Apr 12, 2010

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
‘And this is the final thing I’ll say to you: do to others as you hope they would do to you.
‘This is the law and the prophets, this is everything you need to know.’
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, the latest addition to the fabulous Canongate Myth Series, is a retelling of the life of Jesus Christ according to the New Testament. In Pullman’s version, Jesus and Christ are two different people: they are twin brothers born to Mary. One goes out to become the revolutionary speaker the Bible tells us about, while the other thinks of himself as a historian: he records what his brother says and what he sees him do, sometimes “letting truth from beyond time into history”. The obvious implication is that the stories we know today are a direct result of his editorial decisions.

There isn’t much more I need to tell you about the plot, as mostly everyone, even those who like me are only passingly familiar with the New Testament, will recognise the main events presented here. Believe it or not, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is not actually inflammatory in tone. However, it does remove the divine from the equation by giving concrete explanations to all the passages where the intervention of God is clear in the original narrative. And this will likely upset some people—but more on that at the end.

I’m no expert in theology, but this struck me as a book written with respect for Scripture. It’s a story in which religion and theology are taken seriously – not necessarily for themselves, but because they have mattered and continue to matter to people, and because they have real consequences in real human lives. Also, the concept behind the book, of presenting Jesus Christ not as a single person but as twins, is not nearly as simple as it may seem at first glance. Pullman doesn’t present a good twin and a bad twin, a perfect Jesus and a wicked Christ who distorts his message, though initially it may appear that this will be the case. I was pleasantly surprised to realise that what we have here is far more complicated than that. Both are portrayed very humanly, and much more sympathetically than you might imagine.

I also don’t think that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is merely a fable about the dangers of the power that has been wielded by organised religion. That’s certainly an obvious element of the story, and I thought it was very interesting that the temptation in the wilderness focused exactly on the power of the church as an institution—this unchecked power being the very thing Jesus rejects. But what Pullman does here goes beyond just that. This is a book that questions the role of the church, but not one that demonises it. Rather, it recognises its historical rights and wrongs, as well as the role of religion as a motivator for both positive and negative deeds.

Most of all, this is a story about why we need stories, a point made clear in the line, Christ knew as he wrote it down that, for all its unfairness, people would remember that story much longer than they’d remember a legal definition. The appeal of stories is of course that they’re both memorable and open to interpretation, and this allows them to illustrate more complex realities than simple definitions ever could. But this also means that absolute truths cannot really be built upon them. What this book is trying to do is not offer an alternative absolute truth, but trying to invite us to consider the danger of dogmas, of absolute power, of intolerance, and of inflexible ideas. Also, the way the story analyses the transition from reality to history to myth quite reminded me of Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur, which, as you might recall, I absolutely loved.

The chapter titled “Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane” was my favourite, and absolutely made the book for me. This is a chapter in which Jesus is showed confronting his god’s silence and experiencing doubts. The doubts humanised his faith for me, and I don’t see what follows as a rejection of faith necessarily, but as a deep examination of it. But mostly I loved the chapter for the deep love for the world it expresses. I found this passage in particular very moving:
‘And slander’s what it is; you made this world, and it’s lovely, every inch if it. When I think of these things I’ve loved I find myself choking with happiness, or maybe sorrow, I don’t know; and every one of them has been something in this world that you made. If anyone can smell frying fish on an evening by the lake, or feel a cool breeze on a hot day, or see a little animal trying to run around and tumbling over and getting up again, or kiss a pair of soft and willing lips, if anyone can feel those things and still maintain they’re nothing but crude imperfect copies of something much better in another world, they are slandering you, Lord, as surely as words mean anything at all.’
In the story, this is presented as a religious feeling; as a deep love that is the very basis of one man’s faith, and which at the same time causes him to question that faith. And yet it’s something that I, a non-believer, find very easy to relate to and sympathise with. It’s a feeling I see emerging again and again in religious works (in Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poetry, in Thoreau, or in Sufjan Stevens’s music, just to give you a few examples), and which makes me understand faith better than anything else. Religion is often portrayed as a rejection of this world in favour of another, and while that may sometimes be true, it doesn’t seem to cover the entire range of religious experiences. A faith based on this kind of love is one that I may not share, but can easily understand.

