- [cover] The weird blue/red neon thingy surrounding the '666' on the cover of the UK hardcover version of Good Omens is actually a map of the M25 London orbital motorway, mentioned in the text as "evidence for the hidden hand of Satan in the affairs of Man".
A copy of the Good Omens cover can be found on the L-space Web.
- [p. vii] "[...] the angel, whose name was Aziraphale."
On the subject of the correct pronunciation of the name, Terry says:
"It should be Azz-ear-raf-AE-el, but we got into the habit of pronouncing it Azz-ear-raf-ail, so I guess that's the right way now."
And about the name's origin:
"It was made up but... er... from real ingredients. [The name] Aziraphale could be shoved in a list of 'real' angels and would fit right in..."
For instance, Islam recognizes the Archangels Jibril, Mikhail, Azrael (see also the annotation for p. 9 of Reaper Man ), and Israfel (the subject of Edgar Allan Poe's well-known poem of the same name), whereas from Christianity we get such names as Raphael, Gabriel, Michael, and Uriel.
- [p. viii] "It was going to be a dark and stormy night."
See the annotation for p. 7 of Soul Music .
- [p. 1] "Archbishop James Usher (1581-1656) published Annales Veteris Et Novi Testamenti in 1654, which suggested that the Heaven and the Earth were created in 4004 BC."
This is true in spirit, but almost completely wrong in nit-picking detail, which leads me to conclude that Terry and Neil used sloppy secondary sources for their research.
The man's name was spelled Ussher, the book's name was actually Annales Veteris Testamenti (Annals of the Old Testament), it was published in 1650, and it was Ussher himself who pinpointed the time of creation at noon, October 23, 4004 BC -- not nine o'clock in the morning.
For a fascinating explanation of why it would really be very unfair of us to ridicule Ussher's findings, I refer the interested reader to the essay 'Fall in the House of Ussher' by Stephen Jay Gould, which appeared in his excellent collection Eight Little Piggies.
- [p. 3] "[...] all tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into 'Best of Queen' albums."
In an interview in Comics Buyer's Guide with Terry and Neil, shortly after the American release of Good Omens, Terry proposed the theory that, when you're driving through the country late at night, and there's nothing on the radio, you find yourself stopping in at an all-night gas station and looking through the tape rack; the only thing there remotely tolerable is a Best of Queen, so you buy that. Two weeks later you can't remember how the thing got there, so you get rid of it, only to go through the same process again. Neil's theory was that tapes really do turn into Best of Queen albums.
- [p. 3] "[...] he was currently wondering vaguely who Moey and Chandon were".
The Queen song 'Killer Queen' contains the line: "She keeps the Moët et Chandon in a pretty cabinet". Freddie Mercury's pronunciation is indeed such that, if you don't already know what he's singing, this part of the lyrics can be extremely puzzling.
- [p. 8] "...I will not let you go (let him go)..."
This sentence, and the 'scaramouche' line a few paragraphs before, are taken from Queen's legendary song 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. This line is misquoted though. The actual song goes: "We will not let you go (let him go)".
- [p. 13] "Sister Mary had expected an American diplomat to look like Blake Carrington or J. R. Ewing."
Leading male characters in the 1980s Power Soaps Dynasty (Blake Carrington played by John Forsythe) and Dallas (J. R. Ewing played by Larry Hagman). The general image is of somewhat rugged American masculinity. In a suit.
The Good Omens paperback replaces "an American diplomat" with "the American Cultural Attache".
- [p. 13] "With a little old lady as the sleuth, [...]"
Not a reference to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, but rather to Angela Landsbury's character in the TV show Murder, She Wrote (there are not many "avuncular sheriffs" in the Miss Marple books).
+ [p. 15] "He'd seen a Ken Russell film once. There had been nuns in it."
This might have been, for instance, the 1971 film The Devils, a study of a French nunnery that had supposedly turned to Satanism. This movie was so controversial that to this day Warner Brothers refuse to release it uncut in the US, so that viewers will just have to imagine for themselves the undoubtedly crucial scenes of crazed naked nuns sexually assaulting a statue of Christ.
