On Aziraphale: Sense & Ineffability
As a complement to Tuesday’s Crowley discussion, let’s consider something neat about Aziraphale for a second. He arguably has the most dramatic development arc in the entirety of the book, and I do mean even more dramatic than, say, the handful of humans whose worldviews are altered a bit because of the extraordinary events they witness (even if they’re not permitted to fully remember said events). Adam is a huge potentiality waiting to be shaped, true, and we do watch him undergo said shaping, but the core of who he is, his outlook, remains, at its heart, this: wholly human, capable of enacting any outcome as choice and circumstance dictate.
Aziraphale, on the other hand, starts out as an absent-minded, largely antisocial, cares-about-humans-in-an-abstract-sort-of-way-because-it’s-his-job, slightly stuffycurmudgeon of an angel who is willing to kill a kid until a human calls him out on it if that’s what it’ll take to stop an apocalypse that will, let’s face it, upset his status quo in a huge way. Here’s where the something-neat factor comes in: his transformation is most strikingly summarized in the examination of his use of the word ineffable in two different instances. Let’s put those quotes from the text side by side:
Aziraphale had tried to explain it to [Crowley] once. The whole point, he’d said—this was somewhere around 1020, when they’d first reached their little Arrangement—the whole point was that when a human was good or bad it was because they wanted to be. Whereas people like Crowley and, of course, himself, were set in their ways right from the start. People couldn’t become truly holy, he said, unless they also had the opportunity to be definitively wicked.
Crowley had thought about this for some time and, around 1023, had said, Hang on, that only works, right, if you start everyone off equal, okay? You can’t start someone off in a muddy shack in the middle of a war zone and expect them to do as well as someone born in a castle.
Ah, Aziraphale had said, that’s the good bit. The lower you start, the more opportunities you have.
Crowley had said, That’s lunatic.
No, said Aziraphale, it’s ineffable.
Contrast that, Aziraphale using ineffability to justify their employers’ fundamentally flawed and unfair joint model, with this:
Crowley stuck his head in his hands. “For a moment there, just for a moment, I thought we had a chance,” he said. “He had them worried. Oh, well, it was nice while—”
He was aware that Aziraphale had stood up.
“Excuse me,” said the angel.
[Adam, Beelzebub, and the Metatron] looked at him.
“This Great Plan,” he said, “this would be the ineffable Plan, would it?”
“It’s the Great Plan,” said the Metatron flatly. “You are well aware. There shall be a world lasting six thousand years and it will conclude with—”
“Yes, yes, that’s the Great Plan all right,” said Aziraphale. He spoke politely and respectfully, but with the air of one who has just asked an unwelcome question at a political meeting and won’t go away until he gets an answer. “I was just asking if it’s ineffable as well. I just want to be clear on this point.”
“It doesn’t matter!” snapped the Metatron. “It’s the same thing, surely!”
Surely? thought Crowley. They don’t actually know. He started to grin like an idiot.
Think about the enormity of this transformation. With the exception of the first two sections, In the Beginning (4004 B.C.) and Eleven Years Ago (1979 A.D.), this book takes place across five days in 1990 A.D. as indicated by the titles of the remaining sections: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (The First Day of the Rest of Their Lives). Between Wednesday and Sunday of, oh, let’s call it Apocalypse Week, Aziraphale speed-completes the glacial transition that both Crowley and humanity have been working on him. He goes from someone who uses ineffability in defense of an unfair system to someone who uses ineffability to upset that very system.
Now, before you argue that he’s doing it mostly to preserve the status quo mentioned earlier, remember one more thing. Crowley, in a moment of weakness and terror, will, very soon after the latter moment I’ve quoted above, attempt to flee the scene even though there are vulnerable humans present, but Aziraphale is the one to stay him and say, with the weight of genuine epiphany, no, we helped to get them into this, so we’re bloody well going to stand with them come Hell or high water.
Complexities, inversions, revelations: these two beings have changed the world, and, in doing so, they have changed each other.