I think I'd have gotten more out of this book if I knew more about Christian theology – which isn’t to say that The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ is a theological debate packed as a story. It IS a story, as the back cover so boldly tells us, and a very human one at that: one about compassion, about love, about the meaning of betrayal, about storytelling, about history and myths, about why we remember what we remember, why we believe what we believe, and why we do what we do.

I’m not going to apologise for this book’s existence, nor for my having read and enjoyed it. But at the same time, there’s no point in denying that the fact that I’m an atheist and have no emotional attachment to the idea of Jesus Christ or to the church, any church, influenced my reaction to it. It’s not that I think it’s impossible to be a Christian and enjoy it (the Archbishop of Canterbury quite liked it overall), but it’s only natural that religious faith or its absence will play a role in how readers respond to it.

Most rejections of the book will probably come from a gut feeling that these are things that matter too much, that are too sacred, to be touched at all. I’m glad I live in a world in which this book can be written, read and discussed, but as long as nobody tries to prevent any of this from happening, I fully respect the validity of this kind of emotional reaction. It’s understandable and only too human that people will be uncomfortable seeing a figure they love scrutinised.

On the other hand, it occurred to me as I read it that we often don’t consider any of these things when we read works based on Hindu, Inuit, Native American, etc. mythologies. In those cases, we’re also touching things that are real and sacred and important to other people, but because for most of us those communities are not as visible, we’re more careless in our scrutiny of their beliefs, and well as in our use of the word “myth”. I acknowledge and respect every kind of emotional reaction to this book, and I personally believe in always trying to be careful when dealing with things that matter to other people. But at the same time, I am very glad a book such as this can exist.

Other opinions:
Gaskella
Savidge Reads
Chasing Bawa
Outside Context
Tales from the Reading Room
Bibliofreak.net

(Did I miss yours?)

49 comments:

  1. Your review made me want to read this book even more! It sounds like such an interesting concept. I have a feeling it is a hard book to review, because you don't want to hurt everyone's feelings, but I think you did well!

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  2. I was just looking at this book the other day and wondering what it was really all about. Thank you for this great review. Now I know and now I definitely want to read it :)

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  3. yYAYYYYYYYYYY cant wait to read this!!!!!

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  4. Thanks for this post: and for the quotation from it, which does make me want to read it. But I do agree with your last point about our sometimes careless approach to other belief systems - at least in comparison with the Big Three or Four World Religions....

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  5. I really want to read this one. I have always struggled with organised religion,especially with the things written in the Bible. I think this may give me a better insight too into theology.

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  6. I have to admit when I first saw this I thought there was no way I'd be interested in reading it. But then I read your review, and now my interest is piqued.

    I sort of avoid books that revolve around Christianity. It's still too raw of a subject for me after the fall of 2008. But this might be one to have on the list a couple years from now when I'm not so sensitive. This series sounds more interesting to me than the other one (sorry!).

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  7. Well, your last paragraph there really prodded me in the kidney. I've *never* thought about that and now I'm kind of ashamed. But, as I think about why, I wonder if it's because I do view every religion, every mythology as fair fodder for fiction and new treatments, including Christianity. Except that I do notice it more when it's a re-telling of a Christian story (and avoid, frankly, because I already feel so steeped in that mythology and have a very uncomfortable relationship with it) and don't tend to pay as much attention when it's a re-telling of, say, an Inuit story.

    Thanks for making me think this morning. I will have to ponder this more.

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  8. Your last paragraph says it all in my opinion. I often hear students complain about the blithe way the Christian faith is handled in Ancient and Medieval Literature courses. Yet I never hear a single complaint about the way ancient Muslim texts are treated - or Hindu or Incan etc. People are so egocentric in their faith sometimes that it is disheartening.

    This sounds like a fascinating read. I enjoyed His Dark Materials, and I have been meaning to read another Pullman novel, so this sounds like a great choice.