- [p. 17] "'Wormwood's a nice name,' said the nun, remembering her classics. 'Or Damien. Damien's very popular.'"
Damien refers to the protagonist of the various Omen movies (see the annotation for p. 40). Wormwood is the name of the junior devil in The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. This is a series of letters from a senior devil (Screwtape) to a junior devil (Wormwood) about Wormwood's attempted temptation of a man in war-time London.
Wormwood is also the plant which according to tradition sprang up from the track of the serpent as it writhed along the ground when it was driven out of the Garden of Eden.
- [p. 19] "'Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.'"
A well-known quote from Shakespeare's The Tempest, act 1, scene 2.
- [p. 19] "That Hieronymus Bosch. What a weirdo."
Hieronymus Bosch was a 15th century Dutch painter of religious visions that dealt in particular with the torments of Hell and the subjects of sin and punishment.
- [p. 20] "'I don't think there's anything wrong with Errol. Or Cary.'"
Refers to movie stars Errol Flynn and Cary Grant.
- [p. 26] "And he had a complete set of the Infamous Bibles, individually named from errors in typesetting."
There have been many Infamous Bibles, and all of the ones mentioned in this paragraph, except for the Charing Cross Bible and the Buggre Alle This Bible, actually did exist.
As usual, it is Brewer who has all the relevant information. The Unrighteous Bible and the Wicked Bible are as Terry and Neil describe them. In addition, there is:
Discharge Bible: An edition printed in 1806 containing "discharge" for "charge" in 1Timothy 5:21: "I discharge thee before God [...] that thou observe these things [...]".
Treacle Bible: A popular name for the Bishops' Bible, 1568 because in it, Jeremiah 8:22 reads "Is there no treacle in Gilead" instead of "Is there no balm in Gilead".
Standing Fishes Bible: An edition of 1806 in which Ezekiel 47:10 reads: "And it shall come to pass that the fishes [instead of: fishers] shall stand upon it."
Also mentioned by Brewer are the Ears To Ear Bible, the Rosin Bible and the Rebecca's Camels Bible.
- [p. 28] The three lost Shakespeare plays.
The Trapping Of The Mouse refers to Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap (which as of 2008 has been running for more than 55 consecutive years in London), who in turn named her play after the play-within-a-play that occurs in... Hamlet.
Golde Diggers Of 1589 refers to the series of movie musicals with similar names made in 1933, 1935 and 1937.
The Comedie Of Robin Hoode, Or The Forest Of Sherwoode is not directly traceable to something specific, but there have been of course many famous Robin Hood movies, from the legendary 1938 production with Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and Olivia de Havilland to the more contemporary 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner.
- [p. 31] "'I mean, d'you know what eternity is? There's this big mountain, see, a mile high, at the end of the universe, and once every thousand years there's this little bird--'"
Crowley's description of eternity is from the hell-and-damnation speech in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
- [p. 36] "They were doing drinks in a restaurant called Top of the Sixes, on the top of 666 Fifth Avenue, New York."
The name and address were real when Good Omens was written: there actually used to be such a restaurant on top of 666 Fifth Avenue. Somewhen in the 90s it was closed and converted to the Grand Havana Room, a cigar bar private club.
The rest of the building is of course also still very much in use, amongst others by Citigroup, Brooks Brothers and the National Basketball Association.
- [p. 40] "'I am Nanny Astoreth,' she told him."
Astoreth or Ashtaroth was the Zidonian goddess-moon in Syrian mythology. No, I have no idea who the Zidonians were, but undoubtedly they were heathens, and therefore presumably on Evil's side by default.
- [p. 40] "'What a delightful child,' she said. 'He'll be wanting a little tricycle soon.'"
The 'mother' in the 1976 horror movie The Omen (which is all about the Antichrist being raised in a normal household) was forced over the edge of an upstairs railing by little Damien on his tricycle.
- [p. 40] The nursery rhyme Nanny Astoreth sings to Warlock:
Oh, the grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And crushed all the nations of the world and brought them under the rule of Satan our master.
is a parody of the English original:
The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up they were up.
And when they were down they were down.
And when they were only half way up
They were neither up nor down.
