Saturday, August 27, 2011

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman


An extremely clever and enjoyable book. Honestly, more of a four-and-a-half star book, though I suspect at least some of the that is due to the narrator (not Neil Gaiman), who voices the characters quite well--particularly Adam and his friends, Aziraphale, and Crowley.

The book includes the necessary ingredients for modern apocalyptic literature--a creative spin on the four horsemen (Pestilence having been replaced by Pollution after the development of penicillin); angels and demons who, when it comes right down to it, aren't really that anxious for Armageddon and the world's end; an unusual hell-hound; abstruse-yet-accurate prophecies; unlikely alliances; witch hunters; and, of course, questions about the nature of God, man, good, evil, fate, and responsibility. In fact, having just finished Season Six of Supernatural (yes, the CW show--don't judge me), I was surprised to see the commonality between the two tales of the Apocalypse.

The authors' theology (or complaints about theology) necessarily bleed through into the text, but then I don't expect orthodox theology from modern fantasy literature. And the questions and accusations leveled at Christian beliefs (as understood by the authors) are common to many, and are thus of the sort that orthodox Christians should be prepared to encounter and address.

I was surprised to see that the sovereignty (or 'ineffability') of Providence was highlighted so directly--that is, several characters readily acknowledge that God's plan is not meant to be understood by mankind, or even angels and demons. It's not a doctrine that the secular world tends to embrace. The authors do sometimes paint it as a cop-out, but it is still presented as a theological fact.

There was, understandably, a lot of focus on free will, choosing good or evil, and humanity being at least potentially capable of good if undisturbed by supernatural influences. This undercurrent of human superiority (and veiled contempt of heaven and hell and their need to complicate things unnecessarily) is, I suppose, to be expected.

Possibly the most distressing aspect of the book is its inability to paint evil as truly evil. Having cast at least one demon as a possible ally for the humans, the authors ended up creating a heaven and hell which weren't really all that different from one another. People, meanwhile, were portrayed as capable of evil, but not really evil in and of themselves. But then, it's a humorous book, and a serious treatment of the problem of evil and the horror of hell was not to be expected.

All in all, it was a blast to listen to, and quite well done. Collaborative works can be tricky--I've never read Pratchett, but I very much enjoy Gaiman's work, and the two of them seem to work well together. The finished product may not be quite as seamless as a single-author work might be, but it's still a lot of fun (and quite funny). At any rate, I find myself wanting to read more Pratchett.

Definitely worth a listen. And probably well worth a read, as well.

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