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  9. You know I've been eagerly awaiting your review all weekend...well, it was definitely worth the wait! And yes, of course, I still want to read this book so badly. In fact, I may just have to Book Depo it.

    But what struck me more than your review of the book itself was your last paragraph. You know what I'd really like to read...a collection of essays written by you. And don't you dare for even a second wonder if I'm joking...I could not possibly be more sincere!!!

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  10. I like your observation that this is a story about why we need stories, and how much more important and enduring they are than truth. How well said!

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  11. Superlative review! This is one I'd really like to read. And as a Christian, I've never shied away from books that investigate or critique Christianity because there is so much to be learned from investigation and pondering these types of ideas. Thanks for bringing this book to light for me! I wasn't aware of it.

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  12. What a great review and thanks for the link. You've raised some very interesting points indeed. I saw the book as a masterpiece of the art of storytelling and how everyone that takes a story on puts their own touch on it and so on.

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  13. I think this book looks really interesting. It doesn't surprise me that Pullman wrote it, wasn't his Dark Materials trilogy putting tehological ideas on their heads, as well? I never finished that one, because back then I was very religious and disturbed by it all. But now I think I'd like to try reading them again...

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  14. Honestly I was not at all interested in this precisely because of my faith. I had felt that Pullman's His Dark Materials (the last book particularly) was very offensive and while I don't take it against him I also didn't want to read another book of the same kind as I knew I won't enjoy it. I had expected Pullman, being an atheist and agnostic both, to be quite one-sided in this book, but you made it seem appealing to me, so thanks, I might look into it. :)

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  15. P.S. Just to say, I understand about religious institutions (I'm not for them as well, and it's more difficult on my end to explain my undying faith when I have no religion and no church to speak of).

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  16. "Which isn’t to say that The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ is a theological debate packed as a story."

    Relieved to hear this! My reservation about reading this book wasn't so much to do with the theological aspects, but far more to do with my concern that the book might forget to have a good story.

    "On the other hand, it occurred to me as I read it that we often don’t consider any of these things when we read works based on Hindu, Inuit, Native American, etc. mythologies. In those cases, we’re also touching things that are real and sacred and important to other people..."

    I'm not dismissive of this concern at all. I think it would behoove everybody to know more about other faiths. But it's not the same thing to read a book that pokes at one's own sacred taboos with a stick, compared with one that does the same to someone else's. I don't know enough about some faiths and religious traditions to even notice when these taboos are violated (bad of me, I know!), and when I do notice (Danish cartoons of the Prophet, anyone?), I'll have the same intellectual reaction as I would for my own faith (the writer/artist has a right to create what s/he wants even if it's in bad taste; if someone finds it in bad taste, s/he has a right to voice his/her objections), but not necessarily the same emotional one.

    I'm afraid I'm saying this wrong, and sounding utterly callous about other people's faith. I would say that I feel Southern-ness as a strong part of my identity, at least as strong as my Catholic-ness, so I'm going to use that as a comparison. When I read a book or see a film that gets Louisiana wrong, I'm angrier about it than if I discover that a book or film has gotten, say, Michigan wrong. I'm angrier about it because Louisiana's mine (or I'm its), and I have a stake in wanting it portrayed properly. I can object intellectually to a bad portrayal of Michigan, if I discover (from Michiganites) that there's been one, but it doesn't have that same emotional punch, and I probably won't pay it as much attention.

    I don't think that's a wrong way to approach the world. Especially as I think the opposite is also true: if Saints fans make asses of themselves at an away game, I'll be angrier and mind about it more than I would if it were fans from some other state. When the pedophilia scandals break in the Catholic Church, even though I decided years ago I was disaffiliating from the Vatican, it's far more personal and upsetting to me than similar scandals in, say, Congress, or in one of the bigtime evangelical churches.

    Sorry for the long response! I got all interested!

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  17. Such a fantastic review! :) Happy to hear that it tells above all a great story. I´ll look out for this one, even though (or because) I´m a complete atheist.

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  18. Iris, thank you :) I tried my best not to be insensitive.