Accompanied (in some versions) by fingers marching up the small child as appropriate and stopping to tickle for the last line.
- [p. 40] "'Bwuvver Fwancis the gardener says I mus' selfwesswy pwactise virtue an' wuv to all wivving things,' said Warlock."
The gardener is none other than Saint Francis of Assisi. Note also the "flocks of birds settled all over him at every opportunity" bit earlier on.
- [p. 42] "The message had come during Cheers, one of Crowley's favourite television programmes. Woody the barman had [...]"
In the American edition of Good Omens, this scene was changed to refer to the series The Golden Girls and the character Rose. (The effect remains the same).
Nobody knows the reason for this change, since both are American sitcoms anyway. Speaking personally, I think Crowley is definitely a Cheers person, and would not have liked The Golden Girls at all.
- [p. 43] "He had attended a class in the 1870s run by John Maskelyne [...]"
John Maskelyne was a 19th century stage magician who specialised in sleight-of-hand illusions. He is fondly remembered in the illusionist community as a mentor to aspiring young magicians. He also gained some notoriety for exposing fraudulent spiritualists.
- [p. 46] "'I-should-be-so-lucky, -lucky-lucky-lucky-lucky,'"
This is the chorus to Kylie Minogue's break-through hit 'I should be so lucky':
I should be so lucky
Lucky lucky lucky
I should be so lucky in love
Notice that this is yet another misquote: there are only four successive 'lucky's, not five.
- [p. 46] The scenes of Adam growing up in Tadfield are an affectionate parody of the Just William books by Richmal Crompton.
They are a series of books about William Brown (age 11) and his gang of Outlaws: Ginger, Douglas and Henry. The Johnsonites in Good Omens parallel the Laneites in Just William, Hubert Lane being a similarly lugubrious podgy kid.
- [p. 49] "'I'll call him Dog,' said his Master, positively."
There's a nice resonance here with the biblical Adam giving names to all the animals in God's creation (Genesis 2:19).
- [p. 52] 'Another One Bites The Dust', 'We Are The Champions', 'I Want To Break Free' and 'Fat-Bottomed Girls' are all songs by Queen (see the annotation for p. 3).
Queen fans have pointed out that at the time Good Omens was released, there was no (or at least no easily available) Queen greatest hits album that actually contained all of these songs. A more recently released double album has remedied this situation.
- [p. 58] "'It's probably compline, unless that's a slimming aid.'"
No, compline is indeed one of the periods of the religious day (around 18.00 h, according to my copy of The Name of the Rose). The slimming aid is 'complan'.
- [p. 65] "The contingent from Financial Planning were lying flat on their faces in what had once been the haha, although they weren't very amused."
If you don't know what a haha is, see the annotation for p. 58 of Men at Arms .
- [p. 70] "...Bee-elzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me..."
Another line from Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
- [p. 73] "The Nice And Accurate Prophecies made the Hitler Diaries look like, well, a bunch of forgeries."
Stern magazine published a series of Hitler's diaries in the mid-80s which, in fact, turned out to be forgeries.
- [p. 75] "[...] Elvis was taken by Space Aliens in 1976 because he was too good for this world."
Actually, Elvis died in 1977, so perhaps these Space Aliens left a doppelgänger? Neil and Terry seem to be using the wrong year deliberately, because later on (p. 177, during the video trivia game scene) there is a reference to both Bing Crosby and Marc Bolan dying in 1976, when in fact they both died in 1977 as well.
- [p. 79] "'This wouldn't of happened if we'd of gone to Torremolinos like we usually do,' [...]"
Torremolinos is a resort on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, which in the past was very popular with the more downmarket sort of British holiday-maker. In US terms, imagine Atlantic City/Las Vegas. Take it down market a bit. A bit more. No, a bit more than that. There. That's beginning to get close to Torremolinos. The town has in recent years made a great effort to change its image and attract a better class of tourist but whether this has worked remains doubtful.
- [p. 80] "[...] the frequent name changes usually being prompted by whatever Adam had happened to have read [...]"
The Hole-in-the-Chalk gang refers to Butch Cassidy's Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, The Really Well-Known Four to The Famous Five, The Legion of Really Super-Heroes to DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes series, The Justice Society of Tadfield to DC's Justice Society of America.
