The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

I’m no Archbishop, but I’ll have a little go with Philip Pullman’s latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, which is such a mouthful as to make it almost impossible to talk about. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it, but thought that since I usually like Philip’s writing, there was no reason to make an exception for something where he tries to stir up the church. Except Rowan Williams seemed not stirred at all. I think he was meant to be, and it’s only because the man is quite reasonable, as Archbishops go, that he could say he liked it.

Did I like it? If I say I’m not sure, it’s an indication of how well written it is. Because I was so drawn into this new version of the life of Jesus that it was hard to see it as fiction. So I can totally identify with any Christians who become enraged with it, despite it saying in large letters on the back ‘THIS IS a STORY’. Most will still not remember that when tempers warm up.

Philip Pullman, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

The other hint to its status as fiction is the small detail that there are twin brothers, Jesus and Christ. But after that I sort of lost the plot. I struggled to come to terms with who was bad and who was good, if such a division could be made. I was pleased, and relieved, to find that I seem to have learned more than I thought, back in primary school. There was nothing new here, with the possible exception that I’ve never read much from the Bible in English.

There was no good or bad in the end. What Philip shows us is the two sides to Jesus. He simplifies the reactions to Jesus from those around him. Jesus doesn’t always come across as a ‘nice guy’, but I think Philip was more after the church than Jesus. It feels very anti-church, which I suppose is only to be expected.

TGMJATSC is different from Philip’s usual fairy stories in that it seems to follow the original far more than we’ve seen elsewhere. There was more of the New Testament here than there is of Cinderella in I Was a Rat, for example. And maybe you can’t have people laughing at Jesus, which explains the lack of jokes.

I don’t like the title. I didn’t find Christ to be a scoundrel at all. And I would have thought that was the whole point.


16 responses to “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

  1. I saw catalog copy for this recently, and I must say it did not enlighten me as to what Pullman’s project actually was. And I’m not sure I would be any the wiser if I read the book.

  2. Pingback: Another adaptation « EA300 Children's literature: a tutor's blog

  3. Perhaps the title is ironic?
    I haven’t read the book; yet: don’t know if I will, because so far whenever I see it I have to stifle a yawn. It all looks so… worthy, somehow.
    Is it actually interesting? Or just a clever-clever Biblical pastiche?

  4. I have not read the book so thanks for the review – I think Pullmans whole point is to pull the polarised good and bad as Blake did together sort of like the ”child and the deamon’ they are inseperable – ‘innocence and guilty go together’ . I think the title is supposed to reflect that. 2 children exactly the same one born innocent and good the other born with original sin. As i say i havn’t read it so i am only commenting..god procastination or what i am commenting on a book i havnt read :-0

  5. No, I don’t think it’s worthy. And it’s mainly telling you all the things you remember from the bible, and not in a very different way from the bible, either. To me it feels as if it’s just been ‘translated’ into everyday language.

    But I still believe Philip is trying to stir things up, somehow. Whereas I’d probably be content to leave people to believe what they want.

  6. Ali, it’s not that simple. I thought so, too, before I read it. If anyone strikes me as bad, it’s Jesus, not Christ. But he’s not all bad, either. Christ doesn’t strike me as bad at all, so I don’t know how this twin set-up is meant to work.

  7. I read part of it that was printed in the Guardian, and to be honest wasn’t gripped enough to want to read more. I’m not religious, so not offended or anything – just don’t feel I need the moralizing. As in: “I will teach you to think anew about the story of Jesus.” It’s a bit like being doorstopped by the Jehovah’s Witnesses: they always assume you have never in your life considered the Bible seriously. Whereas, I have, and can draw my own conclusions, and don’t need somebody else’s. Except in this case, it’s in reverse. If that makes any sense. But then, like Ali, here I am talking about a book I haven’t read…

  8. I agree, Katherine. I also get the Mormons when out shopping locally, and I always wonder why they think people don’t have their own thoughts, and even their own church. But Jehovah’s Witnesses in England are polite, compared to the Swedish ones…

  9. Twins–of course! Any true mystery fan, or maybe “Mystery” fan, should have sussed this one out long ago.

  10. i take it its not a modern day jekyl n hyde then? lol

  11. Did see the John Crace today. I live in terror of being digested, but he does make me laugh!

  12. It was quite funny, but a little rude.

  13. Being digested does sound a little scary, not to say slightly revolting, although I suppose it’s an honor to be picked and all that rot.

  14. Actually loved the John Crace and now feel even less need to read the book.

  15. I liked the John Crace, I am ‘religious’ and was not offended by the book, but I don’t think it’s up to much. It’s cock-eyed and trying to do too much, and is pretty dualist, and has too much of an agenda and is too constrained by the text (though not in the places one would like) to let the plot free-flow.

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