Good Omens
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Neil Gaiman

Terry Pratchett

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Good Omens

Copyright © 1990 by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

In the beginning

“I think it was a bit of an overreaction, to be honest,” said the serpent. “I mean, first offense and everything. I can’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway.”

“It must be bad,” reasoned Aziraphale, in the slightly concerned tones of one who can’t see it either, and is worrying about it, “otherwise you wouldn’t have been involved. [...]

“You’ve got to admit it’s a bit of a pantomime, though,” said Crawly. “I mean, pointing out the Tree and saying ‘Don’t Touch’ in big letters. Not very subtle, is it? I mean, why not put it on top of a high mountain or a long way off? Makes you wonder what He’s really planning.”

“Best not to speculate, really,” said Aziraphale. “You can’t second-guess ineffability, I always say.”


The Garden of Eden


Eleven years ago

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players,* to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

*i.e., everybody.




Well, Hell was worse, of course, by definition. But Crowley remembered what Heaven was like, and it had quite a few things in common with Hell. You couldn’t get a decent drink in either of them, for a start. And the boredom you got in Heaven was almost as bad as the excitement you got in Hell.


Heaven and Hell

He quite liked nuns. Not that he was a, you know, left-footer or anything like that. No, when it came to avoiding going to church, the church he stolidly avoided going to was St. Cecil and All Angels, no-nonsense C. of E., and he wouldn’t have dreamed of avoiding going to any other.

Most of the members of the convent were old-fashioned Satanists, like their parents and grandparents before them. They’d been brought up to it and weren’t, when you got right down to it, particularly evil. Human beings mostly aren’t. They just get carried away by new ideas, like dressing up in jackboots and shooting people, or dressing up in white sheets and lynching people, or dressing up in tie-dye jeans and playing guitars at people. Offer people a new creed with a costume and their hearts and minds will follow. Anyway, being brought up as a Satanist tended to take the edge off it. It was something you did on Saturday nights.



It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

Wednesday Hell wasn’t a major reservoir of evil, any more than Heaven, in Crowley’s opinion, was a fountain of goodness; they were just sides in the great cosmic chess game. Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind.



Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches work naked. This is because most books on witchcraft are written by men.



“You see, evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction,” said the angel. “It is ultimately negative, and therefore encompasses its downfall even at its moments of apparent triumph. No matter how grandiose, how well-planned, how apparently foolproof an evil plan, the inherent sinfulness will by definition rebound upon its instigators. No matter how apparently successful it may seem upon the way, at the end it will wreck itself. It will founder upon the rocks of iniquity and sink headfirst to vanish without trace into the seas of oblivion.”

Crowley considered this. “Nah,” he said, at last. “For my money, it was just average incompetence.”

“I thought your side disapproved of guns,” said Crowley. He took the gun from the angel’s plump hand and sighted along the stubby barrel.

“Current thinking favors them,” said Aziraphale. “They lend weight to moral argument. In the right hands, of course.”



“You mean none of this cheap, mass-produced murder? Just personal service, every bullet individually fired by skilled craftsmen?”

A typical National World Weekly would tell the world how Jesus’ face was seen on a Big Mac bun bought by someone from Des Moines, with an artist’s impression of the bun; how Elvis Presley was recently sighted working in a Burger Lord in Des Moines; how listening to Elvis records cured a Des Moines housewife’s cancer; how the spate of werewolves infesting the Midwest are the offspring of noble pioneer women raped by Bigfoot; and that Elvis was taken by Space Aliens in 1976 because he was too good for this world.*

That was the National World Weekly. They sold four million copies a week, and they needed a War Correspondent like they needed an exclusive interview with the General Secretary of the United Nations.**

* Remarkably, one of these stories is indeed true.

** The interview was done in 1983 and went as follows:
Q: You’re the Secretary of the United Nations, then?
A: Si.
Q: Ever sighted Elvis?

Red looked to be the kind of woman who, if she took a holiday on any island smaller than Australia, would be doing so because she was friends with the man who owned it.

“I don’t reckon it’s allowed, going round setting fire to people,” said Adam. “Otherwise people’d be doin’ it all the time.”

“It’s all right if you’re religious,” said Brian reassuringly. “And it stops the witches from goin’ to Hell, so I expect they’d be quite grateful if they understood it properly.”

Friday Sometimes you really had to hope that the ineffable plan had been properly thought out.
He’d have liked to believe in a supreme God, although he’d have preferred a half-hour’s chat with Him before committing himself, to clear up one or two points.




Now white and brown sculptures of foam and sludge drifted serenely down the river, often covering it for yards at a stretch. And where the surface of the water was visible it was covered with a molecules-thin petrochemical sheen.

There was a loud whirring as a couple of geese, thankful to be back in England again after the long, exhausting flight across the Northern Atlantic, landed on the rainbow-slicked water, and sank without trace.

Funny old world, thought the delivery man. Here’s the Uck, used to be the prettiest river in this part of the world, and now it’s just a glorified industrial sewer. The swans sink to the bottom, and the fishes float on the top.

Well, that’s progress for you. You can’t stop progress.


“ ’Scuse me, sir. Party name of Chalky?”