- [p. 81] "Pepper's given first names were Pippin Galadriel Moonchild."
Both Pippin and Galadriel are characters from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (although Pippin is actually a male hobbit). Terry explains that Pepper's names are not really a parody of hippie practices:
"It's an observation. I have signed books for two Galadriels at least -- and three Bilboes. Your basic hippy is fairly predictable."
- [p. 88] "'I bet ole Torturemada dint have to give up jus' when he was getting started [...]'"
Tomás de Torquemada, Spanish inquisitor-general notorious for his cruelty. He was largely responsible for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain around 1492.
- [p. 95] "Where the reactor should have been was an empty space. You could have had quite a nice game of squash in it."
For the connection between nuclear reactors and squash courts, see the annotation for p. 138 of Reaper Man .
- [p. 98] "Sable signed for it, his real name -- one word, seven letters. Sounds like examine."
But, as many alert readers have noticed, the word 'famine' only has six letters. Terry says: "Oh, yeah. The famous seven-lettered six letter name. [...] It's like this. In the original MS, it was six letters, because we can both count. And it was six letters in the Gollancz hardcover. And six letters in the Workman US hardcover. And became seven in the Corgi edition. No-one knows why.".
This problem was fixed in later reprints of Good Omens. See also the annotation for p. 11 of Maskerade .
- [p. 99] "'An' there was this man called Charles Fort,' he said. 'He could make it rain fish and frogs and stuff.'"
Charles Fort lived in the first half of this century and made a career out of attacking established scientific convictions and practitioners, mostly by collecting and publishing book after book of scientifically unexplainable occurrences and phenomena such as, indeed, accounts of rains of fish, etc.
Although Fort and his Fortean Society cheerfully collected and proposed vast numbers of crackpot theories, Charles Fort was by no means a crackpot himself. He just wanted to attack and needle the scientific establishment using every possible means at his disposal.
For more information about Fort I refer the reader to Martin Gardner's wonderful book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957), or to the Fortean Society's newspaper The Fortean Times, still being published in both UK and US today.
- [p. 100] "[...] a highly successful film series with lasers, robots and a princess who wore her hair like a pair of stereo headphones™."
This is of course the Star Wars saga, directed by George Lucas. The princess is Princess Leia Organa; and the person with the coal scuttle helmet who is allowed to blow up planets is Darth Vader.
- [p. 103] "If Cortez, on his peak in Darien, had had slightly damp feet [...]"
From On First Looking into Chapman's Homer by John Keats, where the experience of reading Chapman's translation of Homer is compared to the feeling Cortez must have had:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific -- and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
(Actually, Keats was mixing up Cortez (who conquered Mexico, and was the first European to look upon Mexico City) with Balboa (who climbed Darien, and was the first European to see the Pacific from the east).
- [p. 104] "[...] eight other people [...] two of them [...] and one of the other six [...]"
Or at least, that's what it says in my hardcover version and in the American trade paperback. In the English paperback, however, the quote says "one of the other five" (italics mine), which is of course rather confusing, since two plus five usually equals seven, not eight.
Terry says: "[...] we got the numbers right -- I checked the original MS. This is another manifestation of the strange numbers glitch (remember famine, the seven letter word?)"
See the annotation for p. 98 for the 'famine' glitch Terry refers to.
- [p. 107] "[...] people called Grasshopper, little old men sitting on mountains, other people learning kung-fu in ancient temples [...]"
David Carradine's character Kwai-Chang Caine was given the nickname 'Grasshopper' by his mentor, Master Po, in the television series Kung Fu.
Incidentally, the head of the Shaolin monastery where Caine studied was Chen Ming Kan, and the subsidiary monks were the masters Shun, Teh, Yuen, Wong, Sun and, already mentioned, Po.
If you are the kind of person who enjoys learning this type of mindboggling trivia, then run, don't walk to your bookstore, and buy the Straight Dope books by Cecil Adams. Your life will be vastly enriched. There is even a Pratchett connection as well: Terry uses the Straight Dope books as reference works.
