Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
(1990) is a fantasy novel
written in collaboration between Terry Pratchett
and Neil Gaiman
The book is a comedy and a quasi-parody of the 1976 film The Omen (as well as other books and films of the genre), concerning the birth of the son of Satan, the coming of the End Times and the attempts of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley to avert them, having become accustomed to their comfortable situations in the human world. A subplot features the gathering of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse—War, Famine, Pollution (Pestilence having retired in 1936 following the discovery of penicillin), and Death—the last of whom is characterised in a manner reminiscent of the personification of Death in Pratchett's Discworld novels and calls himself Azrael before his final exit.
It is the coming of the End Times; the Apocalypse is near, and Final Judgment will soon descend upon the human race. This comes as a bit of bad news to the angel Aziraphale (who was the angel of the Garden of Eden) and the demon Crowley (who was the serpent who tempted Eve to eat the apple), respectively the representatives of God and Satan on Earth, as they've actually gotten quite used to living their cozy, comfortable, lives and, in a perverse way, actually have taken a liking to humanity. As such, since they're both good friends (despite supposedly being polar opposites, representing Good and Evil as they do), they decide to work together and keep an eye on the Antichrist, destined to be the son of a prominent American diplomat stationed in Britain, and thus ensure he grows up in a way that means he can never decide simply between Good and Evil and, therefore, postpone the end of the world.
Unfortunately, Warlock, the child everyone thinks is the Anti-Christ is, in fact, a perfectly normal eleven-year-old boy. Owing to a bit of a switch-up at birth, the real Anti-Christ is in fact Adam Young, a charismatic and slightly otherworldly eleven-year-old who, despite being the harbinger of the Apocalypse, has lived a perfectly normal life as the son of typically English parents and, as a result, has no idea of his true powers. As Adam blissfully and naively uses his powers, creating around him the world of Just William (because he thinks that's what an English child's life should be like), the race is on to find him—the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse assemble and the incredibly accurate (yet so highly specific as to be useless) prophecies of Agnes Nutter, seventeenth-century prophetess, are rapidly coming true.
Agnes Nutter was a witch in the 17th century and the only truly accurate prophet to have ever lived. She wrote a book called The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch a collection of prophecies that did not sell very well because they were unspectacular, cryptic and, ironically enough, all true. She, in fact, decided to publish it only so that she could receive a free copy as the author. There is only one copy of the book left, which belongs to her descendant Anathema Device. Agnes was burnt at the stake by a mob (because that's what mobs did at that time); however, because she had foreseen her fiery end ("ye're tardy; I should have been aflame ten minutes since") and had packed 80 pounds of gunpowder and 40 pounds of roofing nails into her petticoats; everyone who participated in the burning was killed instantly.
In the end, Anathema teams up with Newton Pulsifer, the descendant of the man who initiated the burning of Agnes, to use the prophesies and find the Antichrist. Unfortunately, that is exactly what everyone else is trying to do, and time is running out.
Gaiman and Pratchett had known each other since 1985 and it was their own idea, not that of their publisher, to collaborate on a novel.
Neil Gaiman has said:
- We were both living in England when we wrote it. At an educated guess, although neither of us ever counted, Terry probably wrote around 60,000 "raw" and I wrote 45,000 "raw" words of Good Omens, with, on the whole, Terry taking more of the plot with Adam and the Them in, and me doing more of the stuff that was slightly more tangential to the story, except that broke down pretty quickly and when we got towards the end we swapped characters so that we'd both written everyone by the time it was done, but then we also rewrote and footnoted each others bits as we went along, and rolled up our sleeves to take the first draft to the second (quite a lot of words), and, by the end of it, neither of us was entirely certain who had written what. It was indeed plotted in long daily phone calls, and we would post floppy disks (and this was back in 1988 when floppy disks really were pretty darn floppy) back and forth.
While Terry Pratchett has said:
- I think this is an honest account of the process of writing Good Omens. It was fairly easy to keep track of because of the way we sent discs to one another, and because I was Keeper of the Official Master Copy I can say that I wrote a bit over two thirds of Good Omens. However, we were on the phone to each other every day, at least once. If you have an idea during a brainstorming session with another guy, whose idea is it? One guy goes and writes 2,000 words after thirty minutes on the phone, what exactly is the process that's happening? I did most of the physical writing because:
- # I had to. Neil had to keep Sandman going – I could take time off from the DW;
- # One person has to be overall editor, and do all the stitching and filling and slicing and, as I've said before, it was me by agreement – if it had been a graphic novel, it would have been Neil taking the chair for exactly the same reasons it was me for a novel;
- # I'm a selfish bastard and tried to write ahead to get to the good bits before Neil.
