Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Adapting Revelation: Good Omens as Comic Corrective

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Adapting Revelation: Good Omens as Comic Corrective

Article excerpt

A recent blog entry featuring contemporary author names made into adjectives describes "Gaimanesque" as "Highly allusive, particularly in regards to fairy tales and fantasy" (Temple). Neil Gaiman's allusive nature appears in Good Omens, in which he, along with Terry Pratchett, alludes to and adapts an entire field of texts associated with John of Patmos's Apokalypse (also known as The Book of Revelation). Not only does the novel provide its own version of Revelation, but, as its title suggests, it draws heavily on Richard Donner's 1976 film The Omen and the mass of films and books, both mainstream and from Christian media, that have adapted John's Apokalypse.

Pratchett and Gaiman's novel mirrors enough of The Omen to be a clear reference; as in the movie, a baby swap results in unsuspecting parents raising the Anti-Christ in a plan hatched by supernatural beings. Like the movie, Good Omens features characters from and references to John's Apokalypse such as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, angels and demons, and the Beast. But in adapting the plot from simply "The" Omen into "Good" Omens, the novel shifts its focus from the spectacle of horror to the absurdity of prophecy. Instead of using the Anti-Christ and his evil plans as the focus of the movie, Pratchett and Gaiman create an ensemble cast of interfering angels and demons, preachers and prophets, and witch hunters and children that comments on the complexities of prophecy, the rhetorical strategies of warning, and the act of planning future actions based on an "ineffable" text.

The text is not unique in its interest in adapting the apocalypse; of all the sacred stories, that of Revelation rules the sermon-circuits and Christian entertainment materials, and secular adaptations regularly make the rounds in the horror film genre. Both Christian and mainstream adaptations narrativize John's Apokalypse, and in doing so necessarily add and subtract minor (and sometimes not so minor) details in an effort to maintain audience investment, yet Good Omens does what few other intertexts and adaptations of Revelation manage: In its movement from sacred to secular and from prophecy to fantasy novel, the novel provides a forgiving response to the cultural situation it finds itself in--a climate in which apocalyptic texts seem to thrive and humanity seems perpetually damned. Good Omens, though, is more than just a satire of Christianity's mythos; instead, it reveals the problematic nature of our adaptations of the Book of Revelation. Further, the novel takes on what Kenneth Burke calls a "frame of rejection"--a "comic" move that allows Good Omens, despite its otherwise stubborn refusal to obey genre conventions, to provide a critical response to a range of contemporary apocalyptic texts, while taking on an attitude that promotes the Biblical notion of humanity as worthy of redemption.

Fidelity as Strategy

Since Good Omens draws its rhetorical power from its positioning against its intertexts, its fidelity to those source texts reveals much about how it works as a comic frame of rejection. Scholars of adaptation, most notably George Bluestone, have long struggled with the intersecting ideas of "the original" and "translation" and "difference," often leading to conclusions about the quality of the derivative text. In recent years, however, many have come to the conclusion that faithfulness is, as Thomas Leitch argues, a "fallacy" that impedes our discussions of adaptation rather than improves it ("Twelve Fallacies" 161). Another way to look at fidelity is from a rhetorical stance: "fidelity" always implies an audience familiar with and continually engaging with the original source. Examining fidelity rhetorically means examining what readers expect from a derivative text, what they know about its "canon," and how they respond to a derivative text, and then interpreting what socio-cultural shifts those imply. In fact, Good Omens only makes meaning in so far is it is read as an adaptation, and its meaning depends on its audience's knowledge of and engagement with the source texts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.