+ [p. 109] "There is no longer a real Witchfinder General."
Just for the record: the story as Terry and Neil give it in this section is quite true. Matthew Hopkins existed, caused the hanging of nineteen alleged witches, and was rumoured to have been hanged as a witch himself (although there no evidence of that, and most historians believe he died of tuberculosis). I am told Hopkins was portrayed fairly accurately by Vincent Price in the film The Conqueror Worm, a.k.a. Witchfinder General.
- [p. 109] "There is also, now, a Witchfinder Private. His name is Newton Pulsifer."
The name 'Lucifer' means "bringer of light". One particular meaning of 'pulse' is a legume -- a pea or lentil. Therefore, 'Pulsifer' means "bringer of peace (peas)".
I have no idea if this is truly what Terry and Neil intended, but it is a beautifully convoluted pun, regardless.
- [p. 112] "Newt [...] blushed crimson as he performed the obligatory nipple-count on page three".
American readers should be aware that some English tabloid papers traditionally showed a photo of a topless girl on page three, although I am told these days only The Sun still follows this practice.
- [p. 113] "'Women wi' too many arms.'"
Refers to the Hindu goddess Kali (although quite a few more Hindu gods and goddesses have more than the usual allotment of arms -- Shiva comes to mind).
Two lines further down there is a reference to Baron Saturday, who is of course our old friend Baron Samedi (see the annotation for p. 157 of Witches Abroad ).
- [p. 123] "Red sky in the morning. It was going to rain."
See the annotation for p. 202 of Equal Rites .
- [p. 126] "Newt's car was a Wasabi."
'Wasabi' is, in fact, a kind of horseradish used in sushi.
- [p. 127] "[...] the world's only surviving Wasabi agent in Nigirizushi, Japan."
And 'Nigirizushi' is a kind of sushi.
- [p. 129] "The one that looked like a pepper pot just skidded down it, and fell over at the bottom. The other two ignored its frantic beeping [...]"
The Daleks in the television series Dr Who are robots that look very much like pepper pots. They don't beep much, though.
R2D2 in the movie Star Wars (and sequels) is a robot that does a lot of frantic beeping. It doesn't look that much like a pepper pot, though.
(In an earlier release of the APF, this annotation listed only R2D2 as a possibility. I received a steady trickle of mail saying: "no, you're wrong, it's a reference to the Daleks". So I changed the annotation, which of course only led to the steady trickle changing into: "no, you're wrong, it's a reference to R2D2". Clearly, we have a controversy on our hands...)
- [p. 136] "[...] a wall clock with a free-swinging pendulum that E. A. Poe would cheerfully have strapped someone under."
See the annotation for p. 16 of Reaper Man .
- [p. 144] "'And then giant ants take over the world,' said Wensleydale nervously. 'I saw this film. Or you go around with sawn-off shotguns and everyone's got these cars with, you know, knives and guns stuck on --'"
The films Wensleydale is referring to are Them! (how appropriate...) and the various Mad Max movies.
- [p. 152] "The Kappamaki, a whaling research ship, [...]"
'Kappamaki' is a Japanese cucumber roll.
- [p. 157] "'There doesn't have to be any of that business with one third of the seas turning to blood or anything,' said Aziraphale happily."
To the few particularly befuddled or atheistic readers out there who at this point of the book still aren't quite sure what is going on, I can only give the advice to take a closer look at Chapter 6 of the biblical Book of Revelation.
- [p. 158] "Hi. This is Anthony Crowley. Uh. I --"
Up to this point in the novel, we have only been told that Crowley's first name begins with an 'A', leading to the false expectation that his name might be Aleister Crowley, as in the famous British mystic, theosophist, black-arts practitioner and "most evil man on Earth".
- [p. 166] "'This is a Sainsbury's plant-mister, cheapest and most efficient plant-mister in the world. It can squirt a fine spray of water into the air.'"
Dirty Harry again. See the annotation for p. 124 of Guards! Guards! .
- [p. 174] "'"Puppet on a String"! Sandie Shaw! Honest. I'm bleeding positive!'"
American readers will probably not realise that this is the answer to the question: "What song by which artist won the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest for Britain?"
