Good Omens, Dogma, and Nostalgia

May 23, 2013 Coming of Age, Fantasy, Humor, Mythology, Personal, Religion 43

Salutations Bookworms!

I recently finished reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s been on my radar for a while, but I only now got around to giving it a go. Gaiman and Pratchett are both well known authors of the quirky variety, so it seems natural that they teamed up, especially given the cheeky and irreverent nature of the subject matter…

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

So, Heaven and Hell are operating as usual, what with the demons trying to make human life difficult and the angels trying to influence things the other direction. One day, Satan gets all antsy and decides to pull a Rosemary’s Baby by sending the fruit of his loins onto the earth to bring about Armageddon. Thanks to an order of Satanist nuns (who attempt to be as loud as possible to differentiate themselves from other nuns who take vows of silence… Very contrary, Satanists), there’s a bit of a mix up in the hospital. Satan’s spawn is sent home to grow up with an unsuspecting set of parents while a mortal baby is raised in pretty bizarre circumstances. Satanist nannies do their best to influence “Warlock” to embrace his evil, while the angels keep sticking their noses in to try and make him overcome his nature. Obviously their efforts are in vain, as baby Warlock is in possession of no supernatural capabilities.

While the forces of good and evil play a celestial chess game with a frustratingly mortal child, Adam, the ACTUAL demon spawn, is left to grow up like any other human. The only angels and devils perched on his shoulders are purely metaphorical. One angel and one demon in particular (Aziraphale and Crowley, respectively) play an especially important role in bringing about the end of the world, but they’ve become rather disenchanted with the idea of a celestial battle. While Aziraphale and Crowley have been growing weary, War, Famine, Pollution, and Death (the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, of course, Pestilence having retired following the discovery of penicillin) have been gearing up for the end of days. Despite the best intentions of both Heaven and Hell, neither side is particularly well prepared for Armageddon thanks to humanity fouling things up. You try plotting world destruction when your minions are unreliable!


The Devil and Angel on my shoulders!

To be completely honest (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) Good Omens left me feeling lukewarm. I can’t discuss this book without bringing up Dogma. In 1999, Kevin Smith and his merry band of misfits put together a movie that was heavily influenced by Good Omens, though not a movie version of the book. Gaiman was instrumental in helping Smith craft his tale, and is thanked in the credits. I knew Good Omens and Dogma were in cahoots, but I was disappointed to find out that the story was completely different. I mean, sure. Heaven, Hell, Armageddon, creatures from another realm of existence doing battle- that was all there. But some of the elements that really drew me to the movie like heckling organized religion and giving a little spin on the family history of Jesus were absent in this book. My connection to Dogma is polluted by nostalgia. That movie came out when I was in high school, and Kevin Smith offered just the right combination of humor, intelligence, and bad language to make watching his movies as a teen a safe way to rebel while not getting into any ACTUAL trouble. (Appreciating humor at the expense of established cultural norms does not represent my feelings on religion in any way, so please don’t think that I’m being disrespectful. I simply enjoy revisionist takes on history- biblical and otherwise.)

I recently read somewhere that people who don’t read The Catcher in The Rye as a teenager will never appreciate it properly, and I think this might be the case with me and Good Omens. What about you, Bookworms? Have you ever (gasp) liked a movie better than a book? Were you ashamed to admit it?

43 Responses to “Good Omens, Dogma, and Nostalgia”

  1. Zen A.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who had lukewarm feelings towards Good Omens. I was sure that it would be something wonderful, but I ended up feeling a bit disappointed.

    And I’m guilty of liking the Lord of the Rings movies a lot more than the books, if only because I was spared all those lengthy descriptions!

  2. Charleen

    Two examples that come to mind are Stardust and The Princess Bride. In both instances I saw the movie first, although I don’t know that that’s a factor or not.

    In the case of The Princess Bride, I do love the book, but for different reasons than I love the movie, so it really is hard to say one is better than the other because they have such different feels (although the story is much more similar than Stardust… getting to that…) but on the whole, pure entertainment value, I’d have to go with the movie.

