’t malicious in nature, and he isn’t cruel. But he does think that people should get the fruit stolen off their trees because that’s what makes life fun. (As Crowley says, what’s the idea of having a Garden with the apple in it if breaking that rule wasn’t the whole point?) Adam’s disciples are friends who leave him grounded to go watch the circus set up because he’s their leader, but they have their own lives to be getting on with too.

Jesus cares a great deal about what his Father requires of him; Adam doesn’t care a whit about what dad (either of them) wants. Jesus was on the side of humanity and died for them; Adam is on his own side.

This idea of sides is important, too, but not because being combative is the key to existence. Adam brings this up in the Them’s rivalry with and the Johnsonites, there’s the Them’s fight with the Horsepeople, Crowley and Aziraphale are literal stand-ins for the issue, witchfinders and witches, and the presence of the Metatron and Beelzebub to bring it back around. Having a side is a necessity. You wind up being put in mind of the old adage: If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. You need sides because you need to believe in things, as the whole book has been pointing out. This is a major theme in much of Pratchett’s work, and a lot of Gaiman’s too. Belief—not necessarily faith of the religious sort, but believing in concepts, creations, ideologies, people, and so on—is what powers existence.

So Adam deconstructs the entire Apocalypse in front of everyone, and he does it with the bluntness that only an eleven-year-old can muster. Here, on the cusp of growing up, at the (almost) end of the world. His friends dispatch War, Famine, and Pollution with their stick-and-string renditions of their totems. Then Adam confronts Death, which is honestly the most effective and threatening he ever comes off. I love this moment. I love that when Death insists to Adam that he is the only truly eternal thing there, Adam suggests that he could possibly do something about that. It’s about as Damian as he gets, and it always stands out to me.

It’s important that Crowley and Aziraphale make the choice to stand against the Apocalypse in order to protect people, the very ones they’ve been messing about this whole time they’ve been on Earth. It shows us what their true priorities are, and what it means to have this commonality between them—a love of the Earth and (most of) its creatures, and a love of life that neither of their sides have grasped even slightly. Adam is supposed to be human incarnate, but in their own way, they are too.

The end sees all the secondary characters in their respective couples, or merged sides, if you will. Two pairs of witchfinders and their witches, plus representatives of Heaven and Hell. Madame Tracy and Shadwell are there to show us two sides finding peace in their oddities. Newt and Anathema are two sides coming together to forge a different future than the one expected of them, a future in which there’s a little more free will to be had. And Aziraphale and Crowley are two sides forever in détente, unable to function without each other’s good company. Lunching at the Ritz is the only solution.

With the end times avoided, there is only Adam and Dog, and a spectral summer that will linger on the way the poets claim it should. Just a boy and his very best friend, and all the trouble they can get up to in the world. The story ends on a note of dreamy contentment—because when life is at its best, that is often how it seems. And what could be better than continuing on to see where this ineffable experiment leads us?

Asides and little thoughts:

  • I love the bit about how Death doesn’t really fit in with the group because the rest of the horsepeople are aware that there might be an end to them at some point in the world, but Death obviously outlasts everything.
  • The section at the end with Warlock and Greasy Johnson was apparently added into the American version because the publishers on this side of the pond were dead certain that American readers would want to know what happened to the American boy. This is hilarious to me because it didn’t even occur to me to think of Warlock in the aftermath on my first reading. On the other hand, I do like the conceit that Adam does these nice, small things for both boys because they were his “first friends.” Count on them to take a goofy mandate and turn it into something sweet.
  • I think when I first read the book, I was bothered by the references in the very last section and found them to be a little bit much. These days I thoroughly enjoy the parodies of both Yeats and Orwell, but particularly the Orwell. The Yeats is perhaps more on theme, but taking that line from 1984 and rewriting it into something so innocent just tweaks me in a good way.

Pratchettisms/Gaimanisms:

Perhaps they saw what their minds were instructed to see, because the human brain is not equipped to see War, Famine, Pollution, and Death when they don’t want to be seen, and has got so good at not seeing that it often manages not to see them even when they abound on every side.

“D’yer see my finger?” shouted Shadwell, whose sanity was still attached to him but only on the end of a long and rather frayed string.

The driver’s door opened, and a cloud of choking fumes got out. Then Crowley followed it.

Only Death hadn’t changed. Some things don’t.

“I don’t see why it matters what is written. Not when it’s about people. It can always be crossed out.”

Aziraphale patted Crowley on the back. “We seem to have survived,” he said. “Just imagine how terrible it might have been if we’d been at all competent.”

Shadwell nodded, as if this hadn’t come as a surprise, threw the gun down, and took off his hat to expose a forehead known and feared wherever street-fighting men were gathered.

Loyalty was a great thing, but no lieutenants should be forced to choose between their leader and a circus with elephants.

He couldn’t see why people made such a fuss about people eating their silly old fruit anyway, but life would be a lot less fun if they didn’t.

Next week we’re back to Discworld with Faust Eric. This is a short one, so we’ll read halfway, up to “In my experience that always takes care of itself. The important word is away.”

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