    Zee, I hope that you'll enjoy it!

    Aimee: And I can't wait to hear what you think.

    Katherine Langrish: I think it's easy to be unintentionally dismissive because we don't know, or think we don't know, anyone of the "smaller" faiths. But everything means something to someone - I forgot this as often as anyone else, but I'd like to try nnt to.

    Vivienne: I'm not sure if it will, as there isn't all that much here information-wise, but it's a good story and it will make you think.

    Amanda: Nothing to be sorry about! Just...possibly I'm being dim, but I'm not sure which two series you mean :P

    Kiirstin: I don't think you should be ashamed, as this is something we probably ALL do. This is something I've done too, exactly because I also look at everything as mythology. But because I know so many Christians, I'm more likely to be careful with a book like this than with one about another faith, and it was that that make me stop and think.

    Trisha: I think this would be an excellent follow-up to HDM!

    Debi: I think you'd love this - but I also think you ought to finish HDM first, as you'd love that even more :P

    Jill: That was probably my very favourite thing about it!

    Andi, thank you! I hope you'll find the book as interesting as I did.

    Gaskella: You're welcome! I think that's a perfect way to sum it up, yes.

    Jeane, I understand your discomfort, and I hope it'll work for you if you decide to try again.

    Claire: I think we've talked about this before, and I completely respect your reaction to HDM. I didn't find this book nearly as harsh, but to be a hundred percent fair, it's easy for me to feel that way, you know? My lack of faith and emotional connection to Jesus shelter me, but a person of faith might find the tone much more inflammatory than I did. So if you do hesitate still, I completely understand. *hug*

    Jenny: I definitely don't think it's a wrong way to approach the world either! In fact, I think it's sort of unavoidable. We all react more strongly on an emotional level when it comes to things that are a part of us. My point wasn't meant to be about someone minding a misrepresentation of their faith versus one of another faith - it was more about someone like me, who isn't religious, and yet worries about hurting the feelings of Christians a lot more than of Muslins or Hindus. Again, I get why that happens, since I belong to a Catholic culture and know a lot more Christians than Hindus or Muslins or Native Americans. But I want to try not to be careless of other faiths either. I'm sorry if I sounded judgemental! And no need to apologise; I LIKE long comments :P

    ifyoucanreadthis: I'm in the same boat, as my lack of faith also added to my interest. I hope you enjoy the book!

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  19. I tend to stay away from books about Jesus that are not written from the standpoint of theology (fictionalizations) even ones that are highly recommended from people I trust. There is little that is sacred in my life but He happens to be something (one) that is. Not to the point where I don't think his teachings should be questioned while seeking knowledge and understanding or whatever, but this is just a personal feeling. I fully support the exploration of his life and times by anyone no matter what approach they take, though I cringe to hear His teachings manipulated and abused by believers and non-believers alike.
    A good friend of mine once told me that Jesus is to Christians what the Qu'ran is to Muslims. I think that's pretty accurate, and helped me to understand that Muslims hold the Qu'ran much more sacredly than I do my Bible.

    I do not call any living religion or faith system a myth, only those that have died or are no longer actively practiced.

    I tend to be sensitive to other faiths and hope that I don't insult them. I absolutely know that's not the reputation most Christians have, but I feel a strong kinship with other people of faith even if it's not the same as mine. I can only hope that I treat them with the respect that I wish to be treated with.

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  20. Amy, I have nothing but respect for your feelings on this. And I think this - "I do not call any living religion or faith system a myth, only those that have died or are no longer actively practiced" - is a wise approach. The word "myth" most likely always sounds dismissive, whether we want it to or not. Also, I have never seen you sound anything but completely respectful of other beliefs or worldviews, so I'd say that you do succeed.

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  21. You didn't sound judgmental! If I sounded defensive it was just because I thought about it and got anxious about the possibility that I was a rubbish person. :P

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  22. I read His Dark Materials and while I think it was good (though obviously really strongly-worded), I think I missed many aspects of it because I am not versed in Christianity.