    (IF I’d read the book first, I might feel differently, because what I think are the best parts of the book aren’t in the movie. But really, they’re both great in their own ways.)

    Stardust, on the other hand… I really felt pretty meh about the book and I really loved the movie, and I don’t think that would be different if I’d experienced them in the opposite order. If anything, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the movie, which would be a real shame. The movie keeps the same basic idea but changes a LOT. And… to be honest I’m really not a fan of Gaiman (although it took me a while to concede that, no, I’m not just picking the wrong books, he’s just not the author for me). He’s very imaginative, but we just don’t mesh well.

    So… while the book does explain a few things that the movie glosses over, and I’m not sorry I read it, the movie is so much better. For me. People who love the book may well feel differently about that.

    And I’ll stop taking over your comments now.

    (Except to say Dogma is brilliant. “Even God has a sense of humor… just look at the platypus.”)

    • Words for Worms

      I love when you take over my comments, you leave such excellent thoughts! I haven’t read Startdust, but I might be cooling on Gaiman a little. I’m not sure. It’s like me not loving Tim Burton despite all the reasons I should…

  3. Ashley F

    LOL you have to read a book called “I, Lucifer” by Glen Duncan. This book literally had the BEST opening paragraph EVER.

      • Ashley F

        Basically Lucifer is given the opportunity to get back into heaven if he spends 1 month living the life of a human and basically behaving himself. Except they stick him in the body of a depressed loser who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend and is trying to kill himself.

        First paragraph:

        I, Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Prince Of Darkness, Bringer of Light, Ruler of Hell, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, Apostate Supreme, Tempter of Mankind, Old Serpent, Prince of This World, Seducer, Accuser, Tormentor, Blasphemer, and without a doubt Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen Universe (ask Eve, that minx) have decided – oo la la! – to tell all.

      • Ashley F

        Read it! He has another book called “Death of an Ordinary Man” which is also good.

    • Words for Worms

      You should fear devil penguins. The angel penguins may not be out to exact revenge on your bloodthirsty ways, but the devils surely will. Can’t you just switch to fish and leave the penguins out of your diets?!

  4. PinotNinja

    I’ve always stayed away from Good Omens because I also absolutely love Dogma and how insightfully and irreverently contrarian it is. And, anything where SIlent Bob saves the day and Alanis Morisette is god (because of course she is) is just a genius that cannot be topped.

    But, maybe its worth reading anyway? If for nothing else, then to see the origins of what the Dogma crew started with?

    • Words for Worms

      If you don’t go in with super high expectations maybe you’ll like it better than I did? I don’t know. I adore Alanis Morisette’s smirking silly God self. It was delicious.

  5. Cindy

    I love Dogma so much, I don’t know how the book could be better. Maybe if I’d read the book first? I’m not sure if I would want to read the book or not, even to see the influences.

    I’m not thinking of any movies that I liked better than the book right now. I can’t say Lord of the Rings, even though I LOVED the movies, there were things left out that I missed. Not that I’m complaining, there is no way that they could have put everything in the movies that was in the books.

    • Words for Worms

      I keep thinking I might have liked the book better if I wasn’t polluted by my love for Dogma, but I’m not sure if that’s the case…

  6. lostinliterature108


    Julie and Julia….movie is way better than the book, in my opinion.

    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Movie is better.

    Other than those two, I always stand by the book. (Even Lord of the Rings):)
    And I just don’t want to even think of a movie for The Book Thief!

    • Words for Worms

      The Wizard of Oz is one that I think is so different that they’re each awesome in their own way… Like the Emerald City being a WHITE city and everyone was forced to wear green glasses? That illustrated the whole Wizard sham. Shame to leave that out. I haven’t read Julie and Julia, but by and large I pick the book over the movie, hence my vexation at this situation…

  7. Rory

    Dogma! Since we are the same age, I have the same feelings of nostalgia towards that movie. I haven’t read Hoid Omens, but now I’m curious.

