Fandom: Good Omens
Spoilers: Er. The whole book, I suppose.
Notes: All quotations are taken from the Ace trade paperback 2001 edition, on account of that's what I have. Page references may vary if you're looking at a different edition.
Good Omens is a comic novel about Armageddon.
This is, technically, true. However, much like saying that The Lord of the Rings is an epic novel about the fall of Sauron, it doesn't actually convey the reasons why you'd be interested in reading it. Let us try again.
Eleven years ago, the Antichrist came to the earth, and was handed over to be delivered to the proper place until he could grow into his power. Unfortunately, there was a slight mix-up with the babies, and consequently the Antichrist has been growing into his power completely unsupervised. The powers of Heaven and Hell have only just realized this, and their agents on earth are looking for him frantically...not least because the aforementioned agents have been on earth almost since Creation, and they've come to like Earth as it is, and would really rather Armageddon didn't happen. This was all predicted in The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the sole completely accurate description of the last years of human history in existence.
That will do, for a start.
Those agents of Heaven and Hell are, respectively, Aziraphale (an angel and part-time rare book dealer) and Crowley (an angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards). We have more information on Crowley than we do on Aziraphale. Crowley has "dark hair and good cheekbones and he was wearing snakeskin shoes, or at least presumably he was wearing shoes, and he could do really weird things with his tongue. And, whenever he forgot himself, he had a tendency to hiss." (p. 6) He drives a 1926 Bentley, which he had from new, and wears sunglasses all the time. He lives in a flat in Mayfair. If he works (apart from, well, being a demon), we never hear about it.
The thing of it is, he's not an especially demonic demon, quite apart from the lack of goat's hooves, horns, or batwings. He's not incompetent (the mix-up with the infant Antichrist notwithstanding): it's more that, in his view, the world is simply too big for the 14th-century mindset of 'one man, one damnation'. His style is far more, oh, the M25 London orbital motorway, which combines "incredible carnage and frustration" with its "very shape...[which] forms the sigil odegra in the language of the Black Priesthood of Ancient Mu, and means 'Hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds.'" (p. 5) He got a commendation for that. He also got a commendation for the Spanish Inquisition, which would be more flattering if he'd actually had anything to do with it.
When you get down to it, Crowley's secretly rather a nice person. He's not good -- his idea of a fun time involves tying up wireless networks and letting air out of automobile tires, for example -- but he's nice. He likes people (in the general; he reserves the right to find individuals quite irritating, like the rest of us). Besides, humans can do worse things to other humans than anything Hell can invent, in Crowley's educated opinion. He's been here since The Beginning -- he was the snake who tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil -- and all those millennia of history have had a slowly accruing effect. He'll take your soul if you insist on offering it to him on a silver platter, because that is after all his job, but he's really not the Mephistopheles type. And he objects to anyone, Aziraphale in particular, pointing this out.
Ah, yes. Aziraphale. He has 'well-manicured hands.' He's a book dealer, or rather a book collector, who specializes in books of predictions and prophecy, Wilde first editions, and the Infamous Bibles, and his sense of fashion is stuck somewhere no later than 1950. Aziraphale's likewise been around since The Beginning (he was the angel at the Eastern Gate who was supposed to stand there with a fiery sword), and "centuries of association with humanity was having the same effect on him as it was on Crowley, except in the other direction." (p. 31)
Not that Aziraphale doesn't believe in the goodness within human hearts. It's his job to do so, after all. But he has to do a certain amount of...er...
Aziraphale had tried to explain [free will] to [Crowley] once. The whole point, he'd said [...] was that when a human was good or bad it was because they wanted to be. Whereas people like Crowley and, of course, himself, were set in their ways right from the start. People couldn't become truly holy, he said, unless they also had the opportunity to be definitively wicked.
Crowley had thought about this for some time and [...] had said, Hang on, that only works, right, if you start everyone off equal, okay? You can't start someone off in a muddy shack in the middle of a war zone and expect them to do as well as someone born in a castle.
Ah, Aziraphale had said, that's the good bit. The lower you start, the more opportunities you have.
Crowley had said, that's lunatic.
