Monday, March 25, 2013

Michael Moorcock's BEHOLD THE MAN #OneBookAtATime

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Jungian meets girl. Jungian loses religious/philosophical argument with girl. Jungian jumps into Time Machine to prove girl wrong about Jebus. Jungian blunders into being accepted as Jebus by denizens of the time to which he has traveled. Jungian further blunders by trying to reenact what he knows about Jebus. You know, to preserve history and biblical truth. Jungian gets crucified. Jungian never sees girl again.

I'm sure this was all very shocking back in the 60s when this was published. And I can see why Michael Moorcock got noticed for Behold the Man.* But really now it's just a curiosity.

I just couldn't resist the idea of reading this on Palm Sunday. And now I have. And yes, I got some chuckles; on the blasphenomenal humor scale this is somewhere between Monty Python's Life of Brian and Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. It's not as laugh-out-loud/thigh-slapping as the former, and not as intelligent and subtle as the latter, but it's a nifty way to pass an hour or two (at 124 pages, only those who try really, really hard to prolong the reading experience will find themselves spending any more time with it than that), provided you're not one of those types who take umbrage at, for instance, the suggestion that the real historical Jesus whom our time traveling Jungian backs into replacing was actually some kind of congenital hydrocephalic fetal alcohol syndrome imbecile, or that all of the cryptic sayings and parables attributed to Jesus are actually just half-baked, half-remembered scraps of folk wisdom, popular ethics and syncretic mysticism. Which yeah, this story does as well as any we might care to dream up as far as explaining why Christianity really seems like it stole the clothes of a bunch of earlier Eastern mystery cults and whatnot.

Not a bad read, but not one I'm going to press on people to read, either. And hey, I might even take a look at the sequel, Breakfast in the Ruins, sometime if it comes my way and I'm a bit desperate. But I'm not going to hunt it down or anything.

*And thank goodness he did. What would my life -- what would anyone's life -- be without Elric, Corum, Jerry Cornelius, Erekose, etc. etc. etc.? I shudder to contemplate it.


  1. Hi, if you're interested you can read Breakfast in the Ruins online at Revolution SF (although to be sure the formatting is a little clunky). Just make sure you don't have any sharp objects lying around when you finish it. In case you find yourself wanting to slash your wrists afterwards. (By which I don't mean it's a bad novel but rather that it is very, very, very depressing.)

    Incidentally, the online version (unfortunately) doesn't inlcude the Publisher's Note to the original editions, which stated: "Michael Moorcock died of lung cancer, aged 31, in Birmingham last year." That confused a lot of people - including a young Neil Gaiman (at least, according to his (semi-autobiographical) short story 'One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock') - who mistakenly believed it was a true statement rather than an indication of the novel's tone.

    Btw, Behold the Man was originally published as a novella - for which it won the 1967 Best Novella Nebula Award (which you probably knew) - and I actually think it was a better story in the short form before Moorcock over-egged his pudding and expanded it to novel length. Which just goes to show that sometime less is more. ;)

    1. Yes Prof. I like the novella better than the book. I was sadly disappointed in the book, whereas the novella was superb.


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