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Good Omens

Urban fantasy comedy about the End of Days

Content warning: slurs, racial stereotypes

In my quest to read books before I watch adaptations, I picked up a copy of this book when I heard it was being turned into a TV series. Unusually, this book is written by two authors and despite some of the scathing commentary inside about whether a book that has sold millions of copies can accurately be described as a cult classic, this book certainly has a dedicated following.

Image is of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The paperback book is placed next to my very own hellhound Pepper, a black merle dog who is giving a bit of side-eye. The cover is black with a crown, a sword and a slingshot.

“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is an urban fantasy comedy novel about an angel called Aziraphale and a demon called Crowley who each live on Earth trying to influence humanity towards good and evil respectively. However, they both really enjoy Earth and have struck up a friendship over the centuries since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. So when Crowley receives news that the Antichrist is coming to Earth to herald the end of days and the annihilation of the world and everyone in it, he and Aziraphale agree to try to prevent the child from reaching his full potential. However, a case of mistaken identity means that Heaven and Hell’s plans have gone awry and between prophecies, witch-hunters, motorcyclists of the apocalypse and four kids, the race is on to stop the end of the world.

I have read plenty of Neil Gaiman and a little of Terry Pratchett, and I think that there is no question that their work is well-known and well-loved around the world. Both authors are known for their reinterpretation of fantasy and mythological tropes, and certainly Christian-inspired fantasy with angels and demons is a popular concept in urban fantasy. I haven’t read too many books that are written by two authors, and one notable example was “Wicked!” by renowned Australian children’s authors Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman. Unlike Jennings and Gleitzman, instead of alternating chapters, Gaiman and Pratchett wrote much more collaboratively. While there are certain jokes and passages that are more reminiscent of one author’s style or another, overall their writing blended very well. This book is very much a product of its time, and I found it enjoyable and nostalgic reading about technology and cultural references in the early 1990s. I think my favourite character in the entire book was the hellhound who becomes known as Dog and whose diabolical nature is tamped down until he becomes a beloved childhood companion. Dog’s internal struggle with his own nature was probably the best and funniest piece of tension in the book.

However, at the risk of bringing the Pratchett-Gaiman fandom raining fire and brimstone down on me, I didn’t love this book. It wasn’t the uproariously funny book I was expecting, and that was not because I’m unfamiliar with quirky British humour. In fact, I thought perhaps watching the TV series would help bring the humour to life a bit but even the show, which is very true to the book, felt a bit flat. I could see what the authors were doing with young Adam and his crew of pre-teen friends, but I found their dialogue really unrealistic and, unlike Paul Jennings, neither particularly funny or compelling. While I often read books that were published some time ago and try to have a bit of patience for changing social standards, I do want to mention that there are quite a few racial stereotypes and slurs against particular races and the queer community peppered throughout this book that are very jarring. I am certain that Gaiman would not use this language today, but, for example, the scene where Aziraphale temporarily possesses an Aboriginal man was pretty cringe by today’s standards.

A bit of a let down after all the hype, so if you’re looking to read either author, this probably wouldn’t be the book I’d recommend you start with.

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The Colour of Magic

One of the biggest and most publicised losses to literature in 2015 was the death of Terry Pratchett. To my great shame, when I heard the news, I had actually not read a single one of his books. I had heard of Discworld, of course, and had even watched some of the animated adaptations as a kid. I was familiar with the idea of a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, themselves balanced on a galactic turtle. I even went along to a commemorative, Terry Pratchett-themed evening by Naked Girls Reading. However, I still had never managed to get around to reading any of his books myself. I finally took myself to a bookstore, and found that The Discworld series has been released in stunning hardcover editions with beautiful metallic detailing. I picked up a copy of “The Colour of Magic”, the first book in the Discworld series, and gave it a go.

“The Colour of Magic” is to fantasy as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is to science fiction. It is without a doubt a fantasy story, but it is at the same time a clever satire of the genre. The book follows Rincewind, a wizard who, had he been born on this world, would have probably been a high school physics teacher. However, on Discworld, Rincewind is a largely useless and skeptical wizard who seems to have a lot of luck (both good and bad). He somehow finds himself responsible for the naive and irrepressible tourist Twoflower, and the pair of them begin a long and convoluted journey throughout Discworld accruing (and narrowly escaping) a multitude of attempts on their lives.

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This book is funny. Throughout the novel, any fantasy buff can pick up on the numerous jabs at tropes and big names in the genre. Despite its several adaptations into animated series, this book is also surprisingly adult. When I say that this book is comparable to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, I’m not kidding. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams both had a knack for writing the absurd and using it as a platform for spoof. I think perhaps if I had read Pratchett first, I would have thought he was incredible. However, because I had read Adams first, I think some of the novelty of this writing style was lost and I was maybe not as impressed with Pratchett as I could have been.

I’ve been told that “The Colour of Magic” is not the best book in the Discworld series, and I believe it. Pratchett is clearly a master of world-building, and a lot of this book is spent outlining the structure, culture, geography and climate of Discworld. However, I think the narrative suffers (understandably) a bit because of this and parts of the book read a little like a textbook. Nevertheless, this book is clearly a the first of what became a cult following, and the pockets of brilliance in “The Colour of Magic” are more than enough to finally get me onto the Pratchett train.

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