Best known for His Dark Materials, an allegorical look at religion disguised as a great YA trilogy, Philip Pullman is back to dissecting the Christian faith in a not-so-veiled manner. His next novel, title The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is sure to turn as many heads as His Dark Materials ever did.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman


The book will provide a new account of the life of Jesus, challenging the gospels and arguing that the version in the New Testament was shaped by the apostle Paul. “By the time the gospels were being written, Paul had already begun to transform the story of Jesus into something altogether new and extraordinary, and some of his version influenced what the gospel writers put in theirs,” said Pullman, who last year pronounced himself delighted that the His Dark Materials trilogy was one of the most “challenged” series in America’s libraries, boasting the most requests for removal from the shelves because of its “religious viewpoint”.

His new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, will be published next Easter as part of Scottish independent press Canongate’s Myths series, which has also seen Margaret Atwood tackle The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus’s wife Penelope, Jeanette Winterson retell the myth of Atlas and Heracles and Michel Faber take on Prometheus with a modern retelling which sees an academic discover a fifth gospel. In Faber’s version, Jesus’s last words on the cross are “please, somebody, please finish me”, and one of his last actions is to urinate on the head of the gospel’s author.

“Paul was a literary and imaginative genius of the first order who has probably had more influence on the history of the world than any other human being, Jesus certainly included. I believe this is a pity,” said Pullman. “The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories.”

It may be a departure from the Fantasy genre that launched Pullman’s career, but in a post-Dan Brown world, it’s hard to imagine that a story like this won’t hit a huge audience. Plus, Pullman can tell a hell of a story, regardless of being shackled down by real-world history. In fact, it seems the strength of this novel, and the whole drive behind the story, is exploring how history gets warped and twisted by those that record it.

I’m not a religious person, but between my enjoyment of Pullman’s earlier novels and a general interest in the history of religion (and controversial religious studies), I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this for a rainy day when I need a break from the genre.