No, said Aziraphale, it's ineffable. (p. 26)
Aziraphale is Crowley's exact counterpart: where Crowley is nice but not good, Aziraphale is good but not always nice. He's fairly consistently underestimated, even by his own people: he's a Principality, but that doesn't mean as much as it did back in the 1400s. Instead, he gets dismissed as 'that southern pansy.'
Many people, meeting Aziraphale for the first time, formed three impressions: that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide. Two of these were wrong; Heaven is not in England, whatever certain poets thought, and angels are sexless unless they really want to make an effort. But he was intelligent. (p. 142)
Not English by birth, perhaps, but English by choice -- Aziraphale has quite decided opinions as to which countries are Civilized and which aren't (Australia isn't). The intelligence isn't in dispute. But sexless? This isn't Dogma.
or, what do you think happens when you throw an angel and a demon into close proximity for six thousand years?
On the whole, neither [Aziraphale] nor Crowley would have chosen each other's company, but they were both men, or at least men-shaped creatures, of the world, and the Arrangement had worked to their advantage all this time. Besides, you grew accustomed to the only other face that had been around more or less consistently for six millennia. (p.30)
All very true. But in the very next paragraph, the Arrangement (mentioned above) is described as "the sort of sensible arrangement that many isolated agents, working in awkward conditions a long way from their superiors, reach with their opposite number when they realize they have more in common with their immediate opponents than their remote allies" (p. 30, emphasis mine).
Some of it's sheer exposure and repetition, certainly: they have been down here (or up here, depending on point of view), without significant interruption or substitution, since Eden (about six thousand years, as also mentioned above). But then there's the part where Crowley persuades Aziraphale to help him bring up the (presumed) Antichrist. There's the part where they spend the next eleven years practically in each other's pockets, constantly talking and conferring about what they're doing. There's the part where, upon finding out that the boy to whom they've been impromptu godfathers is not, in fact, the Antichrist, they immediately go (together) out to Lower Tadfield, which is where Crowley delivered the baby in question, to find out what happened.
There's the part that their first instinct is always to turn to the other. Antichrist arrived on earth? As soon as he can, Crowley calls Aziraphale. Figured out where the Antichrist actually is? Aziraphale dithers for 12 hours, because he ought to call Heaven, but he wants to call Crowley. Just narrowly escaped from the forces of Hell? Crowley runs to Aziraphale's bookshop. Faced with Armageddon happening right now?
[Aziraphale] smiled at Crowley.
"I'd just like you to know," he said, "if we don't get out of this, that...I'll have known, deep down inside, that there was a spark of goodness in you."
"That's right," said Crowley bitterly, "Make my day."
Aziraphale held out his hand.
"Nice knowing you," he said.
Crowley took it.
"Here's to the next time," he said. "And...Aziraphale?"
"Just remember I'll have known, deep down inside, you were just enough of a bastard to be worth liking."
It's the part where, at the end of the book, everyone else except those too young for that sort of thing are paired off into romantic couples -- and an angel and a demon are dining at the Ritz, and a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.
There is, I believe, an entire sub-genre of angel/demon fiction out there. The angels have white wings and emit holiness like subatomic radiation; the demons have either batwings or black feathered wings and sometimes extras like claws and poisoned fangs, and project a cloud of either evilness (naturally) or temptation. They have big dramatic battles. Angel and demon alike are extraordinarily beautiful.
Aziraphale and Crowley aren't.
They have wings, but the only description we're given is that "the wings of demons are the same as the wings of angels, although they're often better groomed." (p. 330) Crowley uses Holy water as a sort of acid bath against another demon, but there's no other mention of holy vs. damned objects. And despite the fact that Heaven and Hell are at war, etcetera and so forth, that there are sides to be taken, Aziraphale and Crowley don't fight.
