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The Use of Irony and Parody in Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

28. фебруар 2024. Књиге и литература
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О аутору

Aleksandra Mladenović студенткиња ОАС Англистике
Hell / Image by Jeroným Pelikovský from Pixabay




This paper examines how the concepts of irony and parody are illustrated in the novel Good Omens (1990) written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book satirises the apocalypse as well as the approach celestial beings have towards the upcoming Armageddon. The aim of the paper is to show how the authors utilised parody and irony in order to ridicule these events and produce a humorous effect on the reader. The first part of the paper analyses the theoretical framework – namely, the concepts of irony and parody, primarily focusing on the works by Linda Hutcheon. Then, the second part of the paper provides a brief introduction of the book and introduces the main topic. Finally, the last part of the paper provides the analyses of three scenes from the book where these theoretical concepts are most prominent.

Key words: irony, parody, religion, Armageddon, satire, humour



Good Omens is a fantasy novel written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett in 1990. Ittells a story about a demon, Crowley and an angel Aziraphale who had spent more than 6,000 years on Earth and in the meantime managed to build up a friendship. Baby Antichrist is delivered on Earth by Crowley. The baby is misplaced, and it is raised by the Youngs, a common family from an English village, who ironically give the name Adam to the Antichrist. The Youngs are completely unaware of the baby’s true identity. However, according to the prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, Armageddon is supposed to happen on Adam’s eleventh birthday. Crowley’s and Aziraphale’s task is to stop Armageddon from happening. These two polar opposites quite unexpectedly join their powers in order to achieve this.

The novel is laden with irony, satire and parody. Hutcheon explains that with parody there is another text in the background against which the new creation is implicitly measured and understood (1985: 31). Practically, "one text is set against another with the intent ofmocking it or making it ludicrous“ (1985: 32). Following that definition, Good Omens mocks the Book of Revelation, the Christian eschatology it draws upon, and it also criticises religious beliefs people hold. The book mocks celestial beings – demons, angels, God himself and in a way reverses all of their roles. A demon who is supposed to be wreaking havoc, appears as a character who is disgusted by atrocities committed by humans. Angel, who is supposed to be an opponent of Crowley in every sense, comes to sympathise with him and care for him. He also goes against his authorities in Heaven when he tries to stop Armageddon. All of the characters and especially Crowley and Aziraphale are presented as morally grey. Because ofthe time they spent among humans, they themselves started gaining more human-like characteristics. Instead of looking forward to the idea of Armageddon because that is when the final battle between Heaven and Hell takes place and determines which side is going to win, Crowley and Aziraphale actually want to stop it.



For theoretical framework, the paper will rely on Irony’s Edge (1994) and A Theory of Parody (1985), both written by a Canadian literary theorist Linda Hutcheon. The author defines irony as a "semantically complex process of relating, differentiating, and combining said and unsaid meanings – and doing so with some evaluative edge” (1994: 85). The author argues that interpreting irony involves more than just understanding meaning – the interpreter needs to find both the meaning and the attitude behind an ironical statement (1994: 12). Moreover, irony is something that “happens” in the space between the said and the unsaid, both of which coexist in order to create this ironic meaning (Ibid.). Hutcheon defines parody as “repetition with difference”, where “a critical distance” between the original text and the new text is marked by the use of irony (1985: 32). In that sense, parody resembles metaphor because the decoder needs to “construct a second meaning” (1985: 34). The paper will deal with three scenes from Good Omens where irony and parody are most prominent and thus illustrate these theoretical concepts.


For Go–, for Sa–, for somebody’s sake: Satirising the Devil

Traditionally, Satan is portrayed as an evil, malicious and cruel being that does not possess an ounce of kindness. He was an archangel who rebelled against God and was consequently cast out of Heaven and for that reason he is known as the Fallen Angel. However, at the very beginning of Good Omens this is satirised since in Dramatis Personae he is described as “An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards” (Pratchett & Gaiman 2014: 9). This contrasts with the biblical image of him being thrown down from Heaven for incurring God’s wrath. Parody in this case thus “deploys irony in order to establish the critical distance” (Hutcheon 1985: 68), all the while producing a humorous effect. In the book, he is not presented in a conventional way. Rather, he is depicted as someone who grew fond of humans. To make the character even more satirical, he is presented as someone who drives a Bentley, loves listening to Queen in his car, loves fashion and takes care of his houseplants.The aim of this is to ridicule the popular beliefs held about Lucifer, or as Hutcheon puts it “irony is often ‘edged’: it has its targets, its perpetrators, and its complicitous audience” (1994: 38) and it involves social interaction, meaning that it also aims at critiquing societal beliefs ingeneral, including beliefs about who Lucifer is supposed to be.

The scene when Crowley comes to Aziraphale’s bookshop only to find that it is on fire causes Crowley to panic. He enters the bookshop and starts screaming his name and calling outto him. A demon, who is not supposed to feel any emotion, at least according to the conventional representation, worries that his friend is in danger. He shows care and affection towards the angel. In this moment of despair he shouts out “For Go–, for Sa–, for somebody’s sake! Aziraphale!” (Pratchett & Gaiman 2014: 257). He has no one to turn to, neither God nor Satan, he just desperately wants help. He is frustrated with both God and Hell and just wants to seek help for his friend. This can be interpreted as a parody of the expression “For God’s sake” that people use in times of trouble and frustration. It is seen as a social critique because many people invoke God’s name only in times of need, which does not really make them true believers.


