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"Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them Behold the Man."
Gospel of John, Chapter 19, Verse 5
In the past few years I have been trying my best to read Gollanz's 'Science Fiction Masterworks' series. Along with the companion collection 'Fantasy Masterworks', they aim to be the best collections of sci-fi and fantasy books ever written. Having fallen out of favour with the Science Fiction Masterworks in recent months, mainly down to the over complicated nature of some of the books I have read, I have turned my attention to the Fantasy brand. I am currently reading Michael Moorcock's 'Elric' and wanted to get a few more of his novels which are easily accessible and relatively short reads.
Such is his 1969 novel 'Behold the Man' which is short enough to get it over with in a couple of sittings (144 pages). It tells the tale of time traveller Karl Glogauer who travels from the year 1970 to the year AD 28 with the intention of meeting Jesus and witness the crucifixion. What he finds when he gets there isn't quite what he expected....
I was very surprised that this book hadn't really received the same level of controversy that say 'The Last Temptation of Christ' or 'The Life of Brian' did. It actually made me think more about the story of Jesus than say a book like The Da Vinci Code did. It presumes that Jesus was in fact an imbecile and his mother a dirty slag. Glogauer then has to adopt the guise of 'Jesus' to fulfil the Gospels.
Its all the more interesting as the book also delves into Glogauer's past life - being raped by a scoutmaster on an Isle of Wight camping trip, being sexually aroused by women wearing crosses between their bosoms and flitting from religion to religion in search of the meaning of life.
Its a very different book from the high fantasy of 'Elric' but is definitely worth a look in especially if you like time travel paradoxes. I liked the edginess of the book and the way it trounced on the whole idea of organised religion and the origin of Jesus the man and how fact can turn into myth and legend.
Karl Glogauer has appropriated a time machine and travelled back in time to Palestine in the year 29AD, to fulfil his ambition to be present at the crucifixion of Christ. This rather short novel details both his arrival in the past, during which he is injured and cared for by a religious sect known as the Essenes and gets to meet both John the Baptist and Jesus the Nazarene, and parts of his previous life in the 20th century which are used to establish his deeply inward-looking and somewhat self-loathing character and the events which lead up to his acquiring the time machine. Glogauer is an exceptionally well-drawn character, and the book itself is very well written, precisely what we would expect from Moorcock who is, after all, a writer of some considerable importance. First published in the late 60s (the copyright date is 1969, however the potted Michael Moorcock history at the front of the book says it won the Nebula in 1967, so I’m not sure exactly when this book was first published), this is a book that has dated very little and is probably a good starting point for those who haven’t read anything else by the author. Reprinted in the Millennium SF Masterworks series, which is usually a sign of good quality, I do nonetheless have a slight problem with this edition: one of the major plot points is revealed in the synopsis on the back cover, and I probably would have enjoyed the book even more for not knowing it in advance (accordingly, it is omitted in my synopsis above and if you can avoid the temptation to look at the back cover before reading the book — highly unlikely, I know — then good luck to you). Read this now, and discover why Michael Moorcock is now regarded as a major literary figure, even by the establishment which I’m lead to understand he loathes.