Another audiobook (I’m getting through them at a rate of knots at the moment, although this one is fairly short), Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ had always intrigued me, if anything I was highly attracted to the font used on the cover, but it also sounded interesting. Actually read by Pullman himself (and he’s a good narrator, although the particularly rough beggars did sound a little odd with thick Northern accents), it is a retelling of the story of Jesus but in Pullman’s version Mary did not have one child in the stable, she had two, twin boys, Jesus, a healthy robust child and Christ, a sickly mummy’s boy. At first it seems that Christ is the chosen one, performing small miracles and studying the holy books, whilst Jesus plays with his mates in town. But as the two grow up Christ sees the attraction in a highly organised religion where miracles are performed as proof of God, in effect a way to get in the punters, whereas Jesus sees his relationship with God as highly personal and although is showing signs of also being able to perform miracles absolutely does not want word to get out about them, he also finds the idea of organised religion abhorrent.
It soon becomes even clearer that Jesus is the ‘chosen one’ and he gathers together his band of disciples and starts to travel round the country, whilst Christ stays in the background, recruited by a mysterious Stranger to record Jesus’ words. At first he records the words faithfully but with the encouragement of the Stranger begins to edit his brother’s words and events that surround them, so that would fit more closely to Christ’s and the Stranger’s ideal of bringing together the Church.
Written in the style of a fable, this wasn’t a particularly enjoyable listen / read. I listened almost because it felt ‘good for me’ if anything else, put it this way, it’s not a story you could relax to and I found I had to concentrate more to stop my attention drifting elsewhere. Luckily, although short, the audiobook is sectioned into some very short chapters, so it’s easy to skip back if you’ve realised you’ve missed something.
I’ve read a lot of writing advice in my quest to become published myself and you often come across the advice of ‘try not to write with an agenda’ , obviously agendas are probably a pretty common source of inspiration across literature but I think in most cases they’re a lot more heavily disguised. The veneer of Pullman’s agenda was paper thin and it was obvious I was listening to a rant against organised religion. Note the emphasis on the word organised, I don’t think Pullman has anything particularly against people having a personal relationship with a God, more against what organising that relationship does, the bodies of people decreeing arbitrary rules, the dislike of people different from you and the editing of stories to fit their own purpose.
Overall it was interesting though, I particularly enjoyed the more subtler touches, like the angel appearing to Mary disguised as a boy from the village as so not to alarm her (when Pullman had already made it clear earlier in the text that the boys from the village had found her attractive) and in another section where a dove flies over Jesus as he is baptised, Christ at first imagines what the dove would say if it was a messenger from God and then goes onto claim later on that he actually heard the dove speak.