Welcome to the first official meeting of the Lazy Lambs Book Club! It’s a slightly convoluted story how we came to be, but my friends Diana and Allison and I have been reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore together, and decided to make an informal book club out of it. We’ve each posed a question about the book, and we’ll each be answering all three questions at our own blogs today. (Wanna join book club? Scroll all the way down!)
The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years — except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in the divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work “reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams” (Philadelphia Inquirer).
Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior’s pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there’s no one who loves Josh more — except maybe “Maggie,” Mary of Magdala — and Biff isn’t about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.
On to the discussion!
Me: What are your thoughts on the subject, retelling the life of Jesus? Does it function as myth/fairy tale retelling, satire, both/neither?
Okay, I confess… I asked this question because I was curious, and then realized I had no idea how to answer it myself. I think I’m coming down on the side of “it’s a retelling.”
There are some satirical elements, but I was surprised at how well they were handled. I don’t feel like the book is really very confrontational toward practicing Christians. I am not a practicing Christian, so the fact that I wasn’t offended may not mean much, but I really don’t like to read attacks on anyone and I don’t like my fiction to be a barely-disguised political message. I didn’t pick up on anything like that here. I’m sure Moore chose his topic with full knowledge that it would be controversial, and the book is anything but apologetic about that, but I think he had a funny idea and wanted to run with it, rather than basing the whole thing on some message he wanted to convey.
Myth and fairy-tale retellings have been trendy for quite a while now, and I think Lamb (first published in 2002) is part of that family. The idea is to take a well-known story and explore it from a different angle, or take a neglected point and expand it. Lamb does both those things, taking a down-to-Earth and irreverent look at the Jesus story, and focusing on his formative years. It tells a complete, modern story inspired by an old one, rather than trying to tell the “right” story.
Allison: What are your thoughts on how the author explored the different cultures in the world at the time? What do you think about the cross-culture play and sending Jesus to all ends of the earth?
Partly, I think this is just for fun. Moore spent time researching the period and wanted to include more than one country. Plus, he wanted to make things interesting… If he kept it limited to one little town in Israel, we’d pretty much end up with Jesus’s Instagram feed. What he had for lunch every day, y’know? 😉 Moore chose to get crazy and send him on an international adventure!
On the other hand, Moore also used the device of international travel to make some (in my opinion) gentle statements about how early Christianity related to other cultures of the world. How Jesus’s teachings resembled or compared to those in the Middle East and India. It doesn’t go in-depth into this or treat it seriously, which is totally fine since this isn’t a scholarly work by any means, but I think it shows an interest in how the ancient world really was as a whole.
Diana: In addition to new characters, like Biff and Raziel, Lamb also offers re-writings of many historical and religious figures, not just Jesus himself. Among those characters are the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene (Maggie), whose stories—especially Maggie’s—take up more space in Moore’s novel than in biblical writings. Discuss the depictions of the two Marys. What is their place in the story?
I loved the Marys! I think their importance shows Moore’s modern perspective, in a good way. When he looked at the ancient world, he saw a whole world, not just one country. When he looked at the characters, he thought as much about the women as he did about the men. Mary and Mary Magdalene are obviously significant in Christian tradition, but when reading the Bible as we have it, women are usually in the background. They’re taken for granted, at best. Present, but not really important. Moore didn’t do that. (Plus, from a writer’s perspective, he’s focusing on neglected bits in the original story, so…)
I also liked that women were present throughout the book, and even though it’s a comedy, he didn’t choose to make them totally independent modern women. He (and they) are aware of how their culture is limiting them. That particularly came through in Maggie’s arranged marriage and how much she wanted to escape.
Finally, the way Mary’s face would randomly appear on stuff was one of my favorite parts! That kind of relates to one of the things I found most interesting about the book, and that’s how Moore chose not to debunk things. He chose to keep the divinity, the angels, the miracles, etc… They may be played for laughs, like everything else, but I think he did a pretty on-point job of keeping the “magic” consistent. Or consistently inconsistent…
Our next book will be A Dirty Job, also by Christopher Moore. It’s about Death and the Grim Reaper and such, and should be a hoot. We’ll be reading from now until June 27, and if you wanna read with us, check out #lazylambs on Twitter!