Monday, July 26, 2010

I Present, The 'Big Damn Brains' Conversation aka An Angel and A Demon Walk Into a Back Room

from Good Omens, because I'm reading it for the millionth time, and I want to!

AND NOW IT WAS THREE O'CLOCK. The Antichrist had been on Earth for fifteen hours, and one angel and one demon had been drinking solidly for three of them.

They sat opposite one another in the back room of Aziraphale's dingy old bookshop in Soho.

Most bookshops in Soho have back rooms, and most of the back rooms are filled with rare, or at least very expensive, books. But Aziraphale's books didn't have illustrations. They had old brown covers and crackling pages. Occasionally, if he had no alternative, he'd sell one.

And, occasionally, serious men in dark suits would come calling and suggest, very politely, that perhaps he'd like to sell the shop itself so that it could be turned into the kind of retail outlet more suited to the area. Sometimes they'd offer cash, in large rolls of grubby fifty-pound notes. Or, sometimes, while they were talking, other men in dark glasses would wander around the shop shaking their heads and saying how flammable paper was, and what a firetrap he had here.

And Aziraphale would nod and smile and say that he'd think about it. And then they'd go away. And they'd never come back.

Just because you're an angel doesn't mean you have to be a fool.

The table in front of the two of them was covered with bottles.

"The point is," Crowley said, "the point is. The point is." He tried to focus on Aziraphale.

"The point is," he said, and tried to think of a point.

"The point I'm trying to make," he said, brightening, "is the dolphins. That's my point."

"Kind of fish," said Aziraphale.

"Nononono," said Crowley, shaking a finger. "'S mammal. Your actual mammal. Difference is-" Crowley waded through the swamp of his mind and tried to remember the difference. "Difference is, they-"

"Mate out of water?" volunteered Aziraphale.

Crowley's brow furrowed. "Don't think so. Pretty sure that's not it. Something about their young. Whatever." He pulled himself together. "The point is. The point is. Their brains."

He reached for a bottle.

"What about the brains?" said the angel.

"Big brains. That's my point. Size of. Size of. Size of damn big brains. And then there's the whales. Brain city, take it from me. Whole damn sea full of brains."

"Kraken," said Aziraphale, staring moodily into his glass.

Crowley gave him the long cool look of someone who has just had a girder dropped in front of his train of thought.


"Great big bugger," said Aziraphale. "Sleepeth beneath the thunders of the upper deep. Under loads of huge and unnumbered polupol- polipo- bloody great seaweeds, you know. Supposed to rise to the surface right at the end, when the sea boils."



"There you are, then," said Crowley, sitting back. "Whole sea bubbling, poor old dolphins so much seafood gumbo, no one giving a damn. Same with gorillas. Whoops, they say, sky gone all red, stars crashing to the ground, what they putting in the bananas these days? And then-"

"They make nests, you know, gorillas," said the angel, pouring another drink and managing to hit the glass on the third go.


"God's truth. Saw a film. Nests."

"That's birds," said Crowley.

"Nests," insisted Aziraphale.

Crowley decided not to argue the point.

"There you are then," he said. "All creatures great and smoke. I mean small. Great and small. Lot of them with brains. And then, bazamm."

"But you're part of it," said Aziraphale. "You tempt people. You're good at it."

Crowley thumped his glass on the table. "That's different. They don't have to say yes. That's the ineffable bit, right? Your side made it up. You've got to keep testing people. But not to destruction."

"All right. All right. I don't like it any more than you, but I told you, I can't disod- disoy- not do what I'm told. 'M a'nangel."

"There's no theaters in Heaven," said Crowley. "And very few films."

"Don't you try to tempt me," said Aziraphale wretchedly. "I know you, you old serpent."

"Just you think about it," said Crowley relentlessly, "You know what eternity is? You know what eternity is? 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-"

"What little bird?" said Aziraphale suspiciously.

"This little bird I'm talking about. And every thousand years-"

"The same bird every thousand years?"

Crowley hesitated. "Yeah," he said.

"Bloody ancient bird, then."

"Okay. And every thousand years this bird flies-"


"-flies all the way to this mountain and sharpens its beak-"

"Hold on. You can't do that. Between here and the end of the universe there's loads of-" The angel waved a hand expansively, if a little unsteadily. "Loads of buggerall, dear boy."

"But it gets there anyway," Crowley persevered.


"It doesn't matter!"

"It could use a spaceship," said the angel.

Crowley subsided a bit. "Yeah," he said. "If you like. Anyway, this bird-"

"Only it is the end of the universe we're talking about," said Aziraphale. "So it'd have to be one of those spaceships where your descendants are the ones who get out at the other end. You have to tell your descendants, you say, When you get to the Mountain, you've got to-" He hesitated. "What have they got to do?"

"Sharpen its beak on the mountain," said Crowley. "And then it flies back-"

"-in the spaceship-"

"And after a thousand years it goes and does it all again," said Crowley quickly.

There was a moment of drunken silence.

"Seems a lot of effort just to sharpen a beak," mused Aziraphale.

