The Bonus of Reading (or Rereading) GOOD OMENS After Watching The Show
Whether you read Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch when it first came to bookshelves in 1990, or you only experienced the story for the first time thanks to Amazon’s great new mini-series, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Apocalyptic comedy is worth reliving. But we’re not just talking about watching the show again (which we will), we’re talking about reading—or rereading—the novel, because it has more to offer from this wonderful tale of an angel and demon who team up to stop Armageddon.
Great Scenes and Characters That Didn’t Make The Cut
As far as adaptations go, Good Omens is incredibly faithful, in large part because Neil Gaiman wrote all six episodes himself. But even with six hour-long episodes, certain cuts had to be made because of “money and time.” Unfortunately those omissions included some of our favorite sequences and characters. Here are just a few of the things we curse Heaven and here for not getting to see on the screen.
Adam Young and his crew of friends still played a vital role in the series, but less so than in the book. In the novel, the Them are for more curious about the world, and their brainstorming sessions are among the funniest scenes in the book, as is their hilarious, much longer attempt at their own Spanish Inquisition. Also, Adam’s protective love for Lower Tadfield and his connection with his adoring friends get a deeper exploration, and the more you know about Adam, about who and what he loves, the more powerful his journey becomes. If you liked what you saw of the Them, you’ll love what you get to read about them.
Aziraphale’s Body-Jumping Adventure
Aziraphale’s spirit doesn’t jump straight into Madame Tracy’s body in the book like he does on the show; he spends some time hopping around the planet into others first, giving Good Omens one of its funniest sequences. This was always a likely cut (you can’t have one of your lead characters disappear for that long on a TV show), but that didn’t make us miss it any less. Not only is it hysterical, it’s also meaningful to the theme, since the people he overtakes connect to the story of good and evil—especially a televangelist.
Mr. Young and Mary Loquacious
The well-meaning, mostly hapless Mr. Young is one of our favorite minor characters in the novel, and, while we loved the version we saw in the mini-series, we wanted a lot more of him. That was also true for Sister Mary Loquacious, whose wonderful incompetence led to the Antichrist baby mix-up. They are both wonderful characters, and the two have a long, absurd conversation during Adam’s “birth” the show only hinted at. That moment alone is reason enough to read the novel.
The Other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Not only do we wish we got to see a lot more from the actual Four Horseman—especially War, who helps create a lot more needless (and hysterical) bloodshed in the book—we were praying we’d get to see the other Four Horsemen join them on their ride to Lower Tadfield. They are four bikers who meet the actual Horsemen at the diner (during an amazing scene with Death playing an arcade trivia game). The incompetent group gives themselves very specific, very funny “horrible” names and we love everything about them even if they technically ride with evil.
A Different Path Down a Beautiful Road
Amazon’s adaptation is far more direct with its themes. That was a necessary and effective change for a TV show, but the trade-off was that it removed some of the subtlety and beauty of Gaiman and Pratchett’s story, which is full of poignant insights and observations.
On the show, Heaven and here are clearly two sides of the same terrible coin. No matter how you flip it, no one wins with moral absolutism. The presence of Jon Hamm’s Gabriel, only mentioned once in the book, is a big reason for this. No one would confuse him with a truly good person/celestial being. This idea is much more subtle in the novel, as Aziraphale’s thoughts continue to hint at this truth, even as the angel himself is slow to realize it. If anything, he has even more of an evil streak in the book since he is Heaven’s only representative, even though he is consistently trying to do the right thing for the right reasons (which itself is meaningful).
Also, the relationships that prove so vital in stopping Armageddon—Crowley and Aziraphale, Anathema and Newt, Shadwell and Madame Tracy, the Them (and their own young opposition group who didn’t make it onto the show)—are developed in a much more intimate way in the books. Even if the main ideas are the same in both versions of the story, how they are expressed are different enough and are only enriched by reading the novel.
It’s More Rewarding (and Clearer) the Second Time
The only thing better than experiencing Good Omens the first time is experiencing it the second time. There are payoffs to things you didn’t even know were being set up the first time through (like the presence of a certain fast food chef, only hinted at on the show). At times, the story, written in a frantic, chaotic manner, is confusing. Some sections aren’t exactly clear the first time through, and they are richer and more fulfilling when you know exactly what is happening the second time. There’s a reason some book fans have reread it dozens of times. Each time through you pick up on new jokes and insights.
Season two of Good Omens will release on July 28. So it’s a great time to think about the series again. If you have only watched the mini-series, or haven’t picked up your copy of the book in a long time, Good Omens feels designed to be enjoyed even more the second (or third or fourth or…) time. And what would be a greater tribute to the late Terry Pratchett than if the adaptation he asked his friend Neil Gaiman to create then led to more people reading their book?
That alone is worth reading, or rereading, it.
Originally published on June 4, 2019.
Featured Image: Prime Video