First Lines| Good Omens
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
This is part of a series of posts in which I examine the first few lines of a novel I enjoyed.
I was reading a slew of Neil Gaiman's novels and had plowed through Coraline, Neverwhere, and the entire Sandman collection, when I saw this book, Good Omens, that he collaborated with someone named Terry Pratchett.
Huh. Isn't that the dude with the ridiculously colorful book covers? (At this point in time, I hadn't delved into Discworld. Thanks to Good Omens, I was introduced to Terry Pratchett's works and it changed my life. GNU Sir Pterry.)
It was engaging from the get-go. And yet, every time I re-read Good Omens, I have to wonder why two immensely skillful storytellers decided to begin with the immortal sentence:
"It was a nice day."
Nice is a dull adjective. When I was teaching English in school, I told my students not to use this in their essays, that a more descriptive adjective would be better. And yet, here we have award-winning authors who start with that sentence.
As I knew Neil Gaiman is on Tumblr and sometimes answered readers' questions, I sent in an ask about why he and Terry decided to open a book on the Apocalypse (well, almost the Apocalypse) with that line. He replied.
'The original opening of Good Omens was “It was a dark and stormy night.” And then we thought “It wasn’t a dark and stormy night.” was a better take on it. So that was where the book started for a long time. And so when we decided to begin it earlier, in Eden, we wanted another line that described the weather, and “It was a nice day,” seemed like an excellent one. Bland and innocuous and a line that breaks every single rule about what you’re meant to do with your first line. (Grab your reader by the lapels! Hook them in the throat! Never let them go!)
Well, in addition to breaking every rule English teachers and writing instructors have ever told me about introductions, that first line and the final line of the opening chapter provides great framing of the entire novel.
In the Beginning, in Eden, just after Adam and Eve had been chased out of the garden, is where the story starts. It was a nice day, since it was pretty much the Beginning of all things (4004 BC), and the days preceding that had all been nice. But there was a storm incoming, low on the horizon. The very final line of this section is, in fact, "It was going to be a dark and stormy night."
In the rest of the book, we encounter various stories woven together: the enemies-to-sorta-friends storyline of Aziraphale and Crawly, sorry, Crowley; the quest of the Apocalyptic Horsepersons; the romances of the Witches and Witchfinders; the coming-of-age tale of the Them.
The meat of the story happens with Adam, who is eleven years old, the Antichrist, and supposed to bring about the End of the World. (Good luck getting a curious preteen boy to do what he's supposed to do.)
Everyone was having their versions of a nice day (especially in Lower Tadfield, which had had nice days for just over ten years). Everything in their lives was comfortable, interesting enough without being too exciting, and predictable. The world was chugging along as it was supposed to. There aren't a lot of things to say about Nice Days. They're just... nice. Pleasant. Bland. Comforting.
And then, on such a nice day, Adam discovers Knowledge of Good and Evil (as filtered through Anathema). And that's when the nice day(s) begin to head towards a... well. A dark and stormy night.
But it was only ever going to be a dark and stormy night.
If you haven't read Good Omens, I shan't spoil it for you. Suffice to say that there is a reason that I italicized those few words above.
Good Omens is a story about a nice day that was going to be a dark and stormy night, and what happened in between.
(On an unrelated note: do your copies of Good Omens kinda wander away? I'm on my third copy, because the first disappeared from my bag when I was in a mall, the second was possibly lent to someone, and this one has threatened to vanish on me twice when I traveled and moved house, so it's now trapped on my bookcase. I stick to reading the ebook instead.)