The man in white nodded, said nothing. He continued to gaze out at the river, following an impressive sludge and foam sculpture with his eyes.

“So beautiful,” he whispered. “It’s all so damned beautiful.”

Compare to:

Charles Williams

Note for Americans and other city-dwelling life-forms: the rural British, having eschewed central heating as being far too complicated and in any case weakening moral fiber, prefer a system of piling small pieces of wood and lumps of coal, topped by large, wet logs, possibly made of asbestos, into small, smoldering heaps, known as “There’s nothing like a roaring open fire is there?” Since none of these ingredients are naturally inclined to burn, underneath all this they apply a small, rectangular, waxy white lump, which burns cheerfully until the weight of the fire puts it out. These little white blocks are called firelighters. No one knows why.
[...] the pious Scots, locked throughout history in a long-drawn-out battle with their arch-enemies the Scots [...]



“Sir Joshua Device. You may have heard of him? He invented the little rocking thing that made it possible to build accurate clocks cheaply? They named it after him.”

“The Joshua?” said Newt guardedly.

“The device.”

In the last half hour Newt had heard some pretty unbelievable stuff and was close to believing it, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

“The device is named after a real person?” he said.

“Oh, yes. Fine old Lancashire name. From the French, I believe. You’ll be telling me next you’ve never heard of Sir Humphrey Gadget—”



He was afraid that he might soon be conducting his own research project to find out what happened to a statistically small sample of whaler captains who came back without a factory ship full of research material. He wondered what they did to you. Maybe they locked you in a room with a harpoon and expected you to do the honorable thing.

Courting is always difficult when the one being courted has an elderly female relative in the house; they tend to mutter or cackle or bum cigarettes or, in the worst cases, get out the family photograph album, an act of aggression in the sex war which ought to be banned by a Geneva Convention.

“The forces of darkness must be beaten. You seem to be under a misapprehension. The point is not to avoid the war, it is to win it.”

Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: “Learn, guys.”



Now, as Crowley would be the first to protest, most demons weren’t deep down evil. In the great cosmic game they felt they occupied the same position as tax inspectors—doing an unpopular job, maybe, but essential to the overall operation of the whole thing. If it came to that, some angels weren’t paragons of virtue; Crowley had met one or two who, when it came to righteously smiting the ungodly, smote a good deal harder than was strictly necessary. On the whole, everyone had a job to do, and just did it.

Plan A had worked. Plan B had failed. Everything depended on Plan C, and there was one drawback to this: he had only ever planned as far as B.

“You’re Hell’s Angels, then?” asked Big Ted, sarcastically. If there’s one thing real Hell’s Angels can’t abide, it’s weekend bikers.

The four strangers nodded.

“What chapter are you from, then?”

The Tall Stranger looked at Big Ted. Then he stood up. It was a complicated motion; if the shores of the seas of night had deckchairs, they’d open up something like that.

He seemed to be unfolding himself forever.

He wore a dark helmet, completely hiding his features. And it was made of that weird plastic, Big Ted noted. Like, you looked in it, and all you could see was your own face.


“Verses two to eight,” added the boy in white, helpfully.

Rev 6:2-8

It was then that Marvin got religion. Not the quiet, personal kind, that involves doing good deeds and living a better life; not even the kind that involves putting on a suit and ringing people’s doorbells; but the kind that involves having your own TV network and getting people to send you money.

She was convinced that she was anorexic, because every time she looked in the mirror she did indeed see a fat person.

Cars, in theory, give you a terrifically fast method of traveling from place to place. Traffic jams, on the other hand, give you a terrific opportunity to stay still.



Sometimes human beings are very much like bees. Bees are fiercely protective of their hive, provided you are outside it. Once you’re in, the workers sort of assume that it must have been cleared by management and take no notice; various freeloading insects have evolved a mellifluous existence because of this very fact. Humans act the same way.

It had occurred to War that there might one day be an end to War, an end to Famine, possibly even an end to Pollution, and perhaps this was why the fourth and greatest horseman was never exactly what you might call one of the lads. It was like having a tax inspector on your football team. Great to have him on your side, of course, but not the kind of person you wanted to have a drink and a chat with in the bar afterwards.



Mankind had not been very good at learning that swords are dangerous if left lying around, although it had done its limited best to make sure that the chances of one this size being wielded accidentally were high. A cheering thought, that. It was nice to think that mankind made a distinction between blowing their planet to bits by accident and doing it by design.



“You think wars get started because some old duke gets shot, or someone cuts off someone’s ear, or someone’s sited their missiles in the wrong place. It’s not like that. That’s just, well, just reasons, which haven’t got anything to do with it. What really causes wars is two sides that can’t stand the sight of one another and the pressure builds up and up and then anything will cause it. Anything at all.”



“I don’t see what’s so triffic about creating people as people and then gettin’ upset ’cos they act like people,” said Adam severely. “Anyway, if you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive. If I was in charge, I’d try makin’ people live a lot longer, like ole Methuselah. It’d be a lot more interestin’ and they might start thinkin’ about the sort of things they’re doin’ to all the environment and ecology, because they’ll still be around in a hundred years’ time.”

text checked (see note T) Feb 2005; Aug 2007; Jul 2020

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