(First published in Urban Times on 26th Nov 2010)
Philip Pullman, the best-selling author of the ‘His Dark Materials‘ Trilogy, came out with his latest contribution to the Canongate Myth Series (ancient myths from myriad cultures are re-imagined and rewritten by contemporary authors).
The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ. An amazing retelling of the greatest story ever told. One could call it a total revamp.
In short, and without spoilers, Mary is visited by an angel in her dreams and is told she is to give birth to the son of God. But lo and behold, she gives birth to twins! One is named Jesus, the other Christ.
The two children are raised with equal love. One turns out to be stronger and popular, the other weaker but studious. They are both very clever and learn the scriptures inside out, able to refer to them at will and discuss them with any scholar on par. But they have a different take on things. Jesus is a purist who calls things as he sees them and does whatever he wants with no regard for politics. Christ on the other hand is a pragmatist who believes in posterity and in the need to capture and immortalize good teachings, advocating the formation of a Church, an organization that will promote the Holy Word forever and ever. The twins discuss the matter and find themselves in disagreement.
At one point Jesus takes to the road and starts preaching. Christ follows his beloved brother at a distance, chronicling his story. And the greatest story ever told takes off, with a twist or two, or three.
The premise is powerful. Pullman manages to come up with an inspired meta-concept on Jesus Christ, setting up an ingenious platform through which to explore and investigate the various and often conflicting aspects of the son of God’s character. Purist but selfish, genuine but naive, headstrong and brave, single-minded, reckless, and in pursuit of divinity, making things happen for himself and others, Jesus was a personage bound to capture the hearts of billions of people down the centuries – and Pullman tells the story with potent simplicity. He allows us to understand more about the multifaceted personality of this figurehead, the Messiah, through a unique retelling of his life, vision, work, and the relative forces involved in shaping it.
Above all, The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ is a fairytale, a story about how the story of Jesus Christ came to be. It is simple, eloquent, incisive, and slams the door on religion and politics while leaving it open wide to spirituality and faith. Freedom of expression at its best, rearranging the taken for granted in ways that make the greatest story ever told more relatable and, ultimately, relevant.