23 October 2007

Happy Birthday, Dear World

One of my favourite books, bestowed with worrying predictability on those dear to me, is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens, a book which I usually introduce to those fools who look askance on Mr Pratchett's books as 'the Pratchett book for people who don't like Pratchett'. Generally speaking, the name of Neil Gaiman doesn't evoke such scepticism, as those people who aren't devoted to his work tend just to be generally unaware of it, to a greater or lesser degree.

Anyway, Good Omens is a jewel of a book: a supremely English hybrid of The Omen, cold war spy novels, P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, and Anthony Buckeridge, it's well worth delving into not least for unforgettable asides on such matters as the M25 being a prayer wheel for Satan, memorable biblical errata, Pavlovian reactions among the ducks at Saint James's Park, and why the British resisted decimalisation for so long.

Indeed, the book almost begins with such a passage:
Archbishop James Usher (1580-1656) published Annales Veteris et Novi Testamenti in 1654, which suggested that the Heaven and the Earth were created in 4004 BC. One of his aides took the calculation further, and was able to announce triumphantly that the Earth was created on Sunday the 21st of October, 4004 BC, at exactly 9.00 a.m., because God liked to get work done early in the morning while He was feeling fresh.

This too was incorrect. By almost a quarter of an hour.

The whole business with the fossilized dinosaur skeletons was a joke the palaeontologists haven't seen yet.

This proves two things:

Firstly, that God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say circuitous ways. God does not play dice with universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players*, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

Secondly, the Earth's a Libra.
All of which is very funny, and very clever, and not nearly as blasphemous as the more senstive among us might think, which could explain why Good Omens won the authors an award for religious fiction, much to their surprise, as they had expected bricks through their windows.

It is, however, not true. The problem's not so much that Ussher is spelled wrong, although it is, or that Sir John Lightfoot, who calculated that moment of all creation was nine in the morning, was not an aide of Ussher and arrived at the same date independently of the esteemed Archbishop of Armagh, although that's apparently true too, as that both men had set the date of creation at 23 September 4004 BC, rather than 21 September.

Not a big deal, you might think, except that often the sun moves into the constellation of Scorpio on 23 September.

Yep, it's entirely possible that the earth is a Scorpio.

Either way, happy birthday.

* i.e. everybody

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