elvis as contented everyman in “good omens”

ELVIS MAY HAVE LEFT THE BUILDING, but he has passed into pop­ular cul­ture as an his­tor­ical figure and as a metaphorical/mythological pres­ence. These latter two were first found in songs, es­pe­cially after his death. They can now be found in movies and lit­er­a­ture, in­cluding Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens”!

His pres­ence is less preva­lent in lit­er­a­ture, but it is there. He pops up in the back­ground in the novel Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book is a farce about the birth of the son of Satan and Ar­mageddon, and hu­morous at­tempts by an angel and a demon who team up to un­der­mine the plans of their Mas­ters, as both are fond of their long-lived lives among hu­mans.

The story is a rarity—a gen­uine col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the two au­thors. Pratchett wrote about 60% of the orig­inal story (the basic plot and nar­ra­tive) and Gaiman about 40% (the twists and turns f the sub­plots).

Then each rewrote huge sec­tions of the oth­er’s part, with Pratchett in charge of making the ac­tual changes to the man­u­script. There were daily phone calls where cor­rec­tions and ad­di­tions were made.

 

I highly rec­om­mend that you watch the movies Rose­mary’s Baby and The Omen be­fore reading the book Good Omens.

 

Each au­thor claims that he can’t tell which words are his and which his part­ners’. The book does read fairly seam­lessly as the work of one voice and vi­sion.

It is a good read and is gen­uinely funny, and I rec­om­mend it to any and all readers. It is the type of fan­tasy that can be en­joyed even by those without a predilec­tion for role-playing games and fan­tasy con­ven­tions.

 

Cover of the first British edition of GOOD OMENS.

First UK hard­cover edi­tion (Gol­lancz, 1990). The book is sub­ti­tled The Nice and Ac­cu­rate Prophe­cies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.

Good omens and big bang theorists

My sole com­plaint is that its written in that light-weight British manner that can seem silly—if not ac­tu­ally pre­cious and indulgent—to Amer­i­cans. (And if you’re one of those people who watch The Big Bang Theory and rec­og­nize your species in Sheldon Cooper, then you’ll enjoy the book even more.)

Be fore­warned that a viewing of two movies is a must to enjoy the basic plot de­vice: Rose­mary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976). Of course, if one is reading this ar­ticle, one might be in­clined to read the orig­inal novel of Rose­mary’s Baby by Ira Levin from 1967. As a book, The Omen is a nov­el­iza­tion of the movie by David Seltzer.

 The above is all you need to know about the plot. One of the char­ac­ters in the story is a man called Sable, which is an Earthly guise for Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apoc­a­lypse. The Horsemen are de­scribed in the Book of Rev­e­la­tion (6:1-8), the last book of the New Tes­ta­ment of the Bible. They are Death, Famine, War, and Con­quest, the latter also known as Pesti­lence and even oc­ca­sion­ally as the An­tichrist.

Sable is a wealthy en­tre­pre­neur, a ruth­less busi­nessman. One of his prop­er­ties is a chain of fast-food restau­rants (sic) called Burger Lord. The ac­count below oc­curs about one-third of the way into the story (pages 84-85). The text below is taken ex­actly as it ap­pears in the novel. So, read on …

 


Good Omens (excerpt)

Sable saun­tered into the Burger Lord. It was ex­actly like every other Burger Lord in America. [But not like every other Burger Lord across the world. German Burger Lords, for ex­ample, sold lager in­stead of root beer, while Eng­lish Burger Lords man­aged to take any Amer­ican fast food virtues (the speed with which your food was de­liv­ered, for ex­ample) and care­fully re­move them; your food ar­rived after half an hour, at room tem­per­a­ture, and it was only be­cause of the strip of warm let­tuce be­tween them that you could dis­tin­guish the burger from the bun. The Burger Lord pathfinder salesmen had been shot twenty-five min­utes after set­ting foot in France.] McLordy the Clown danced in the Kiddie Ko­rner. The serving staff had iden­tical gleaming smiles that never reached their eyes. And be­hind the counter a chubby, middle-aged man in a Burger Lord uni­form slapped burgers onto the griddle, whistling softly, happy in his work.

Sable went up to the counter.

“Hello-my-name-is-Marie,” said the girl be­hind the counter. “How-can-I-help-you?”

“A double blaster thunder biggun, extra fries, hold the mus­tard,” he said.

“Anything-to-drink?”