- [p. 174] "'1666!' 'No, you great pillock! That was the fire! The Plague was 1665!'"
The Great Fire of London in 1666 helped to wipe out the bubonic plague that had been afflicting the city since 1665.
- [p. 175] "He had LOVE tattooed on one set of knuckles, HATE on the other."
Originally, this movie reference dates back to Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. Later it was used by many, many others, including Marlon Brando in The Wild One, Meatloaf in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (an appearance entirely built around Brando's), and more recently by Robert de Niro in the remake of Cape Fear.
And then there's The Blues Brothers, where Jake has his name tattooed across the knuckles of one hand, while Elwood needs both hands to spell his name; The Simpsons, where Sideshow Bob (who, like most cartoon characters has only three fingers and a thumb) has LUV on one set of knuckles and HAT (with a line above the A -- the standard diacritical mark to indicate a long vowel) on the other; and of course The Last Remake of Beau Geste (see also the annotation for p. 82) where Peter Ustinov, as the sadistic sergeant, has a scene where he sits with one hand partially obscured. We get the impression that he too has HATE and LOVE tattooed on his knuckles. Eventually he moves, and reveals the tattoos actually read HATE and LOATHE.
- [p. 175] "'I haven't seen you since Mafeking,' said Red."
Mafeking, located near Bophuthatswana in South Africa, was for 80 years the administrative headquarters of the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland (now Botswana). It was the starting point of the Jameson Raid, a disastrous raid into the Boer Republic of the Transvaal in 1895, which led to the South African War of 1899.
- [p. 179] "'Ere, I seen you before,' he said. 'You was on the cover of that Blue Öyster Cult album."
This would be Some Enchanted Evening (1978), the Blue Öyster Cult's second live album. Death painted by T. R. Shorr.
See also the annotation for p. 239 of Hogfather .
- [p. 180] The name Citron Deux-Chevaux refers to the Citroen 2CV, or deux-chevaux as it is commonly called in Europe ("chevaux" means horses -- 'CV' has a (very loose) connection with horsepower).
- [p. 182] "'Just phone 0800-CASH and pledge your donation now.'"
A transatlantic amalgamation of British and American telephone number formats.
- [p. 184] "...All we need is, Radio Gaga... sang Freddie Mercury."
Terry and Neil definitely seem to have trouble rendering songs correctly. The line as it appears in the song is: "All we hear is Radio Ga Ga".
- [p. 189] "[...] formerly Curl Up and Dye, [...]"
People have noticed that this name also occurs in the Blues Brothers movie, but Terry assures us that the name goes back much further than that, and that there in fact at one time actually existed a hair dresser named like this.
I have subsequently been informed that currently existing 'Curl Up and Dye' hairdressers can be found in both Birmingham and Chepstow.
- [p. 191] Sprechen Sie Deutsch and Parlez-vous Francais are German and French respectively for "do you speak German/French", but "Wo bu hui jiang zhongwen" is Chinese for "I can't speak Chinese".
Terry says: "The bit of Chinese was Neil's. I said, "Are you sure it means 'Do you speak Chinese?'" He said yes. I should argue?"
- [p. 196] "'You're thinking that any second now this head is going to go round and round, and I'm going to start vomiting pea soup.'"
This is an obvious reference to Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
- [p. 197] "Something about sheets of glass falling off lorries and slicing people's heads off, as he recalled [...]"
The film referred to is The Omen.
- [p. 203] "'Heigh ho,' said Anthony Crowley, and just drove anyway."
This refers to an old British topical song about the Italian opera-singer Antonio Rolli, well-known in London during the Regency. The song was called 'A Frog He Would-a Wooing Go', and the chorus has the lines:
With a rolypoly, gammon and spinach,
Heigh ho, said Anthony Rowley.
This was intended to be a highly amusing satire on the way Italian people speak. It has only survived to this day as a children's rhyme because of its references to talking animals, and despite a totally confusing chorus.
- [p. 203] "What she really wanted to be was an internationally glamorous jet-setter, but she didn't have the O-levels."
