I don’t know about you, but I’m quite active on a number of social media sites, mainly because I do my best to “dabble” as a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Certain groups, (I hope), help me keep my finger on the metaphysical pulse of what’s current; what’s popular; and which way existing trends are developing.
One of the subjects that provoked a great deal of debate lately is the dramatization of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Being a fan of both men – and having read the book – which I found to be incredibly funny and sharply presented, I couldn’t help but be unsettled. . .
. . .And with good reason.
(You know what’s coming)
True to form, the cutting satire, wit, and heady imagination of the authors doesn’t translate well from print to screen. A shame, because the story – based on “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” – expounds the tale of the birth of the son of Satan and the coming of the end times. A terribly important event, I’m sure you’ll agree, and one that should concern all right-minded people.
The thing is, it also involves two representatives of heaven and hell left on Earth since the times of the Garden of Eden: Aziraphale, the angel with the flaming sword, and Crowley, the original serpent who tempted Eve. Both, it seems, have become quite accustomed to living amongst humans. And even though they’re supposed to be polar opposites reporting back to their respective “HQs” in preparation for an eventual Armageddon, they’ve become firm friends, cutting corners here; slipping the odd false report in there; taking credit for mankind’s perverseness or ingenuity when the mood takes them.
As such, when the antichrist is born and the End Times loom large, they go out of their way to put the proverbial spanner in the works. Their solution? Swap several children born at the same time so the antichrist grows up as a normal child in an average family in a quaint English town.
Let’s just say, what follows is pure magical mayhem as the monumental balls-up is unearthed and Crowley and Aziraphale struggle to put things right against an increasing avalanche of woe.
And here’s the comparison: the book often had me crying with laughter. It really is THAT good. But the TV adaptation? Credit where credit’s due: David Tennant and Michael Sheen do incredibly well portraying our two main protagonists, Crowley and Aziraphale in a cast comprised of swings and roundabouts. Some characters are superb, hitting the mark and mood encapsulated in the book exactly. But the others? – Oh dear!
Even so, the thing that really spoiled it for me was the “back voice.” In the book, the authors address you, the reader, with witty expose and details that draw you in. Here’s an example:
“It wasn’t a dark and stormy night.
It should have been, but that’s the weather for you. For every mad scientist who’s had a convenient thunderstorm just on the night his Great Work is finished and lying on the slab, there have been dozens who’ve sat around aimlessly under the peaceful stars while Igor clocks up the overtime.
But don’t let the fog (with rain later, temperatures dropping to around forty five degrees) give anyone a false sense of security. Just because it’s a mild night doesn’t mean that dark forces aren’t abroad. They’re abroad all the time. They’re everywhere.
They always are. That’s the whole point.
Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard. Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic grade lurkers. If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded “Born to Lurk,” these two would have been on the album cover. They had been lurking in the fog for an hour now, but they had been pacing themselves and could lurk for the rest of the night if necessary, with still enough sullen menace left for a final burst of lurking around dawn.”
This excerpt is taken from the beginning of the story and helps set the scene of two demons waiting for Crowley to arrive with the antichrist babe. When you read it in context, you can’t help but smile at the images conjured in your mind. It’s pithy; it’s punchy; and certainly puts you in the mood for what follows. When I watched this part on the TV, however, I cringed. It totally ruined the atmosphere of what I’d originally imagined and to me, was a “nails across a chalkboard” moment that broke the magic . . . as do a minority of the characters.
But there you go. THAT’s why reading + imagination are often far superior to a screen production. And the debate rages on.
I’d love to know what YOU think.