“A spe­cial thick whippy chocobanana shake.”

 

Good Omens: cover of first American edition of ROSEMARY'S BABY.

First US hard­cover edi­tion (Random House, 1967).

She pressed the little pic­togram squares on her till. (Lit­eracy was no longer a re­quire­ment for em­ploy­ment in these restau­rants. Smiling was.) Then she turned to the chubby man be­hind the counter.

“DBTB, E F, hold mus­tard,” she said. “Choc-shake.”

“Uhnnhuhn,” crooned the cook. He sorted the food into little paper con­tainers, pausing only to brush the graying cowlick from his eyes.

“Here y’are,” he said.

She took them without looking at him, and he re­turned cheer­fully to his griddle, singing qui­etly, “Loooove me tender, looooove me long, neeever let me go …”

The man’s hum­ming, Sable noted, clashed with the Burger Lord back­ground music, a tinny tape loop of the Burger Lord com­mer­cial jingle, and he made a mental note to have him fired.

Hello-my-name-is-Marie gave Sable his MEALS and told him to have a nice day.

He found a small plastic table, sat down in the plastic seat, and ex­am­ined his food.

Ar­ti­fi­cial bread roll. Ar­ti­fi­cial burger. Fries that had never even seen pota­toes. Food­less sauces. Even (and Sable was es­pe­cially pleased with this) an ar­ti­fi­cial slice of dill pickle. He didn’t bother to ex­amine his milk­shake. It had no ac­tual food con­tent, but then again, nei­ther did those sold by any of his ri­vals.

All around him people were eating their un­food with, if not ac­tual ev­i­dence of en­joy­ment, then with no more ac­tual dis­gust than was to be found in burger chains all over the planet.

He stood up, took his tray over to the PLEASE DISPOSE OF YOUR REFUSE WITH CARE re­cep­tacle, and dumped the whole thing. If you had told him that there were chil­dren starving in Africa he would have been flat­tered that you’d no­ticed.

There was a tug at his sleeve. “Party name of Sable?” asked a small, be­spec­ta­cled man in an In­ter­na­tional Ex­press cap, holding a brown paper parcel.

Sable nodded.

“Thought it was you. Looked around, thought, tall gent with a beard, nice suit, can’t be that many of them here. Package for you, sir.”

Sable signed for it, his real name-one word, six let­ters. Sounds like ex­amine.

“Thank you kindly, sir,” said the de­livery man. He paused. “Here,” he said. “That bloke be­hind the counter. Does he re­mind you of anyone?”

“No,” said Sable. He gave the man a tip-five dollars-and opened the package.

In it was a small pair of brass scales.

Sable smiled. It was a slim smile, and was gone al­most in­stantly.

 

Cover of the first American edition of GOOD OMENS.

First US hard­cover edi­tion (Workman, 1990).

“About time,” he said. He thrust the scales into his pocket, un­heeding of the damage being done to the sleek line of his black suit, and went back to the limo.

“Back to the of­fice?” asked the chauf­feur.

“The air­port,” said Sable. “And call ahead. I want a ticket to Eng­land.”

“Yessir. Re­turn ticket to Eng­land.”

Sable fin­gered the scales in his pocket. “Make that a single,” he said. “I’ll be making my own way back. Oh, and call the of­fice for me, cancel all ap­point­ments.”

“How long for, sir?”

“The fore­see­able fu­ture.”

And in the Burger Lord, be­hind the counter, the stout man with the cowlick slid an­other half-dozen burgers onto the grill. He was the hap­piest man in the whole world and he was singing, very softly.

“… y’ain’t never caught a rabbit,” he hummed to him­self, “and y’ain’t no friend of mine …”

 


Good Omens: painting of Elvis with Bigfoot.

Elvis and his good buddy by Adam Gorightly.

