I know the motto of every avid reader when a book is made into a movie or TV series is “The book was better!” and I know that many fans of Good Omens felt that the recent TV adaptation didn’t live up to the book that they so adored. However, I came to it the other way around and while I did enjoy reading the book, there’s no way I’d be able to get the brilliant performances of David Tennant and Michael Sheen as the demon Crowley and the angel Azariphale, out of my head. To me, the TV series will always be the “real” Good Omens because it got into my brain first.
It is a really interesting novel, though, for anyone raised (as I was) in a Christian church that strongly emphasizes the Second Coming and the end of the world. In this novel, the end of the world is coming, and the demon and angel main characters, who have become quite good friends (if not, perhaps, more than friends? depends how you read it) over their centuries of duty on earth, discover that they don’t actually want the world to end. They don’t want either side of the great conflict to win, because it will mean the end of a life they have come to know and love — human life on earth, with all its flaws and joys.
There’s a lot more going on in Good Omens, but that’s the heart of it for me — the suggestion (exactly what you’d expect from two atheist humanist authors like Pratchett and Gaiman) that humanity at its best is better than any heaven we can devise (and also, of course, the corollary that humanity at its worst is quite hellish enough without need for any actual demons). For those of us who do believe in God and the devil, it raises questions worth asking: Is what we’re offering in terms of an afterlife actually more attractive than this life at its best? Do we sometimes imagine Heaven acting in — well, Hellish ways? What, at bottom, does religion have to offer than humanism doesn’t?
I think I know at least some answers, and I’m sure Gaiman and Pratchett (were Terry Pratchett still around to debate the issue) would disagree, but I love them for raising the questions in such a marvellous, creative, funny and insightful way. And, of course, I love the makers of the TV series for their incredible, perfect casting decisions.