Mark Reads ‘Good Omens’: In The Beginning / Eleven Years Ago

In the beginning and eleven years ago, two immortal beings decide that it might not be time to start the Apocalypse. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start reading Good Omens.

So, out of every non-series book that has ever been suggested to me since I finished Harry Potter, Good Omens has absolutely been the most popular of the bunch. People often tell me, “It’s pretty much written exclusively for you and everything you love about fiction. So it’s about time that I finally started it! As always, I like to share with you what I know about a book or a series before I start it, so:

  • Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett wrote it.
  • It’s about devils?
  • The end.

Yeah, I actually don’t even know if I have had friends recommend this to me, so I have no knowledge of what it’s about. I LOVE BEING UNSPOILED. It’s what I ask for each and every Christmas.

Just a reminder: please read the Site Rules and the Spoiler Policy for this site before commenting if this is your first time on the site. If you’re curious how this book will be split into ten posts to cover two weeks worth of reviews, click the Master Schedule link in the header. That will give you a complete schedule for both Mark Reads and Mark Watches through whatever I know I’m doing in the Mark Does Stuff world.

The time is finally here.

In The Beginning / Eleven Years Ago

I know that this is a travesty, but I’ve actually never read anything by Terry Pratchett. I KNOW, I KNOW. Though I consider myself well-read generally (as I had books to get me through my rough childhood and teenage years), there’s still a lot I’ve missed. (I think I’m far worse when it comes to television, as outside of Mark Watches I’ve seen like ten shows ever or something.) About ten pages into Good Omens, I felt like shouting at all of my friends who’ve known me for years. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME TO READ THIS BOOK, IT WAS CLEARLY WRITTEN JUST FOR ME. End of the world scenarios? Humorous exploration of the implications of a Christian God and the belief system that comes from that? AMAZING PASSAGES FROM THE BIBLE THAT ACCIDENTALLY GOT EDITED IN? No, okay, there is no way I am not going to absolutely adore this book.

There’s a lot of information given to me in the prologue and first “chapter” of this book, but I found it incredibly easy to keep up with is, especially since the style and tone of the writing is a lot sillier than I expected. Plus, this book starts out with Aziraphale and Crawley basically making the best commentary ever about how absurd the Garden of Eden is. But for me, I love this moment because right from the start, I got the sense that Aziraphale and Crawley were friends. They enjoyed one another’s company. They liked to poke fun at the roles they were each assigned. They make jokes about whether they are Good or Evil, and Aziraphale gave Adam his fiery sword and why isn’t this in the Bible because I would have never left Christianity if this was how Genesis started.

I also feel like the introduction of the characters is poking fun at fantasy novels that do the same thing. But that might just be me. (Also, “DOG: Satanical hellhound and cat-worrier.” THANK YOU FOR THIS.) There are a lot of characters introduced in the first seventy-odd pages of this book, from Dukes of Hell to Apocalyptic Horsepersons to nuns to American politicians and all of this gives me the distinct impression that this adventure is going to be massive in scope. And I like that. I like it because the conversations we do get to experience are actually quite intimate and personal. But I don’t mean that in a serious sense. When Crowley re-appears in the story, driving his Bentley to a cemetery, I noticed that most of what I was reading completely destroyed what I learned about angels, devils, and God. Coming from a strict Christian household and being Catholic at one point in my life, you learn pretty quickly that God and his angels and those who feel from heaven all have no sense of humor. (Which is not to suggest that there isn’t anything hilarious in the Bible, though that comes from looking at it with a different lens and years of studying it in a humorless manner.) Crowley in particular is nothing like a Christian demon, despite that he is one. Gaiman and Pratchett’s characterization of him makes him seem like a well-respected employee who chooses to be unorthodox in disrupting humanity. He appreciates subtlety. He finds way to secure souls for Hell by merely creating an environment where humans will damn themselves purely through their own efforts. The telephone example in the beginning is evidence of that. And obviously this is a commentary on the human condition as well, but it’s funny to me that there are demons of Hell who hate Crawley because he’s not direct and obvious about what he does. Instead, Crawley has this detached fascination with humanity, so much so that he’ll later come up with a plan to continue doing what it is he’s doing.

That’s necessary because the Apocalypse is coming. Literally! And I kind of adore that it’s extremely literal here, not meant as a metaphor or an allegory or anything else. The end of the world is arriving, and Crawley must play a part in securing the Antichrist for his master. It’s the endgame! LITERALLY. And apparently Crawley is so good at what he’s done on Earth that it’s his job to help usher in the End Times. Also, can we talk about this line?

“I imagine Ligur here would give his right arm for a chance like this.”

“That’s right,” said Ligur. Someone’s right arm, anyway, he thought. There were plenty of right arms around; no sense in wasting a good one.