Elvis meets Bigfoot

That’s it! That’s Pratchett and Gaiman using one of the mytho­log­ical and metaphor­ical Elvises, here as the Elvis who gave away the wealth and trap­ping of fame and suc­cess for the pleasant if hum­drum ex­is­tence of a burger ‘chef’ in a fast-food joint. This ver­sion of Elvis takes a Zen-like plea­sure in the meeting of the re­quire­ments of his day-to-day ex­is­tence, achieving a serenity that few West­erners ever know. 1

Sev­eral pages ear­lier (65−66), the Elvis-as-cook scene is hinted at while in­tro­ducing an­other char­acter, Carmine “Red” Zui­giber. Red is a guise for an­other of the Four Horsemen, this time War. And here War is a war cor­re­spon­dent for a tabloid, the Na­tional World Weekly, which is de­scribed this way:

“A typ­ical Na­tional World Weekly would tell the world how Jesus’ face was seen on a Big Mac bun bought by someone from Des Moines, with an artist’s im­pres­sion of the bun; how Elvis Presley was re­cently sighted working in a Burger Lord in Des Moines; how lis­tening to Elvis records cured a Des Moines house­wife’s cancer; how the spate of were­wolves in­festing the Mid­west are the off­spring of noble pi­o­neer women raped by Big­foot; and that Elvis was taken by Space Aliens in 1976 be­cause he was too good for this world. [Re­mark­ably, one of these sto­ries is in­deed true.]”

So Pratchett and Gaiman set up the later scene of the un­named burger cook with this little poke at those weekly pa­pers that we all see at the check-out line of every type of store in the world.

The Elvis joke is car­ried on one more time later in the book: the Four Horsemen have taken on guises as Hell’s An­gels, and are ar­guing over the year of Pres­ley’s death (pages 148-149). Which is part of the joke, as we have al­ready seen that Presley had in­deed faked his death and turned in his life as a de­pressed, reclu­sive pop star for that of an easy-going, rel­a­tively happy short-order cook. 2

And that is the end of Elvis-as-everyman in Good Omens. Now do your­self a favor and go read the tale of how the demon Crowley and the angel Azi­raphale mess up their plans to mess up the plans of their mas­ters …

 

Good Omens: photo of Neil Gaiman.

A few words on Neil Gaiman

Neil Richard MacK­innon Gaiman (Neil Gaimanis an Eng­lish au­thor of short fic­tion, novels, comic books, and films. He has won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, as well as the New­berry and Carnegie medals. No­table works in­clude The Sandman, Amer­ican Gods, Cora­line, and The Grave­yard Book. (Wikipedia)

 

Good Omens: photo of Terry Pratchett.

A few words on Terry Pratchett

Ter­ence David John Pratchett (Terry Pratchett) was an Eng­lish au­thor of fan­tasy novels. He is best known for his Dis­c­world se­ries of 41 novels. The first Dis­c­world novel was pub­lished in 1983, after which he wrote two books a year on av­erage. His final Dis­c­world novel was pub­lished in Au­gust 2015, five months after his death. With more than 85,000,000 books sold world­wide, Pratchett was the UK’s best-selling au­thor of the 1990s. (Wikipedia)

ELVIS ap­pears as a con­tended short-order cook in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s de­lightful GOOD OMENS. Click To Tweet

Good Omens: poster from 1968 movie ROSEMARY'S BABY.

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the ex­tra­or­di­nary poster for Para­mount Pic­tures’ 1968 movie. The movie was a huge suc­cess and re­mains a scary watch fifty years later. Aside from Mia Farrow and John Cas­savetes as the par­ents of the son of Satan, it stars Ruth Gordon as a ser­vant of Hell.

POSTSCRIPTUALLY, for those of you who are readers and may have taken on any of Pratch­ett’s Dis­c­world books and found them not to their taste (as I did), that should not stop you from en­joying Good Omens.

Good Omens was very well re­ceived by fans and critics: it was nom­i­nated as Best Novel for the 1991 World Fan­tasy Awards, and as Best Fan­tasy Novel for the 1991 Locus Awards. Good Omens has sold well and con­tin­u­ously; it re­mains in print around the world.


FOOTNOTES:

1   Of course, that hap­pi­ness ticks off Sable, who plans to retaliate—not nec­es­sarily on the in­di­vidual, but on the very ex­is­tence of hap­pi­ness. For an en­joy­able view on the type of re­ality this Elvis has chosen, see the 1984 movie The Ra­zor’s Edge.

It is a flawed movie, much of it due to casting Bill Murray as the hero. Simply, as an actor, Murray was not up to the de­mands of some parts of the role. Nonethe­less, Murray is so damn goofily en­gaging that he makes it work.

The Ra­zor’s Edge was a HUGE flop, both crit­i­cally and com­mer­cially. But, like me, you may be one of the few that sees the gem in the rough. The only way to know is to see it!

2   It’s nei­ther a long scene nor an im­por­tant one; it just seems to be there to carry on the Presley joke.

 

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