The following is in response to the collaboration of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.”
Attention all readers of nonfiction: if you are planning to step over to the dark side—to read fiction—then you should consider starting with this book. Good Omens is a hilarious comedy set in the United Kingdom, where the end of the world is supposed to take place. I said to myself, “Evin, you’re not stupid enough to believe the world is going to end because of the Mayans ran out of inspiration for finishing their calendar, so why not read a funny book about the apocalypse?” And I said yes to myself.
The idea that I find most interesting in this book is that having Heaven and Hell fighting against one another so that ultimately one side will win and the other will lose isn’t fun at all. The antichrist, an eleven-year-old boy named Adam Young, is the leader of a small neighborhood gang, the Them. Them’s rival is the Greasy Johnsonites. In their discussion of the end of days, Pepper, the only girl in the Them, says “…if we beat them, we’d have to be our own deadly enemies. It’d be me an’ Adam against Brian an’ Wensley,” to which Adam replies, “That’s what I thought. It’s no good anyone wining. That’s what I thought” (p. 292). Perhaps the Mayans were right, but after reading Good Omens, Heaven and Hell agreed that it wouldn’t be much fun without fighting each other and decided not to go through with it.
Now I want to digress for a second and tell you about a discovery that I made this week. I promise I have a point relevant to the book. I just got back from my second trip to New York City, where I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or as New Yorkers call it “The MET.” The museum has a lot of really interesting things to look at so don’t waste your trip to the Big Apple in Times Square—the McDonald’s and Starbucks in your home town is exactly the same. I really enjoyed the ancient Arabic artifacts that they had. In the gift shop I found a book called “Arabic Script” by Gabriel Mandel Khan. Khan has this to say about the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, alif:
Because the shape of the alif resembles the numeral 1, it symbolizes the selfness of God as well as his unity. Thus, this letter takes on the archetypal value of the whole alphabet, which is begins, and is thus also identified with Adam, the father of humankind (and thus any diacritical sign affirming this letter’s value is identified with Eve).
The three main positions of Islamic prayer are: standing, like the alif; kneeling, like the dal; and prostrate, like the mim. These three letters also make up the name…For some sects, however, the alif represents Satan, because like him “it does not bow” to God…(p. 27)
My point: I wonder if either Gaiman or Pratchett knew that the name Adam is sometimes viewed as a satanic word (because it begins with alif).
Anyways, let me tell you about my favorite parts of this book. (On page 313) War, Famine, Pollution, and Death—as they appear in revelations, though on motorbikes instead of horses—waltz onto a military base and no one does anything to stop them. It’s not like the people knew who they were and avoided them out of fear, but the humans on the military base simply didn’t pay them any attention at all. I like this part because it is a good example of witnessing, or the lack thereof. War, famine, pollution, and death: these are all things that are happening right now because of the United States and their involvement in other countries. But we don’t witness any of it. We are detached. Metatron is the voice of God, an entity that does all of God’s work while he sites in his firmament, not having to witness much of anything. If Metatron is the voice of God, then drones are the voice of America. Our president sits around in the White House controlling the deaths of countless civilians by ordering drone strikes on his kill list.
This violence is so pointless—what’s going to happen in the end? Will one country win and another lose? Will we be satisfied if we win with nothing to occupy our minds, incapable of witnessing? Who does this war actually benefit? Win or lose, we all lose.