    I don't think I've made a secret of the fact that I have a LOT of negative feelings towards Christianity and particularly the Catholic church. I don't know if that makes me more or less likely to read this one. I guess I still don't have much desire to read it because I feel like Christianity gets more than enough press time as it is ;-) Someone mentioned above that she doesn't know about other religions well, but only about Christianity. Well... I don't think other religions have that luxury to be unaware of Christianity, and that saddens me.

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  23. Aarti, I think that might be true in the West, but I don't necessarily think that's true everywhere. I also think the commenter was referring to subtleties of different faiths and I'm pretty sure a lot of people are unaware of what some things Christians find offensive. :)

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  24. I spotted this one in the book shop window on Sunday and was immediately interested. The shop was closed, so I couldn't take a closer look :(

    It's doubly interesting because of Pullman's take on religion in His Dark Materials.

    And I have to agree with your last paragraph, it is something that has often struck me while cataloguing books. You can clearly see that Mr. Dewey was a Christian :) So little left for all the other religions out there

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  25. When I first heard about this book, I had totally written it off because I was so frustrated with the last HDM book (I loved the first one, as I think you know.) And the premise of this one sounded a lot like a rehash of a pre-Easter Jesus/post-Easter Christ dichotomy that gets tossed around a lot these days. But this does sound more interesting than that. I'm still not sure I want to read it, but I'm not writing it off either.

    And I totally agree with you that it is good to live in a world where controversial, uncomfortable ideas can be discussed. I don't have a problem with people choosing to avoid books on touchy subjects, but I do feel that there is value in considering alternate views. If we never read something that challenges our assumptions, how can we grow?

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  26. What an absolutely wonderful review! I was already excited to read this, and now I'm VERY excited.

    I'm happy to hear that Pullman took a more balanced approach to this book so neither one of the characters was all good or all bad, though to be honest I might have read it anyway. And some of my favorite books have been about how important stories are to our lives, so I'll definitely be picking this up.

    As for your comments on how we read books on other faiths, you're eloquent as always, Nymeth. As a fellow atheist who tries to be fair and respectful of other faiths, I couldn't have said it better.

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  27. I am a Christian and find your review to be really intriguing. I would love the chance to experience this book and to see what Pullman has done with the story of Christ, and I don't think that the book sounds offensive in any way. I am so glad that you enjoyed it and will be looking into grabbing my own copy of this book. It does look quite interesting. Thanks for the wonderful review!

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  28. I came back from my holiday and found this book to be scattered all over the blogosphere! But your review was the first one I read. Sounds very interesting I must say. I wonder how the people who are very familiar with the bible would find it, since they'd be more fussy with the details. (I would be one, since I was raised Christian, though not at all a religious person now)

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  29. I wondered about this when I read The Jewel of Medina where Muhammed is portrayed as a jerk sometimes. Dicey business, that. I'd love to read this, especially since Pullman seems like such a pissy baby about faith in person.

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  30. A wonderful and sensitive review of a sensitive subject. I also agree with you on humankind's need for stories: every culture's mythology has sprung from a desire to understand a world larger than ourselves.And as you say, "we remember the stories."

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  31. What a wonderful review Nymeth. I'm not an atheist but not particularly religious either and I found this an excellent and non-judgemental review given the content. I really can't wait to read it!

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  32. Your review is wonderful, as always, Nymeth. I am curious but still worried about reading this book because I'm not an athiest (although I don't go to church either). I would like to read this book to make my own mind up but I am sort of afraid to read it. It's not that I think it would necessarily upset me but it's more a feeling of disrespect. I'm not a catholic but I swear I get catholic guilt sometimes ;o)

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  33. I'm so glad you and Simon have read this, because you've produced such intelligent responses.

    Concerning your comment that 'we’re more careless in our scrutiny of their beliefs, and well as in our use of the word “myth”. ' I'd just like to point out how interesting that this book was produced as part of the myths series. Thinking about what other stories have been reimagined so far (greek myths mostly, but also Chinese folklore and there's a Scottish fairytale as well I think, though I haven't read that one)it's an interesting choice to include a prominent story from a current religion. It's quite a controversial choice to make when you think about it, even if the book's subject isn't very controversial.