    And I like the penguin photo. Nicely done!

    • Words for Worms

      Seriously! Whenever I watch it I feel like a smug 16 year old. Sigh.

      Thanks about the photo. I can’t believe I retained anything from the photoshop class I took a decade ago…

  8. Megan M.

    I love Kevin Smith! I wasn’t aware that Dogma was influenced by Gaiman. I concede Gaiman’s genius but I haven’t read very much of his stuff, only Stardust and The Graveyard Book, both of which I loved. I knew a guy once who swore that Dogma was just a fun and crazy movie and had nothing to do with religious satire. He also didn’t believe in self-fulfilling prophecies and thought the expression was “blasé fair” rather than “laissez-faire.” Good thing he was funny.

  9. Stephanie

    I definitely felt like I was firmly in the target audience for this book – I like Neil Gaiman and am a huge fan of British humor, absurdism, and irreverent snarkiness. Despite all that, when I picked it up to read a few years ago I couldn’t get into it at all and put it down around 50 pages in. I thought the problem was Terry Pratchett because despite my aforementioned love for Brit Humor I’ve never really gotten his Discworld series. But then earlier this year, with determination to read this thing, I got the audio version out of the library and suddenly the awesomeness unfolded. The narrator (Martin Jarvis) was perfect and listening made it a whole different and much more pleasant and funnier experience. I’ve wondered if my change of heart was to do with the fact that this book is better listened to, or if I was just in a different place the second time around. Either way, I recommend the audiobook. But my first experience with the book also means I understand why you were meh about it.

  10. Samantha

    It’s been a few years since I read Good Omens last, and I feel like I should revisit it. I liked it enough, but I wouldn’t have given it five out of five stars, for sure. But I still think that I’m in a different place than I was the last time I read it, so I might enjoy it a lot more. I’ve never seen Dogma, and sadly have never read Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman enough to compare this book to their separate ones.

  11. middleagebutch

    I got about 50 pages into Good Omens and then just stopped reading. Just wasn’t feeling it. Put it back on my bookshelf to try some other time.

  12. Stuff Jeff Reads

    Thanks for the review. Personally, I really liked the book. Could be I just like reading strange books, or I was on a Gaiman kick at the time. Anyway, I never knew about the connection between the book and “Dogma,” which I thought was brilliant and have watched that movie more times than I can recall. Thanks for the info. Cheers!!

  13. Lillian Connelly

    My favorite Kevin Smith movie was Clerks. I think I went to the theater to see it at least 8 times in a row, probably because I was a clerk at the time. I love the good and evil penguins. It’s exactly how I would imagine you grappling with those tough, life questions, about right and wrong.

  14. Jenny

    I had no idea Dogma was involved with Good Omens at all. Interesting! I can see it. I think either way — watching Dogma before reading Good Omens, or reading Good Omens before watching Dogma, while expecting them to be similarish — would make me turn against the one I consumed second.

    • Words for Worms

      I think that’s really what it is. I happened to see Dogma before I read Good Omens. If it had been the other way around I’d probably hate the movie.

  15. Lucy Black

    I didn’t know about the Dogma/Gaiman connection – how interesting – thank you for that little nugget! Especially as Dogma is one of my favourite films and Neil Gaiman one of my favourite authors. That being said, I have to agree that the film of Stardust was much better than the book, which was somewhat lacklustre. Slightly off-topic, but I felt the same way about the book and stage-production of Wicked. I loved the stage-production, but the book was really depressing and there were very few endearing characters!

    • Words for Worms

      I’ve not read or seen Stardust, but I hear what you’re saying on Wicked. I read the book before the musical, and I was pretty shocked to find the musical so upbeat. I like them each in their own individual way, but Maguire’s Oz is very, very dark. I petered out on the Wicked series halfway through A Lion Among Men.

  16. =Tamar

    Apples and oranges. Better to compare Good Omens with The Omen and Just William.

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