Books Magazine

Book Review: the Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

By Pamelascott





PAGES: 245


YEAR: 2010




In this ingenious and spellbinding retelling of the life of Jesus, Philip Pullman revisits the most influential story ever told. 

Charged with mystery, compassion and enormous power, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws fresh light on who Jesus was and asks the reader questions that will continue to resonate long after the final page is turned. Above all, this is a book about how stories become stories.  


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. The death of the other is not part of the story.


I have wanted to read The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ for ages since I read The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago for a creative writing class earlier this year. I requested this from the library.

I like the way Pullman structures this surprisingly short novel. The chapters were very short and retell some of the best known biblical stories. I won’t detail what stories Pullman retells here because there are many. There are millions of internet sites who can fill in the gaps. The stories are so well-known listing them is redundant. They are all here in one form or another. Each chapter had a heading (i.e. Mary and Joseph). I think this structure works really well and helped me read this novel quite fast.

Pullman writes The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ in a style similar to biblical stories. The language used and the way the stories are told mirror the bible. I went through a phase in my teens when I was a Born Again Christian. I attended church every week and a bible study group. I read a lot of the bible so I can make comparisons. I have to be honest – I’m disappointed Pullman decided to use this style with The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. I thought he would have chosen a more contemporary style for a retelling. That would have been a lot more original.

I like the fact Pullman approaches Christian mythology by taking the viewpoint Jesus Christ was actually twin brothers with contrasting personalities. I thought this was interesting and original. The brothers have contrasting personalities. Jesus is moral and godly and preaches to people about the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Christ is quite cold and calculating. He attends his brother’s preaching in secret and transcribes everything he says. In the end Christ betrays his brother and this leads to his crucifixion. I liked the spin Pullman put on such well known events. I thought this was very good.

Pullman retells a lot of well-known biblical stories in The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Although this is supposed to be a retelling I don’t think Pullman strays very far from the bible. He offers a slightly different slant but I thought his version would be very different. Pullman knows his bible and doesn’t stray very far from it. I was disappointed by this. I think I expected something radically different like the way I would retell the story. I think it would be bolder to take the history of Jesus Christ in a completely unexpected direction. I really thought The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ would be different. I wanted to love this.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ reminds me a lot of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago. Both books can be compared side by side. They have a lot in common. I thought Saramago offered a more original version than Pullman but the language made the book very dense and hard to get into. I’m glad I read both novels and they have helped me see Christianity in a new light.

I think The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is well-written and engaging. Pullman offers some good insight into the life of Jesus Christ and the founding of the Christian church. He offers food for thought. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ would be especially enjoyable to people not familiar with the bible. I just didn’t think it varied enough from the bible. I was expecting something a lot more original and challenging.



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