It's not logical at all. The very first scene of the book takes place in Eden, with Aziraphale and Crawly (still in snake form) discussing what's just happened. Aziraphale quite clearly knows that Crawly is a demon, whatever his form, but he isn't indignant or angry or anything of the sort, nor does Crawly attempt to bite Aziraphale or anything of that sort. They talk to each other as might members of opposing political parties. Crowley later describes Aziraphale as "the Enemy, of course. But an enemy for six thousand years now, which made him a sort of friend." (p. 26)
That's where the fascination lies. They shouldn't like each other, much less trust each other. Demons aren't supposed to trust anyone at all. But they do. By the time we meet them again in (loosely) the present day, they've long since established what they call the Arrangement:
The Arrangement was very simple, so simple in fact that it didn't really deserve the capital letter, which it had got for simply being in existence for so long [...] It meant a tacit non-interference in certain of each other's activities. It made certain that while neither really won, also neither really lost, and both were able to demonstrate to their masters the great strides they were making against a cunning and well-informed adversary. [...] And then, of course, it had seemed even natural that they should, as it were, hold the fort for one another whenever common sense dictated. Both were of angel stock, after all. [...] Besides, the Authorities didn't seem to care much who did anything, so long as it got done. (p. 30-31)
They're supposed to be enemies, but they aren't. They're friends. Humans aren't even in on it, much less other angels or demons. They're not exactly at the center of the book -- this is really an ensemble piece, with the Antichrist and his friends (who are all eleven years old), the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse, Agnes Nutter (who prophesied all this, if you'll remember), her descendant Anathema, and the Witchfinder Army (which consists of two rather confused men), among others. But Aziraphale and Crowley are what lure in the people who aren't already lured by "psst, a comedy about the Apocalypse!" or, even more straightforwardly, "psst, a collaboration by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman!" I myself had read the book a couple times and enjoyed it, but it took my SO discovering the book and swooning over Aziraphale and Crowley to drag me into the fandom as such. These are characters with six thousand years worth of history. That deserves plenty of discussion. And fanfic.
Because of the characters.
Because it doesn't take anything seriously, not even the end of the world. Unless you want to.
Because it's a small fandom, but not so small that it isn't active.
Because Aziraphale and Crowley are supposed to be enemies, but are actually best friends, even if they don't admit that until the end of the novel -- and by then they're on a slippery slope, headed straight for a closer relationship than ever. Because 'unless they make an effort' means nothing when it's so clear an effort can and will be made.
Because the canon was written by one of the funniest (T. Pratchett) and one of the most imaginative (N. Gaiman) authors going in modern fantasy. Because this one is different, the two voices merging into something new such that even people who don't usually like one or the other like this book.
Have I mentioned the characters?
lower_tadfield -- this is where absolutely everything gets posted, of every quality. For those who are fascinated and want a good overview of the fandom. Very laid-back: anything goes, even spam-posts about Crowley cheese.
stjamespark -- a more focused community, newly established. Fiction, artwork, and book-discussion only.
puzzlebleuink -- the collaboration between one of the best authors in the fandom, and the best artist. If you've read the book, then I shall point you directly to Crown of Stars, which extrapolates beyond canon in an ensemble piece that leaves you staggered and reeling. If you haven't, then by all means go back to their first effort together.
Survivors' Guilt, by irisbleu -- remember those six thousand years of history? This tips over into slash only at the very end: up until that point, it's an exploration of what it means to have been around for that long, for both Aziraphale and Crowley.
(Other stories: here.)
Ordinary People, by daegaer -- suppose Aziraphale and Crowley hadn't been angel and demon. Suppose they'd been, well, human. How would that have gone?
(Other stories here -- note that "Ordinary People" is the sole piece of actual slash she's written. Everything else is UST and/or character exploration.)
As follow-up to the previous, cimness's Anything But Ordinary remix of "Ordinary People". (Sadly, Cim has not, to my knowledge, written any more GO fanfic.)
Naked and Unashamed by louiselux -- so what's this lust thing? How does it work?
(Other stories here.)
Novelty by argyleheir - Aziraphale and Crowley go to what we Americans would call a garage sale. Also, the author is a terrible tease.
(Other stories here, with the note that Argyle specializes in the historical side of things.)
This is not a complete overview of the fandom's art, but it's a good start. Personal favorites: [direct links removed per the web site]
Crowley, wet and furious [by 'Angel', last of her pictures listed]
Aziraphale and Crowley, alone and unobserved (warning: this picture not work safe), by omelton [last picture on the fourth page]
Aziraphale and Crowley in the snow, by linnpuzzle (see below) [about half-way down the third page]
Wizard Crackers -- art by linnpuzzle, though it's not completely up to date. Check her LJ for more recent work. (She has all her art in her memories, but it's not sorted by fandom, alas.)