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The Past | The Previous

Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock.

moorcock's slim novel (or large novella, depending on where you stand on the naming of these things) opens with the time traveller, karl glogauer, arrives in the past. he is thrown about, pushed into the world, surrounded by a milky white substance, and then, finally, crawls out of the crack in the time machine to see the world of 28 AD.

the image of birth is followed quickly by the image of death, as a young karl is crucified by his so called friends in a game at school. thus the two images that start the book are birth and death, images which will haunt glogauer through the story as he is reborn and then sacrificed due to his faith. (though, there is some part of me that reads the book that glogauer doesn't actually have faith, but rather wants to make a point to his girlfriend, who has left him for a woman. 'martyrdom is a conceit,' she says at the end of the book, and for glogauer, i read that one of his main motivations, as he becomes more and more insane, is to prove that he is right, that christ and jung had an importance.)

behold the man is not about time travel, and it is not about christianity. rather, it is about the idea of christ predating the actual arrival of christ.

this idea is weaved through the narrative with the aid of jung and karl's 'present', but also with john the baptist, and the prophecies and countless prophets and madmen running around in 28 AD. the idea that there would be a 'christ' was inevitable, or so the book would have us believe, and if it had not been the time traveller, it would have been someone else. but glogauer is not initially wanting to be the prophet, and wants instead to find jesus, which he does, in a poor house in nazareth, completely and utterly brain fucked. he also finds mary, who, rather than being the perfect virgin, is the opposite. it is here, facing jesus, that glogauer begins to unravel, begins his road of martyrdom.

the character of glogauer is always interesting: at times contradicting, selfish, honest, depressed, he carries the book, even when he becomes 'the madman' and then, finally 'jesus of nazareth'. but this final part of the character is not one that i found particularly believable. sure, glogauer has jung, but jung doesn't necessarily translate into having yourself crucified so that the myth of christianity may continue--especially considering that karl is nothing more than an agnostic. and speaking from this agnostic's point of view, i find it particularly hard to believe that anyone, much less glogauer, would go to such lengths to ensure that christianity would work out--especially considering some of the disappointment that glogauer feels early in the book, and the resentment he has when one of the church elders seduces him.

but that may just be me. i'm the kind of guy who reckons that a little less christianity in the world wouldn't be such a bad thing, but then, truthfully, i'd say that about organised religion period. a little less would go a long way.

outside the depiction of jesus and mary and joseph (my favourite bit) moorcock is quite reasonable with characters related to the bible, and creates the novel's most likable character in john the baptist. he's not out to rip the myth of christ apart, that much is clear, but rather to debate its importance, predated or not, and that even when the myth and the reality do not go together, such as with the theft of glogauer's body. one of the questions, unanswered, is what is more important--what the myth conveys, or what it was in reality.

addition links to reviews that take some different points of view.

strangewords review

commonplace review

sf site review