I stumbled across this book on Amazon and was immediately intrigued. Apparently there's been huge furore over it, as there would be if anyone dared to write fanfic about the Bible (or the Koran, or the Torah, etc etc etc). That part was a given, so I was more interested in the premise: that Jesus and Christ were two people, one good and the other not-so-good.
Except it wasn't quite like that. Christ was the one who started out performing miracles, genuine miracles, and Jesus just got in trouble. (The miracle involving the clay birds is not in the four 'standard' Gospels, but is in fact from the Infant Gospel of Thomas, so you can't fault Pullman on his background research.) Then all of a sudden it switches around, so Jesus goes into the desert - so far, so canon - and comes out a preacher. I'm still not entirely clear on why that was, though. Pullman downgrades all Jesus' miracles to coincidences and fortunate circumstance, but never explains the reason for Christ's magic.
However, I think his characterisation of Jesus is spot-on - based purely on scripture, as opposed to what Richard Dawkins calls the 'milksop Victorian Jesus'. Jesus did tell people they should hate their families and follow him; he was impatient and extremely focused on the next world. A lot of his narrative, thoughts and dialogues are painfully accurate:
Is that what you're saying to me? That when I hear the wind, I hear your voice? When I look at the stars I see your writing, or in the bark of a tree, or the ripples on the sand at the edge of the water? Lovely things, yes, all of them, but why did you make them so hard to read? Who can translate them for us? You conceal yourself in enigmas and riddles. [...] Why do you treat your people like this?
When the fool prays to you and gets no answer, he decides that God's great abscense means he's bloody well not there.
But then, the thoughts of the 'scoundrel' Christ are also painfully accurate:
Christ noted down the words, admiring the vigour of the imagery while regretting the thinking behind it; because if it were true that only children could be admitted to the Kingdom, what was the value of such adult qualities as responsibility, forethought, and wisdom? Surely the Kingdom would need those as well.
What Jesus seemed to be saying with these stories, Christ thought, was something horrible: that God's love was arbitrary and undeserved, almost like a lottery.
THIS IS SO BLOODY TRUE - so why is he the 'scoundrel'? Unless Pullman means to imply that the scondrelness was in propagating the thoughts of the man who thought these things so they would take root and flourish for the next 2000 years ... in fact, is that IT? I am very slow and I also find Pullman impenetrable at times; I had to be told that His Dark Materials was an attack on Christianity, because it simply didn't occur to me.
You see, the true Kingdom would blind human beings like the sun, but they need an image of it all the same.
"Silence is no answer," said Caiaphas.
Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov
I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides ♥
The School for Husbands, Moliere
On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks
The Famished Road, Ben Okri
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell ♥
The Sea, the Sea, Irish Murdoch ♥ ♥
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
The Sea, John Banville
paddy clarke ha ha ha, Roddy Doyle
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough ♥
The Godfather, Mario Puzo ♥