It’s All Part of the Ineffable Plan

Hutcheon writes that “parody is one of the major forms of self-reflexivity” (1985: 2), meaning that through parody, human nature itself can be reflected and reassessed. This can be illustrated in a scene where Crowley starts questioning God’s ways in a conversation with Aziraphale, where Crowley contemplates why God created people as inquisitive and then put the forbidden fruit right before their eyes (Pratchett & Gaiman 2014: 382). He does not belie vethat someone who was capable of creating the world in six days could not have prevented that from happening and then concludes that it was probably an ineffable plan to see how what God built would turn out in the end (Ibid.). Crowley uses his reason in questioning God and his ways. He does not understand why someone would put the Tree of Knowledge right where Adam and Eve would see it, and then expel them from Heaven because of eating it. God did not explain why the fruit is dangerous, he just forbade them to go anywhere near it, but at the same time created them inquisitive. Crowley shows compassion and cannot comprehend why someone would do something like that. It is obvious that he does not believe in God’s mercifulness. Furthermore, everything that cannot be understood is justified as “ineffable,”which is often part of the Christian discourse – whenever something bad happens, it is seen as a part of this ineffability, rather than God being perhaps fundamentally cruel.

Not only is Crowley here presented as intelligent, but rather as someone who has more mercy than God himself. Someone who is supposed to be the emanation of all evil does not realise why someone would expel two people from heaven for eating a fruit. This is not the only time that Crowley does not approve of a misdeed – namely, during the Spanish Inquisition he went to have a look at what people did and was so disgusted that he was drunk for a week (Pratchett & Gaiman 2014: 38). The authors then explain that all of the tragedies in the world are not caused by “people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad but by people being fundamentally people” (2014: 29), thus rejecting the concept of absolute evil and absolute good. Neither Crowley nor Aziraphale are completely good or completely evil, they are morally grey just because they adopted the characteristics of humans with whom they had lived for 6,000 years.


God Moves in Mysterious Ways

In her book The Politics of Postmodernism, Hutcheon claims that parody is “doubly coded” because it “both legitimises and subverts that which it parodies” (1989: 101). On the one hand, Good Omens acknowledges the existence and value of the original religious texts, but on the other hand, it exposes their flaws by imitating them through parody.

The very beginning of the novel uses a scientific tone to explain what the current theories on the creation of the universe suggest. (Gaiman & Pratchett 2014: 13). The tone is ironical, and the interpreter needs to find the attitude the authors use behind this ironical statement (Hutcheon 1994: 12). The authors mock both the scientific theories and the religious theories on this topic, claiming that although none of them have enough proof for their claims,they are persistent in trying to explain the creation of the universe. The authors use factual language, dates and names for all of these theories in order to undermine the credibility of both science and fiction. All of these attempts serve to illustrate that humans have spent a lot of time trying to comprehend something that actually no one knows the answer to. As a conclusion, the authors state that the creation of the universe is just God’s “ineffable game of His own devising” which can be compared to a version of poker in a completely dark room, where the cards are blank, the stakes are infinite and the Dealer does not tell the rules but he “smiles all the time” (Pratchett & Gaiman 2014: 13). If the cards are blank, then people have no idea what they have and what awaits them; moreover, if the stakes are infinite, that means that people could risk and lose everything they have for a game that they do not understand because God never explained the rules. All the while, this God will smile all the time because he enjoys the game that is unfair and cruel, suggesting that he is not fair or benevolent towards humans.



Good Omens is a parodical piece of work which aims at both ridiculing and criticising religious dogmas, as well as society in general by using irony, parody and sarcasm. Crowley’s satirical remarks about God and celestial beings are prevalent throughout the novel because he is “derogating a subject by making it ridiculous” (Abrams & Harpham 2009: 320). The idea of the book is that there is no absolute evil or absolute good because ultimately people have free will, and it seems like celestial beings are also subject to free will. Aziraphale and Crowley changed after having spent a lot of time on Earth, they chose not to side with Heaven or Hell. Although Aziraphale is constantly repeating that God’s plan is ineffable, he is aware that his ways are not right. Crowley completely indulges in pleasures that Earth gives him and rarely does anything bad. He did mess with the telephone system in London (Pratchett & Gaiman 2014: 18), which caused people to panic and infuriated them for the rest of the day but it is harmless compared to what he is capable of doing as the Devil. Due to his time spent on Earth, he became more sympathetic. He is funny and humorous and goes against any traditional representations of the Devil. Even the role of the Antichrist is reversed because in the end he is the one who prevents the Apocalypse instead of bringing it.

Besides being a great fantasy novel, Good Omens also tackles themes such as morality,good, evil, and free will, which makes it all the more thought-provoking. Good Omens calls for people to rethink and re-evaluate their religious beliefs – maybe if God stopped telling them that “it's all sorted out after they're dead, they might try sorting it all out while they're alive” (2014: 357).



Abrams, M. H., and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Hutcheon, Linda. Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony. London and NewYork: Routledge, 1994.

Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. Routledge, 1989.

Pratchett, Terry, and Neil Gaiman. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch: A Novel. Corgi Books, 2014.

irony , parody , pratchett , gaiman , esej , essay ,


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