Friday, September 14, 2012

Two books about 'myths'

One of the things I love about my book group is that I get to read stuff I would never have otherwise bothered to pick up. First, I should explain, my book group isn't like many other book groups. We don't have a set text that we all have to read and then discuss. Instead you read what you want to read, bring it along and tell the group about it.

It works well because you aren't stuck with some awful book (like 'Walk Among the Birds' in the movie Date Night), and you can borrow each other's books, expanding your library through the libraries of however many other people are in the group.

I borrowed two books off Elaine that are part of the Canongate 'Great Myths' series: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt and The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman.

I loved Ragnarok, but then I have always loved the Norse myths. Byatt is a clever storyteller, interweaving some vivid childhood fears and the sense of dread and doom that I know I often felt as a child into a story that also captures the essence of the Norse myths and makes them accessible.

It is an excellent piece of writing, and she drew an interesting exegetical point from it - that the gods knew Ragnarok was coming, but they didn't have the imagination to avoid it. The parallel between our current culture's collision course with catastrophic climate change is thought-provoking.

Pullman meanwhile has tried to demythologise and then remythologise the story of Jesus. I've dissected this a bit on freelance theology already, but my main criticisms were over his unbalanced handling of supernaturalism. Plus, as I say on freelance theology, stealing a joke from Monty Python is naughty for an author like him.

I have no real issues with Philip Pullman saying what he wants to about God, Jesus, the historical basis for Christianity or the Church. I might disagree with him, but some of his points are interesting. But this book just isn't as good as the author seems to think it is when he writes about it in his essay afterwards. I can forgive him for being rude about religion. But I don't really like how smug he seems about his own work.

Still, perhaps worth a read. But read Ragnarok first.

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