Michaeline: Good Omens is the Apocalyptic Fiction for Our Times

Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) and David Tennant (Crowley) in 2019’s Good Omens TV series. (Image via IMDb)

For once, I was on the cutting edge of things. My husband subscribed to Amazon Prime in March to easily send stuff to our daughter who went away to college, and at about the same time, I found out that Good Omens was coming.

Good Omens was originally a lovely book written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman about the impending End Times. It was published in 1990, and was full of clever little international references – Elvis as a fry chef, our changing diet, and of course, the Apocalypse.

Anyone who has read the brochures left by the Jehovah’s Witnesses knows something about the coming apocalypse and all the assorted cavalry and plagues and trumpets. I remember visiting the County Fair in the late 70s, and seeing great big bulletin boards filled with a timeline for the Second Coming of Christ, and was quite upset about the whole thing until someone talked some sense into me. End of the World? Why, I’d hardly gotten started with it at that point. Someone told me that no one really knows when the end is coming, and also that I needed to be less impressed with big bulletin boards and scary predictions.

From 1985 to 2001, according to Wikipedia, we’ve seen someone predicting the end of the world for each and every year – sometimes multiple predictions. The pace slowed down after that, but nearly every other year, there’s been someone saying the world is going to end. I remember particularly the Y2K bug, and the end of the Mayan calendar.

The Y2K bug was particularly worrying. We had just gotten internet in 1999, and that was one of the first things I saw online. I planted extra pumpkins and worried excessively, but the internet scareth, and the internet comforteth in equal measures. Someone talked me down, and on the plus side, we had some gorgeous jack o’lanterns that year, and we didn’t have to eat a single one.

So, you’d think we’d be over the apocalypse in 2019; so many prophets crying wolf. But . . . have you seen the news over the past three years? Things that would have only showed up on surreal satire shows in 1990 are suddenly real things. Just this week, we’ve had a US president saying he was the Chosen One, and a UK prime minister visiting France and resting his foot briefly on the furniture (Politico reports later that the president called it a joke, and also, the Mirror says the prime minister was also joking).

I suppose that tells you a lot about me – I see both as possible omens that we might, indeed, be seeing the end of the world as we know it.

However, during this time of upheaval and craziness, Amazon Prime Video and the BBC brought Good Omens to our home screens. Terry Pratchett is gone but not forgotten, and Neil Gaiman himself ushered the story through its transformative stages.

Like a good citizen of the 21st century, I binged all six episodes in one night with my family. Then I watched it again slowly with my husband. This blog post isn’t really about Good Omens, the Series, but I do recommend watching it. It’s so good and kind, and places so much faith in the nature of humankind to do the right thing, even while doing the worst things.

What this blog post is REALLY about, though, is what happened to Good Omens after the series.

Now, Good Omens always had fans. I loved the book and read it three or four times; others read it until it was tattered and torn and bath-stained, then went out and bought another copy and read that one to death, too.

But after Prime Video? The fallen angel Crowley (nee Crawly) and principality Aziraphale caught the hearts of thousands on Twitter (and I’m sure on other social media, as well). I always looked upon their relationship as the buddy road trip that lasted 6000 years. They grew to love each other.

However, to these new and reborn fans, that love was more than “storge” (the love of companions) – it was ALL kinds of love, including “eros” or romantic love. When I see the term “ineffable husbands”, I know they are talking about Crowley and Aziraphale.

Queer love, like witchcraft, has been illegal and dangerous during many periods in the past. So, it’s developed a very coded presentation – those in the know can catch the hints, while those who don’t care to know can let the hints fly right over their heads.

On Twitter, Gaiman has said he doesn’t see two angels as having sexes (but he also allows that once a work leaves the storyteller’s control and enters the world, it becomes the readers’ and the viewers’ work — see headcanon). I tend to lean towards the ace theory of angels, myself . . . but I have to tell you, the queer theory of these two angels has produced quite a body of beautiful and uplifting art.

First there were the stickers (one example), and the cosplay – and people playing Crowley and Aziraphale were definitely basing their portrayals on the David Tennant/Michael Sheen characters. The stickers evolved into comics, and were soon joined by gifs and memes. One of my favorites is the Twitter account made up of Aziraphale (played by Sheen) dancing the gavotte to many different songs. The brilliant smile of accomplishment that Sheen gives us at the end of the scene makes the whole world seem right for a second or two.

This week, I saw a short parody advertisement for the antidepressant pill, Aziraphale. In it, a cranky Crowley gradually cheers up as the Aziraphale effect begins to work. (And how good is it that the creator is Allegra? A medicine used to treat allergies and hives?)

What fascinates me is how the work – this one story – evolved from a paper book to a television series, and then exploded into a hundred other creative lifeforms. I think Terry Pratchett would have been bemused, but I think he would have liked it. Neil Gaiman has been entirely gracious about it, and has actually retweeted the fan art to boost the signal. (NB: fan art in this case covers illustrations, fanfics, animations, live-action adaptations and other forms of art.)

It really has brought out the best in creative people, and has been a source of comfort, entertainment and inspiration to me personally. When you contrast it to the crumbling of civilization that’s taking place in the world, it’s a small bright spot of what humans are capable of doing when they love.

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: Good Omens is the Apocalyptic Fiction for Our Times

    • I feel that Pratchett, in particular, has guided my development as a human being, and as such, my writing as well. Such a light touch! And such warmth and understanding for human foibles — I think Gaiman has the same sort of touch in his public persona (I think his writing is a lot darker than Pratchett’s, and what I’ve read has less of a focus on the humans, and more of a focus on the Problem. Which is also good, but not so life-changing.)

  1. I haven’t watched the Tennant/Sheen series yet, but I intend to. Now more than ever! And I have the weekend more or less free, so maybe now’s the time.

    Also, I loved that fake commercial. Really funny. But—in general, I usually find all the takeoffs and redos and so on of original work to be a little depressing. I’m not talking about filmed versions of books, or booked versions of films, but all the memes and stickers and fake advertisements and whatnot that people do. I usually think, all that creativity, and this is what they do with it? Riff on somebody else’s idea? That’s probably just me.

    • I found it so great — as good as the book. And the shockwaves it sets off!

      In general, I’m not a huge fanfic fan — but I think Sturgeon’s Law applies here. Ninety percent of anything is dreck. The stuff that’s good really shines (and often shines without knowing the original material).

      (-: One could argue that Shakespeare was history’s most successful fanficcer.

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