- Initially, I did most of Adam and the Them and Neil did most of the Four Horsemen, and everything else kind of got done by whoever – by the end, large sections were being done by a composite creature called Terryandneil, whoever was actually hitting the keys. By agreement, I am allowed to say that Agnes Nutter, her life and death, was completely and utterly mine. And Neil proudly claims responsibility for the maggots. Neil's had a major influence on the opening scenes, me on the ending. In the end, it was this book done by two guys, who shared the money equally and did it for fun and wouldn't do it again for a big clock."
Alterations between versions
The United States edition of Good Omens
had numerous alterations to the text. The most significant of these is the addition of an extra 700-word section just before the end, dealing with what happened to the character of Warlock, the American diplomat's son, who was swapped with Adam.
The Dutch translation of Good Omens contains an ironic preface by the translator wherein he asserts that no extra footnotes were added to clarify matters that might be unclear to a modern audience—annotated with footnotes explaining omen and Crowley.
- Добри поличби (Bulgarian)
- 好預兆 (Traditional Chinese)
- 好兆头 (Simplified Chinese)
- Dobrá znamení (Czech)
- Hoge Omens: de oprechte en secure voorspellingen van Agnes Nutter, een heks (Dutch)
- Head ended (Estonian)
- Hyviä enteitä eli Agnes Nutterin hienot ja oikeat ennustukset (Finnish)
- De bons présages (French)
- Ein gutes Omen (German)
- Bsorot Tovot: Nevuotiha Hanechmadot Ve-Hamedooyakot Shel Egnes Nutter, MAcshefaבשורות טובות: נבואותיה הנחמדות והמדויקות של אגנס נאטר, מכשפה (Hebrew)
- Elveszett Próféciák (Hungarian)
- Buona Apocalisse a tutti! (Italian)
- 멋진 징조들 (Korean)
- Dobry Omen (Polish)
- Belas Maldições: As Belas e Precisas Profecias de Agnes Nutter, Bruxa (Brazilian Portuguese)
- Bons Augúrios (Portuguese)
- Semne bune (Romanian)
- Добрые предзнаменования (Russian)
- Dobra predskazanja (Serbian)
- Buenos Presagios, las buenas y ajustadas profecias de Agnes la Chalada, profetisa (Spanish)
- Goda Omen (Swedish)
- Bir Kıyamet Komedisi (Turkish)
668—The Neighbour of the Beast
was slated as the title for a sequel to Good Omens
, but after Neil Gaiman moved to the United States, Terry Pratchett expressed doubt that a sequel would be written. Neil Gaiman later affirmed this in one of his essays, titled, Terry Pratchett: An Appreciation
, directed by Terry Gilliam
, was planned. As of 2002 Gilliam still hoped to make the film with its already completed script, but by 2006 it seemed to have come to nothing. Funding was slow to appear and Gilliam moved on to other projects. The film was removed from IMDB
. There was a rumour that Johnny Depp
was originally cast as Crowley and Robin Williams
as Aziraphale. However Neil Gaiman has said on his website, "Well, Robin's worked with Terry Gilliam before as well, of course, most famously in The Fisher King
. But I have no idea about Good Omens
casting (except for Shadwell. Terry told me who he wanted to play Shadwell. I immediately forgot the man's name, although I can assure you that it wasn't Robin Williams). According to an interview in May 2006 at The Guardian Hay Festival
, Gilliam is apparently still hoping to go ahead with the film.
Even in 2008, Gilliam is still hopeful about the project. Neil Gaiman's Stardust and Beowulf were successful as films in 2007, which has given the Good Omens adaptation a better chance to get picked up. A Gilliam quote from an Empire interview: "And I thought with Neil, with Stardust and with Beowulf and there’s another one – an animated film, a Henry Selick thing he’s written [Coraline], I was thinking he’s really hot now, so maybe there’s a chance. I mean it’s such a wonderful book. And I think our script is pretty good, too. We did quite a few changes. We weren’t as respectful as we ought to have been. But Neil’s happy with it!
The tedious history of this project and similar experiences with Gaiman's various other works (including The Sandman series) have led to his cynical view of the Hollywood process, a view which occasionally surfaces in his weblog and in some of his short fiction. Terry Pratchett shares a similar opinion, and has been quoted as saying, "The difference between me and Neil in our attitude to movie projects is that he doesn't believe they're going to happen until he's sitting in his seat eating popcorn, and I don't believe they're going to happen.
Terry Pratchett has had many of the same issues with Hollywood 'suits', but he, too, would love to see the film made.