"Listen," said Crowley urgently, "the point is that when the bird has worn the mountain down to nothing, right, then-"

Aziraphale opened his mouth. Crowley just knew he was going to make some point about the relative hardness of birds' beaks and granite mountains, and plunged on quickly.

"-then you still won't have finished watching The Sound of Music."

Aziraphale froze.

"And you'll enjoy it," Crowley said relentlessly. "You really will."

"My dear boy-"

"You won't have a choice."


"Heaven has no taste."


"And not one single sushi restaurant."

A look of pain crossed the angel's suddenly very serious face.

"I can't cope with this while 'm drunk," he said. "I'm going to sober up."

"Me too."

The both winced as the alcohol left their bloodstreams, and sat up a bit more neatly. Aziraphale straightened his tie.

"I can't interfere with divine plans," he croaked.

Crowley looked speculatively into his glass, then filled it again.

"What about diabolical ones?" he said.


"Well, it's got to be a diabolical plan, hasn't it? We're doing it. My side."

"Ah, but it's all part of the overall divine plan," said Aziraphale. "Your side can't do anything without it being part of the ineffable divine plan," he added, with a trace of smugness.

"You wish!"

"No, that's the-" Aziraphale snapped his fingers irritably. "The thing. What d'you call it in your colorful idiom? The line at the bottom."

"The bottom line."

"Yes. It's that."

"Well...if you're sure..." said Crowley.

"No doubt about it."

Crowley looked up slyly.

"Then you can't be certain, correct me if I'm wrong, you can't be certain that thwarting it isn't part of the divine plan too. I mean, you're supposed to thwart the wiles of the Evil One at every turn, aren't you?"

Aziraphale hesitated.

"There is that, yes."

"You see a wile, you thwart it. Am I right?"

"Broadly, broadly. Actually I encourage humans to do the actual thwarting. Because of ineffability, you understand."

"Right. Right. So all you've got to do is thwart. Because if I know anything," said Crowley urgently, "it's that the birth is just the start. It's the upbringing that's important. It's the Influence. Otherwise the child will never learn to use its powers." He hesitated. "At least, not necessarily as intended."

"Certainly our side won't mind me thwarting you," said Aziraphale thoughtfully. "They won't mind that at all."

"Right. It'd be a real feather in your wing." Crowley gave the angel an encouraging smile.

"What will happen to the child if it doesn't get a Satanic upbringing, though?" said Aziraphale.

"Probably nothing. It'll never know."

"But genetics-"

"Don't tell you from genetics. What've they got to do with it?" said Crowley. "Look at Satan. Created as an angel, grows up to be the Great Adversary. Hey, if you're going to go on about genetics, you might as well say the kid will grow up to be an angel. After all, his father was really big in Heaven in the old days. Saying he'll grow up to be a demon just because his dad became one is like saying a mouse with its tail cut off will give birth to tailless mice. No. Upbringing is everything. Take it from me."

"And without unopposed Satanic influences-"

"Well, at worst Hell will have to start all over again. And the Earth gets at least another eleven years. That's got to be worth something, hasn't it?"

Now Aziraphale was looking thoughtful again."

"You're saying the child isn't evil of itself?" he said slowly.

"Potentially evil. Potentially good, too, I suppose. Just this huge powerful potentiality, waiting to be shaped," said Crowley. He shrugged. "Anyway, why're we talking about this good and evil? They're just names for sides. We know that."

"I suppose it's got to be worth a try," said the angel. Crowley nodded encouragingly.

"Agreed?" said the demon, holding out his hand.

The angel shook it, cautiously.

"It'll certainly be more interesting than saints," he said.

"And it'll be for the child's own good, in the long run," said Crowley. "We'll be godfathers, sort of. Overseeing his religious upbringing, you might say."

Aziraphale beamed.

"You know, I'd never have thought of that," he said. "Godfathers. Well, I'll be damned."

"It's not too bad," said Crowley, "when you get used to it."

-Good Omens, p. 47-52, Neil Gaiman


  1. It somehow never occurred to me till now that technically Crowley just successfully tempted an angel to disobey. He is good at it!

    "-then you still won't have finished watching The Sound of Music." might be my favorite line in the whole book. Hilarious drunken conversation, then BAM. All musical-loving sushi-missing horror. :D SERIOUS STUFF RIGHT THERE.

    This so needs to be a movie. I know it's in the works...for about the past 20 years...Get going, Hollywood!

  2. sanil,

    I get that too. I really do notice different nuances every time I read it.

    But yeah, Crowley's good at what he does. Of course, he's been tempting Zira for a very long time. He knows where to hit. :)

    *snort* This entire drunken conversation is *awesome*. And the *reaction*. Zira's just, just rolling along with it, drunkenly poking holes in Crowley's metaphor, and then, *wham*! No musicals? No sushi? Wait, wait, it's *serious* now. *Now*, he needs to be sober!

    *grin* I just finished the 'paint ball' scene at lunch. Ah...I really do love this book.

    It does need to be a movie, so much. But I both want and dread it, because they could screw it up so badly!

  3. Susanne,

    It is! I have had drunken conversations like this. Only, y'know, without the apocalypse being actually involved....


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