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  34. I've seen a lot of talk about this book and am really looking forward to reading it. It sounds great, especially after reading your review.

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  35. Ok, so now I can give you the point :p In all seriousness, Ana, this was a wonderful review and I particularly loved your last paragraph. I loved that this was part of the Canongate Myth series because of the reason you pointed out. Kudos to Canongate for doing this and for going there. Religion can certainly become very egocentric to the point of being disgusting really. Not for all..definitely not for all, but for some. I really can't wait to read this one. Oh, and I promise I'm going to read HDM too!!

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  36. Amy- I disagree about the "west vs. east" thing. I think most easterners are very aware of Christianity because even in the east (and the southern hemisphere) missionaries came through and converted people. Also, a lot of European powers came in and colonized and so many people in Asia and Africa read European classics and thus need to know about Christianity to understand them.

    As for the subtleties- yes, I think I may have missed that context in the comment before mine, and I apologize for that!

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  37. Jenny: I think you're absolutely not a rubbish person :P

    Aarti and Amy: I wonder about the East versus West thing - to to be, honest I have no idea how aware of Christianity people are in countries like India or Japan or Korea. It's something I'd really like to read about, actually. Anyway, I think this ties in with the dominance of Western culture in general. How many people aren't at least aware of the English language, of even where Europe and the US are geographically, of Western cinema and music, etc? It's not something we can change, but it helps if we try to become aware of those other traditions if we have the privilege to be able to ignore.

    Fence: It's too bad it was closed! And I guess I'll be finding out all about Mr Dewey and his bias once I start library school in September :P

    Teresa: I thought that the Jesus/Christ dichotomy would be a lot more polarized than it actually was. It was a nice surprise that he made things more complicated than that, as it really made the book a lot more interesting. And yes, I absolutely agree!

    J.S. Peyton: Thank you! I'd have read it either way as well (I think we've fangirled about HDM together before :P), but it was interesting to see that his approach was different here. Though to be fair it's possible that a person of faith won't find it nearly as tame as I did.

    Zibilee, I'm glad you didn't find anything here offensive! I'd love to hear your thoughts on it :)

    Mee: It's only just came out, but it looks like many of us pounced on it immediately :P I'm a huge Pullman fan, so I pre-ordered as soon as I could. I'd really love to hear the perspective of someone who knows the bible better than I do.

    Raych: I think he has his days. Teresa linked me to a debate he had with the Archbishop of Canterbury the other day that was incredibly civil and open-minded, on both sides.

    ds: Thank you so much! And our need for storytelling is something that fascinates me endlessly.

    Elise: Thank you! I hope you'll enjoy it :)

    The Book Whisperer: I definitely don't think being an atheist is a requirement for enjoying this book. It doesn't question relation so much as it does power. And lol, even *I* get Catholic guilt sometimes :P

    Jodie: It was a bold decision, that's for sure. As I was telling Amy, I can see how the word can come across as dismissive regardless of intent, but I think the context of this series is interesting especially because it takes the role of myths and stories very seriously indeed.

    Amy, I hope you enjoy it when you get to it :)

    Chris: It's a sensitive word and I do understand why it's upsetting, but as I was telling Jodie I think the whole concept behind the series is that myths, stories, and religion too are important and serious because they matter to people. Karen Armstrong's book for the series explains just that. I found it disappointing in some ways but I liked that aspect of it. And yes read HDM kthxbai :P

    Meghan: I love looking at the Bible from a scholarly perspective too - possibly because I didn't grow up with those stories, and yet they inform SO much of my culture. I want to understand them better. Also, I think your comment made perfect sense!

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  38. This sounds like a thought provoking book and one that could provide interesting fodder for discussion even among believers, though many people won't be able to get past the presentation of Jesus as a myth. From what little I know about Pullman, it sounds like his treatment of the subject is actually more respectful than I'd expect. I wonder whether our library has this book?