BLESS. BLESS. There are SO MANY incredible lines and details in this first section of the book, enough that I could fill an entire 2,000 word review just quoting them. Like, every roadtrip seriously turns into Queen singalongs, and I would expect nothing less of the Dark Lord than him using Freddie Mercury to speak to his demons, and the Chattering nuns get a chance on Tuesdays to play table tennis, and I’m going to stop or else this entire aside will be 2,000 words.

So, nuns! I was impressed with how quickly the main conflict was introduced. The nuns of the Chattering Order of St. Beryl are actually Satanists (or at least some of them are), and they switch the Antichrist with a totally normal baby. Oh, shit. I am going to need an update on the Antichrist’s childhood as soon as possible. We get to see a great deal of Normal Baby’s upbringing at one point, but before I get to that, let’s talk about the NUNS. So, I’m already aware of the sheer irony that this book has nuns, and I’m going to be unprepared for this book, which means that there will be NUNS in the comments because of rot13, so let’s just get that bit of silliness out of the way: nuns nuns nuns nununununun. Neat. Who knew?

As for why the nuns decided to switch Baby A with Baby B, I’m not quite sure I know that yet. I keep re-reading the parts with them in it, and I don’t see a reason. Well, wait, I guess it could have been done on purpose to help out Crowley, but shouldn’t he know that he has the right child? We see later that the child he and Aziraphale follow is so painfully ordinary that there’s no way it’s the Antichrist. (Now, a secondary explanation just popped in my head: the Antichrist is actually the most boring human ever born in the history of humans born. Damn it, that’s probably it, right? No? Well, I guess I’ll keep reading.) Plus, then we get introduced to two other kids as well: Anathema and Newton, both whose lives are quite ruled by The Book. Well, sort of. I’m going to assume from here on out that The Book is The Book that was written by Agnes Nutter, whose prophecies concerning the end of the world are 100% correct, and you can’t forget that the only copy of The Book is lost as well. Well, yes, it’s not “lost” entirely, since Anathema owns it, but the people who need it most don’t have it. Which is unfortunate, you know, since it would just tell Crowley and Aziraphale what was happening next. Wait, is the book I’m holding The Book? The cover seems to be telling me so.

Anyway, this book (or This Book, I’m still unsure) is more about how Crowley and Aziraphale became friends, and it’s this wonderful commentary on what Good and Evil are. It’s all based around free will, and the two angel-stock beings have both come to understand that their jobs are much easier once they accept that this is how the world works. I get the sense that Crowley believes this more than Aziraphale, but the one thing these two do agree on is that perhaps this is not a great time for the end of the world. I will forever be amused by the idea that Hell gets all the great musicians, and that heaven has the best choreographers. But this predicament is more important than that. This angel and this devil have grown attached to humanity, and they’re just not quite ready to give it all up. I mean, look how affectionately they speak of traffic wardens. Neither even knows which side invented them. (I’d pick Hell, at least for the fact that no real Good comes from what traffic wardens do. Anger, fury, resentment, and the like.)

Plus, an eternity without humans on Earth is a long, long, long time. I can already tell what a different experience it’s going to be reading this book. The conversation that Aziraphale and Crowley have about eternity is evidence of how dialogue works differently in this book. At least here (this may change later), it doesn’t really advance the plot at all. It’s so entertaining because it’s such a great way to show us how these two main characters are dissimilar. Crowley keeps up with modern concepts and pop culture, and Aziraphale is kind of stuffy and ignorant. And I don’t mean maliciously ignorant, but it’s adorable how little he knows about the world he’s in. It’s like his role prevents him from seeing everything that Crowley observes. I think that’s why Crowley is the main instigator in the plan to possibly delay the End of the Everything by becoming the Antichrist’s godfathers. In a way, that is. Both can gently prod and influence him in subtle ways to see which side he might be turning to.

And there’s really a lot about this set up that is intriguing, fascinating, exciting, and hilarious. But out of all this, I think I was most overjoyed by the introduction of the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse, all who have been living in the world, influencing it in different ways. Scarlett brings war to Kumbolaland. Sable brings famine through FOODLESS DIETING. White/Blanc/Albus/Chalky/Weiss/Snowy brings pollution through… wait, I thought that it was supposed to be pestilence. What happened with that? And then Death is there. I admit that it’s weird to come off of The Sandman and read about another characterization of Death that’s not that Death. The Death of the Sandman world is easily my favorite, but I’m interested to see how this portrayal is different. Also, the Horsepeople are going to find out about the Antichrist, aren’t they? Oh boy, this is gonna be good.

Today’s Mark Reads video is for Melissa, and it is in two parts!

Part I

Part II

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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