The greatest ‘story’ ever told?

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman


Storytelling is something that Philip Pullman cares about very much –  this is immediately apparent when you start to read this book.  The language is very straight-forward, with few embellishments and descriptive touches – simple almost, as you might expect from an author who has written so much fantastic fiction for children.  Superfluities have been pared away to the plot only. As the back cover reminds us – This is a  story – that’s all.

This deceptive simplicity instead generates intensity and a longing to read on.   From the very first sentence you know you’re in for something a little different …

This is the story of Jesus and his brother Christ, of how they were born, of how they lived and of how one of them died.

Pullman separates the dual-nature of Jesus Christ into twin brothers. Jesus is the firstborn rebel who will become the visionary teacher and healer, and Christ is the quiet and observant, questioning younger brother who stays mostly in the shadows. When Jesus goes into the desert, it is Christ that plays devil’s advocate, tempting him with the lure of being the front man of something big that will last forever.

‘…Won’t you be a part of this most wonderful work and help bring the Kingdom of God to earth?’
Jesus looked at his brother.
‘You phantom,’ he said, ‘you shadow of a man. Every drop of blood in our bodies? You have no blood to speak of; it would be my blood that you’d offer up to this vision of yours. What you describe sounds like the work of Satan. God will bring about his Kingdom in his own way, and when he chooses.  …’

Pullman uses the device of a mysterious stranger who comes to visit Christ to make his question everything even more. The stranger suggests that Christ starts to chronicle Jesus’ acts, and Christ resolves to turn the truth into history, (as will the writers of the Gospels later). He also manages to put a great spin on the miracles. In that of feeding the 5000 for example – he has Jesus wave his food in the air and suggest everyone shares whatever they have, and only his five loaves and two fishes get remembered – this certainly raised a chuckle. But as we near the end, it becomes just as heart-breaking as the real thing, (Jesus’ rant at God in the garden of Gethsemane brought to mind Ian Gillan’s anguish on the original studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.)

But I mustn’t digress. I did love every word of this book, and it made me want to revisit the Gospels, if only to double-check  my memory of certain stories within. Pullman is fascinated by the story, and how truth is made into history, which is converted into myth, legend, even religion. The title is certainly controversial and, of course, in making Jesus and Christ doppelgangers of a sort, he has taken liberties with the authorised version. Audacious that may be, but it’s done with reverence too, and for me it worked – it’s a brilliant story!

(10/10; I bought this book)

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18 thoughts on “The greatest ‘story’ ever told?

  1. 10/10! Wow – I’m so excited! I am really looking forward to reading this book and am so pleased to hear that it is a good follow up to His Dark Materials.

    • It’ll be in the post next week as requested! The more I ruminated about the book, the more it grew on me. It’s the simplicity that I loved more than anything else. Hope you enjoy it too when you get your copy.

  2. I have not read your post. All I’ve seen is that you’ve given the book 10/10 rating, and it’s getting me excited. I can’t wait to start reading it now! =)

    I’ll come back and read your thoughts on this book when I finish it.

    • I wasn’t going to give it a 10 initially, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved it.

  3. This is intriguing me even more now I’ve read your review. I’ll just have to buy the book soon and read it myself. Years ago I read A N Wilson’s book Jesus which I found fascinating. I think I’ll dig that one out to re-read sometime.

    • Saramago has also written a controversial novel too – The Gospel according to Jesus Christ – which gets five star reviews. Amazingly I find I have this on my TBR pile.

  4. It sounds like the book is very much about the process of how stories become stories, sort of like Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeves. And I LOVED that book. Very excited to read.

    (Saramago has a new one out that hasn’t been published in English yet, I don’t think. It’s a retelling of the story of Cain and Abel and its released was followed by a HUGE controversy.)

  5. You’re right about the story process. Here lies Arthur is one of my favourite books of all time – yes, there are similarities.

    I shall keep an eye out for the Saramago – he is an author I must read much more of (I’ve only read Blindness).

  6. I loved His Dark Materials so I was tempted by this but I hate evangelism of all kinds and his prominent atheism is so evangelistic I find the thought of his works off putting. No doubt, like His Dark Materials, I shall find the reading of it better than thinking about it before hand. Your review is so good I must have a go.

    • Compared with Dawkins he’s postively agnostic though … at the talk he even described his atheism as agnostic in a strict sense.

      The book itself uses the Gospels to explore the story-telling process, and how truth becomes history, which becomes legend etc.

      I was won over, not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about it …

  7. Great review Annabel. I would definitley give it an eight out of ten am not sure about a ten out of ten simply because it didnt hold me as much as I thought it might and I do think there are better books in the series. However it did make me more interested in the tale of Jesus that I think I ever have been which is interesting in some ways.

    • Simon I was going to give it an 8 too, but as I ruminated on it for a couple of days before writing my post, and then kept going back to bits during I found it had grown on me even more …

      Pity the next author in the Myths series who has to follow that though!

  8. A great review. I must get hold of this book as I’ve read so many good reviews of it. I studied New Testament at college some years ago so its particularly interesting to me.

    • I was totally won over by it, however going to hear him talk about the book was very inspiring and I’m sure that influenced me.

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