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  39. Nice review, I myself took the angle from, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” Quote:” It is import ant to be able to step along the hero’s journey and understand the ever repeated rhythms within it. Whether it is the ancient story of the Minotaur, the modern tale of the Sky walker or the encom¬passing monomyth of Jesus, the story goes on and will be retold in the same forms forever.“ Full review here: http://www.outsidecontext.com/2010/04/06/the-good-man-jesus-and-the-scoundrel-christ-book-review/

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  40. You've written such a brilliant review that I'm almost shy to post mine! I was really impressed with the book and it's made me understand my feelings about religion a little better. Also it's made me want to re-read the Bible because I kept thinking Jesus' stories in the Pullman's book was how it was but in fact Pullman has twisted them a little.

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  41. I meant that this series sounds more interesting to me than the one with the Golden Compass. If he has another one, I don't know it. Never read anything by him.

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  42. Stephanie: Yes, likely many won't. And though I completely understand the emotional block, I also think there's a lot worth considering here. As for Pullman himself, I know he has a big of a bad reputation, but I actually don't think he's as disespectful as he's made out to sound.

    Basho: I loved your approach!

    Chasingbawa: Nothing to be shy about! I so enjoyed your review. And I'm curious about the original stories too. My knowledge of them is sadly very superficial.

    Amanda: He has a series of Victorian mysteries also, but I don't think you'd be a huge fan of those :P Anyway, the Canongate Myth Series is not actually a series by him. It's a collection of stand-alone novels in which authors retells myths from several traditions. I've loved all the ones I've read so far - except for one, The Helmet of Horror, which I passionately disliked :P

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  43. Nymeth- Your last paragraph says it all. I can not wait to read this book. Thanks for a wonderful reveiw.

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  44. Wonderful review. I'm not going to be reading this one. It doesn't interest me. I loved HDM, even the third book, but I expect that's all the Pullman I'll read.

    Which is why your review here is so wonderful. It great to have a thorough review that can fill in the gaps of books we don't want to read or won't have the time to read. That's why I used to read the Sunday book section cover to cover, and one reason why I read your blog.

    Thanks.

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  45. Nymeth, you always do an excellent job with your reviews and anyone who takes offense is looking to do so.

    However, I found myself wondering if Pullman would write a book like this about Muhammed... and I wonder what the reaction to such a book would be.

    If we look at the reaction to the cartoon business awhile back, it wouldn't be good.

    No, I'm not interested in this book. I have no desire to read something that 'removes the divine' from the story of Jesus. For me, it's pointless.

    But, I do agree with you; I'd rather live in a country where books like this are allowed than in one where they aren't.

    cjh

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  46. I WILL read HDM :D But guess what? I ordered this one from TBD :D I also got Baba Yaga Laid an Egg! I had a craving for some of the Myth series!

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  47. You are SUCH a good reviewer, Nymeth. This is a wonderfully clear and lustrous account of a complex, difficult and extremely intriguing book. I felt very much the same way about it as you did, and although I'm not a religious person, I admired the humanity, and the ethical debate that went into this. At the end of the day, I felt it was a story about paradox itself, that we can't have right without wrong, truth without falsehood, goodness without evil. And that's a powerful message regardless of one's relation to religion.

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  48. Gavin: And I can't wait to hear your thoughts on it. :)

    C.B. James: I'm glad to have been of service :P

    CJ: I don't think Pullman personally would, but not because he's been whipped by Islamic fundamentalists - merely because Islam is not the religion he was raised in. As for others, well, The Satanic Verses does exist, and despite everything Rushdie is still alive. As is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I have no reason to believe that Pullman would be any more cowardly than they were.

    Chris: The myth series is one of the best things ever :)

    LitLove: Thank you so much! That's such an excellent point about this being a story about paradox itself. It's such a small book, and yet it's so rich.

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  49. Thanks for a really good, well-reasoned, and sympathetic review. I have just finished reading and reviewing this myself and I have to say, whilst I liked the idea, I felt the execution wasn't quite on the mark.

    Keep doing what you're doing. Great stuff :)

    My latest review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

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