This has to do with the British education system. After the 8th grade you decide how many two-year O- (Ordinary) level courses you are going to take (each with an exam at the end). Most non-minimum wage jobs ask for at least 5 O-levels, people in college usually have 7 or 8. After your O-levels you can either leave school or go on for A- (Advanced) level courses, which take another 2-3 years.
These days, O-levels are no longer a part of the British education system, having been replaced a few years back by the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). A-levels still exist.
- [p. 204] "[...] they burrowed into eyes, noses, ears, lights [...]"
'Lights' is colloquial British for 'internal organs'. See the annotation for p. 64 of Pyramids .
- [p. 208] "'There's a red sky,' he said [...] 'Or is it shepherds who are delighted at night? I can never remember.'"
See the annotations for p. 202 of Equal Rites and p. 126 of Lords and Ladies.
- [p. 214] "There was also a man selling hot dogs."
Bet you even money his initials were C.M.O.T...
- [p. 226] "'Where is Armageddon, anyway?'"
One theory holds that 'Armageddon' is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word that may have meant 'the mountain of Megiddo', in reference to Mount Carmel, which overlooks the plain of Megiddo, where many Old Testament battles were fought.
- [p. 232] "'Did any of them kids have some space alien with a face like a friendly turd in a bike basket?'"
A reference to the telekinetic bike-riding scene at the end of the movie E.T..
- [p. 242] "'You think wars get started because some old duke gets shot, or someone cuts off someone's ear, or someone's sited their missiles in the wrong place.'"
That the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 sparked the beginning of World War I, and that the Soviet placement of missiles on Cuba in 1962 almost led to World War III is common knowledge. But to non-Brits the second reference may not be so obvious. In 1739 Capt Robert Jenkins, of the brig Rebecca, claimed to have been attacked by a Spanish ship and to have had his ear cut off. He complained to the king on his return to England, the incident was taken up by the general public, and the Prime Minister used it as a pretext to go to war with Spain to regain control of shipping routes. This war is generally referred to as the War of Jenkins' Ear.
- [p. 243] "'Beelzebub,' Crowley supplied. 'He's the Lord of --'"
Crowley is trying to say 'Lord of the Flies', which is the common lay translation of the word 'Beelzebub' (from the Hebrew Ba'al Zvoov).
- [p. 248] Dick Turpin is the name of a famous British highwayman. Hence the joke about Newt's car being called 'Dick Turpin': "'Because everywhere I go, I hold up traffic,' he mumbled wretchedly."
- [p. 262] "They went to the Ritz again [...]. And, [...] for the first time ever, a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square."
From the song 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square':
That certain night, the night we met
There was magic abroad in the air
There were angels dining at the Ritz
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square
- [p. 262] The Necrotelecomnicom also appears (but spelled 'Necrotelicomnicom') in the Discworld books.
See the annotation for p. 111 of Equal Rites .
- [p. 262] The Malleus Maleficarum is the name of an existing 15th century guidebook for witch-hunters, written by Heinrich Kramer and Joseph Sprenger (one a Dominican Inquisitor, the other the Mayor of Cologne), two high-ranking officials of the Catholic church. This book apparently became Europe's first best-seller after the invention of the printing press, and the (early 20th century) English translation of this book, The Hammer of Witches, is still in print today.
See also the annotation for p. 159 of Carpe Jugulum .
- [p. 264] "It was Sunday afternoon."
According to Terry, the US edition of Good Omens has about 700 extra words in it, because:
"After the MS had been accepted and edited by Gollancz, the American editor at Workman in NY asked for a couple of things for the US edition, one of which related to Warlock.
He was an American boy, you see, and she was certain that Americans would want to know what had happened to him. So we said ok, and wrote it. To the best of my recollection that was the biggest change, although there were other minor additions (some we were able to slip into the Gollancz hardcover at proof stage, but the Warlock bit was too long). I have to say we also polished things up here and there, too, although I think we were able to transfer most of those changes to the UK proofs too.
And then since the one done for Workman was technically the final MS the UK paperback was set from it."
For the people owning the British hardcover of Good Omens, here is the text of the added section:
"It was Sunday afternoon.
High over England a 747 droned westwards. In the first-class cabin a boy called Warlock put down his comic and stared out of the window.
