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Book Report: Lamb

The last time I read a Christopher Moore book, it was A Dirty Job, and I asked if it was considered a fantasy novel. I still don’t know—there are lots of genre definitions that would clearly include it, and others that would not. So I suppose I was asking, given this somewhat borderline case, is there a prevailing sense of which side of the line this book is considered to be on, which would tell us something about which kinds of definitions are actually in use by actual people. Only, you know, it doesn’t work like that.

The thing is, that book not only had fantasy elements, it was in essence a reworking of a fantasy trope; I found it hard to imagine reading it without a good deal of background in the genre. This book (I’ll get to it in a minute, bear with me please) has what I would consider fantasy elements: magic, a journey and a quest, companions and teachers, demons, supernatural creatures, prophesies, all of that. However, it is clearly not a fantasy novel in the sense that A Dirty Job clearly is a fantasy novel. And by clearly what I mean is that I think that reading and discussing A Dirty Job with reference to the rest of the genre of fantasy novels enhances the book, while doing the same thing with Lamb would not. Not at all.

Largely, of course, this is also true of the Bible.

Lamb, if you haven’t guessed (or didn’t know going in) is a retelling of the Jesus story, with particular attention to the missing years, in which Jesus and his best friend Biff go to Asia and India and learn from the three Magi. And although Mr. Moore does introduce lots of fantasy elements into the story, and reframes some of the miracles in the Jesus story as more standard fantasy elements, any further genre speculation tends to ruin the point of the thing. I think.

Sadly, I think Mr. Moore came pretty close to ruining the point of the thing himself. He seems to hold what I think of as a pretty standard American view of the Jesus story and Christianity: the Jesus of the Gospels was a Divine teacher who told people to be nice to each other and was crucified for that, and then an organized religion grew up around that basic story and ruined everything for everyone. Thus, to truly follow the Divine teaching, we need to shed the trappings of Church and Tradition and go back to the original message, which was to be nice to each other.

I hate that.

My problem with it is that it seems to bear no relationship whatsoever to history, the Gospels, the Scripture, or the way people are. Now, I’m not a Christian at all, and throwing out Paul is my idea of a good time anyway, but since Paul was written before the Gospels, the idea that you can get back to the original message by throwing out Paul and going back to the Gospels seems… wrong. From an outsider’s perspective, you understand. And the Gospels themselves don’t read to me at all like the story of somebody who just told people to be nice to each other. There’s a lot of stuff in there, and some of it is clearly about being nice to each other, but a lot of it isn’t, and a lot more is about setting up an organization for spreading the Gospel, so if you aren’t willing to participate in the church, you aren’t really going back to the message, are you? Again, from an outsider’s perspective.

And when I say that I hate that attitude, I just mean I find its claims to historicity and originality irritating. In practice, the major Christian church organizations are themselves just as irritating as the attitude I am deprecating. And do a lot more harm. Although they also do a lot of good, so there’s that.

Anyway, what I’m saying is this: Mr. Moore is a clever and funny man and has written a good book with a lot of irreverent stuff about the Gospels. It’s the sort of book which (a) is funnier if you have actually read the Gospels (and Acts), and (2) makes you want to go back to those texts to see the stuff he’s playing around with. That’s a success. On the other hand, his desire to portray Jesus as apolitical, nonsectarian and just generally pleasant meant that he was unwilling to address some of the really provocative stuff in there.

I mean, think of what he could have done with Luke 22:36-38, where Jesus tells his disciples to take whatever money they can get hold of, putting their coats in hock if they have to, and buy swords. They tell him they have two swords, and he sort of shrugs and says that’ll be enough. Oh, Mr. Moore, what was going on there?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.