Philip Pullman Sets Aside His Dark Materials For His Dark Messiahs

He raised the ire of readers all over the world with his sideways glance at the Catholic Church in the series "His Dark Materials." With his new novel, Philip Pullman imagines a Jesus that had, yes, an evil twin brother.

Never one to shy away from religion — given that his Dark Materials series openly questioned the tenets of the Catholic church — Philip Pullman, in his new book, takes things one step further. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, out this Wednesday, posits the question: What if Mary gave birth to twin sons, Jesus and Christ? And what if Jesus was much like the savior familiar from the Gospels, but Christ was a wee bit like Judas, tempting him and, eventually, betraying him?

Philip Pullman Sets Aside His Dark Materials For His Dark Messiahs

Towards the end of The Good Man, Jesus himself questions the necessity of a church itself, saying "the governors of this church will declare that such-and-such a nation or such-and-such a people is evil and ought to be destroyed...and they'll raise their standard over the smoking ruins of what was once a fair and prosperous land and declare that God's kingdom is so much the larger and more magnificent as a result." Pullman admits "he really is speaking for me in that section." He then goes on to say, "The greatest excuse in the world is that 'God told me to do it': hence the Crusades. Once you are appealing to an authority that can't be checked, you are doing something dangerous."

Alternate histories are part of the foundation of science fiction, as is the reinterpretation of myth, but is Pullman's treating the Bible as a series of fables a valid storytelling path or simply a tact designed to stir and agitate and sell? And is either, necessarily, a bad thing?