It had been a very strange couple of days. He still wasn't certain why his father had been called to the Middle East. He was pretty sure that his father didn't know, either. It was probably something cultural. All that happened was a lot of funny-looking guys with towels on their heads and very bad teeth had shown them around some old ruins. As ruins went, Warlock had seen better. And then one of the old guys had said to him, wasn't there anything he wanted to do? And Warlock said he'd like to leave.
They'd looked very unhappy about that.
And now he was going back to the States. There had been some sort of problem with tickets or flights or airport destinations--boards or something. It was weird; he was pretty sure his father had meant to go back to England. Warlock liked England. It was a nice country to be an American in.
The plane was at that point passing right above the Lower Tadfield bedroom of Greasy Johnson, who was aimlessly leafing through a photography magazine that he'd bought merely because it had a rather good picture of a tropical fish on the cover.
A few pages below Greasy's listless finger was a spread on American football, and how it was really catching on in Europe. Which was odd--because when the magazine had been printed, those pages had been about photography in desert conditions.
It was about to change his life.
And Warlock flew on to America. He deserved something (after all, you never forgot the first friends you ever had, even if you were all a few hours old at the time) and the power that was controlling the fate of all mankind at that precise time was thinking: Well, he's going to America, isn't he? Don't see how you could have anythin' better than going to America.
They've got thirty-nine flavors of ice cream there. Maybe even more."
- [p. 267] "And if you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot... no, imagine a trainer, laces trailing, kicking a pebble; [...]"
From George Orwell's 1984: "If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever". A 'trainer' is what the British call a 'sneaker', but I should think that much was clear from context (in the paperback, 'trainer' has in fact been replaced by 'sneaker').
- [p. 268] "Slouching hopefully towards Tadfield."
From W. B. Yeats' poem The Second Coming:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
- Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman did have the title 668 -- The Neighbour of the Beast on hand for a Good Omens sequel, but since Neil Gaiman lives in the US now, Terry says: "I can't see it ever being written".
There are many documented occurrences of this joke in other contexts, by the way (including a recently released actual novel with this name), some of them predating Good Omens. Terry again points out that it's only to be expected since the joke is so obvious.
- There is a British KitKat chocolate bar TV commercial that predates Good Omens, and which involves an angel and a devil who are just starting their respective coffee breaks. Both exit from separate elevators, the angel accompanied by several pure-white animals, while the devil turns back into his elevator and screams, in a British accent, "Shut up!" to whatever demons are causing a ruckus behind him.
If you are now thinking that this is an extremely unlikely, farfetched annotation -- well, so did I, until Terry Pratchett himself gave us the following piece of information (when some folks were having further discussions on how old this ad exactly was):
"I'm pretty sure [this ad] started about the same time as Good Omens, because:
One night I was sitting there typing away when I looked up and there the angel and the devil were, having a teabreak (it's not really a particularly Good Omens idea, but I know why people like it...) And I thought, hey, great...
And about half an hour later there was an ad (some UK viewers might remember it) for an insurance company which showed a businessman with wide angel wings walking down the street...
And then, just when I was doing the bit where Crowley muses that people are much better than demons at thinking up horrible things to do to one another, I switched on the radio; there was a performance of The Tempest, and someone said "Hell is empty and all the devils are here". It was a weird evening, really."
- People have been wondering (a) where the back cover photograph of Good Omens was taken, and (b) which one of them is Terry Pratchett.
Terry provides the answer to both questions: "In Kensal Green Cemetery, one frosty January day. Since white clothes tend to be thinner than dark clothes, I had to be stood in front of a blowlamp between shots."
Kensal Green Cemetery can be found in West London, fairly near to Wormwood Scrubs Prison. It is one of the seven or so cemeteries built around the edge of central London in the nineteenth century to cope with the large cholera outbreaks. They are large purpose-built efforts, and are full of the glorious stonemasonry that the Victorians indulged in to glorify themselves.
The photograph of Terry and Neil appears on the back of the UK hardcover, and in black and white on the inside of the Corgi paperback. A copy of the photograph is available from the L-space Web.
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