Sunday, 25 March 2012

Review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

You know how sometimes, despite any previous interest or knowledge in the topic of a book, you just know you have to read it and you can't explain why? Well, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a perfect example. I have absolutely no idea what made me reserve it from Sheffield Library, but I'm really, really glad I did. 

This is a story. In this ingenious and spell-binding retelling of the life of Jesus, Philip Pullman revisits the most influential story ever told. Charged with mystery, compassion and enormous power, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws fresh light on who Jesus was and asks the reader questions that will continue to resonate long after the final page is turned. For, above all, this book is about how stories become stories. 

I'm going to start off by saying that I'm not particularly religious and don't feel especially connected to the Bible. That said, my primary school was one of the old types that said prayers every day, sang hymns and had assemblies on Jesus and Bible stories. Not a religious school per se, it was just how schools seemed to be back then. My point is that I have a relatively decent knowledge of the Christian parables but I don't really understand them on a deeper level.

I mention this because it seems to me that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ can be read on two levels. The first is just a story - the somewhat familiar Bible stories with slight alterations. Each is told in a tiny, tiny chapter of its own in a personal and humane way. It reads like one of those 'Bible stories for children' books, as it's very simply written and modernised so Jesus tells his disciples to 'shut up,' etc. It makes it a very easy read if story is all you're going for.

“Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive.” 

The second level isn't quite so easy, however. I'm sure it went over my head a little. Readers with a more theological background may have discovered hidden depths that I didn't, but the parts I did understand, I loved. If you go look at all the Amazon reviews complaining of blasphemy, you may get an inkling of what I'm talking about. 

The message I took from it was that Jesus was an ordinary man. Perhaps the Son of God, but with no power to perform miracles of his own. He preached and inspired the masses, but it was only after his death that his story was written down and altered to provide a more inspiring story. He didn't want the Church as we know it today to be formed - he foresaw a future of child abuse, tyranny and wealth instead of the Kingdom he envisioned.

It's not an anti-Christian book though; more anti-religious establishment. It's not a satirical book and Philip Pullman never even implies that the entire faith is ridiculous or unjustified.

I loved this book and I'm not even sure why. I was sat reading on the bus, having to put the book down every so often to muse over it. It was still on my mind as I walked from the bus stop to my house, and it's been a long time since I've thought seriously about God.  My opinion is that if a book preys on my mind and makes me feel this... peaceful, we were obviously meant to be together.

Long review short, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ definitely isn't for everyone, but I can't really explain who it is for. A friend that read it hated it - he said it was boring because he already knew the ending. To me that's like asking if the Titanic story has a happy ending, but there you go. It really does depend what level you choose to read it on.

It's definitely not like the Northern Lights trilogy though - because yes, it is that Philip Pullman. It never tries to convert you to Christianity nor turn you from it. For me, it was just a very personal, human look at the possibility of the Resurrection not being quite as it was meant to, and it will stay with me for a long time.

Visit Philip Pullman's website here, or like him on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book too and took the same message from it as you - that Pullman was more anti-establishment than anti-faith. I like the way he presented Jesus (although I'm not religious either).


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