Behold the Man by Moorcock, Michael, 1969

Behold the Man by Moorcock, Michael - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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I have never been much of a fantasy enthusiasts, so the amount of contact Ive had in the past to Michael Moorcock has been pretty limited. Probably his best known work has been the Elric of Melnibone series, which was basically the tale of a weakling king with a magic sword and an evil brother. Moorcock was a very important character in the acceptance of the New Wave in the 60's: Perhaps he and Ellison were the most important; Moorcock with his brief New Worlds editorship and Ellison with his Dangerous Visions anthologies. But there are a few Moorcock pieces that currently have a permanent place in my collection. Behold the Man, a time travel twist on the story of Christ tops that list. As soon as you look at the cover and the title page of this book you will get a pretty decent idea of where Moorcock is going to take you, as the cover is a picture of a man on a cross and the dedication is to Thomas Disch. Catholicism beware! And that is pretty much what Moorcock delivers, in a novella length piece that is physically structured quite a bit like Disch's Camp Concentration, in that Moorcock jumps frequently and without warning from one thought to another. And he told a great story. Four out of five stars.

In a nutshell Behold the Man is the story of Karl Glogauer, a British Jew, who traveled back in time from post-war Britain to 28 A.D., just before the death of Jesus. Glogauer was a bit of a self-absorbed loser whose traumatic early life led him to sexualize religious icons. Karl grew into a bit of a free-love narcissist who matured without a father in his life and learned to loathe his mothers indifference to their situation, in a way somewhat reminiscent of Theo in P.D. James' Children of Men. Karl grew up feigning suicide for attention, which distanced him from his peers. Early in his teens he entered a deep quest to understand his faith, a mixture of the C of E and Judaism, and turned eventually to Jung in an effort to understand the baser aspects of his own personality. Ultimately he lacked the strength of character to finish his education, or take any of the sexual relationships he has had to another level, or complete anything of any consequence in his life. In desperation to escape the empty answerless life he built, he accepted a friend's offer to test a time machine, as long as he could choose the time and place to visit.

When Glogauer arrives in ancient Judea the time machine broke beyond repair in an accident that injured him as well. He was rescued by the Essenes, who are largely monastic pacifists that were led by John the Baptist. The Essenes observed Glogauer appear in a crack of lightning, and took him for a true prophet in a land that had more false prophets than late-night cable TV. John, in an attempt to start some sort of rebellion, asked Glogauer to play the role of a prophet, which he reluctantly agreed to do. Glogauer simultaneously began on his own a search for Jesus Christ. To his great disappointment he found the first family of the bible. Joseph was a bitter old man who hated his life. Jesus was a severely retarded hunchback who was such an idiot he cannot speak any words save his name, and who was probably a bastard to boot. Mary was an overweight slattern who gives herself to Glogauer at the first opportunity (well, the second really). Once Glogauer discovers the truth, he slowly stepped into the biblical Christ's sandals, and assumed his vision of Christ's life. And in doing that Glogauer became the thing that he most needed in his own life, presumably healing his own psychic damage.

This idea of Christ being a pretender has turned up in everything from bible criticism to Monty Python movies, so I can't say for sure that Moorcock had something fresh here in 1969 when he wrote the original novella. But Moorcock did invent a very interesting character to tell this story. Glogauer's history is detailed enough to show his real motivation to visit this period of time, then step into the huge shoes of Jesus Christ. The consequences of Glogauer's early sexual experiences created a believable life of loneliness, which motivated him to concentrate his energies on the study of psychology and religion in an effort to fix himself. His failure to define his identity with either discipline created a very believable reason for even wanting to go in the first place. It was a kind of last ditch effort to heal his wounds by doing the most extreme thing he could do. He wanted to actually, instead of metaphorically, find Christ. But even with his psycho-sexual motivation to participate, the story likely would not have happened this way if Glogauer had been anything but a suicidal narcissist. After all, what kind of person would go willingly into the hands of the Romans knowing that he was headed for crucifixion?

Michael Moorcock was to English New Wave writers what Harlan Ellison was to the Americans. His work laid the foundations for the New Wave movement in one of the two major markets for SF, and without him things today would probably have been radically different. But despite his prowess and prescient abilities as an editor (and unfortunately, poor business sense and a desire for controversy which caused his tenure at New Worlds to be brief), Moorcock was also an excellent author with some amazing ideas. This is now back in print and is worth a few dollars to read.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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