Friday, October 31, 2008

The Bible: a book review

Literary critics make a living out of cutting arrogant writers down to size. It seems only fitting that a tome whose author had the audacity to call it ‘the Book’ should eventually come under the microscope. How it escaped for two millennia without eliciting much in the way of derision is nigh on inconceivable. Perhaps minority religions go out of their way to avoid offending Christians in the hope that they will be spared the universal reach of God’s gnarled pointy finger. Does Frodology have such compunctions? No, it does not.

Lacking in character

Contrary to the misleading subheading, one of the biggest problems with the Bible is its overabundance of characters. In contrast to The Lord of the Rings, which has a tightly knit cast of a dozen or so main protagonists, the Bible is filled to the gunnels with Semites, Messiahs and whores. It has more characters than War & Peace, which has so many names to keep track of, I’ve never even read it.

And seven tribes of Israel is far too many. A quick scan of the literary canon reveals that great stories thrive on dialectics. Montagues v Capulets, Greeks v Persians, Confederacy v Union, Americans v Indians, Columbus v the convention of naming civilizations according to where they actually come from. Things aren’t much clearer in the New Testament either, with Romans, Jews, Gentiles, and Jedis all vying for control of the galaxy.

Fig. 1, Episode VII: Return of the Jesus

Suspending disbelief and sheer boredom at the same time

Since the fantasy genre only came into being centuries after the Bible was written, much of it reeks of implausibility. One character reaches the ripe old age of 950, which stretches the imagination a little. Unless it was set on Mercury, which has quite short years. Perhaps it was set on Mercury.

It wasn’t set on Mercury. And worse still is the all too frequent literal reliance on deus ex machina to get the story going again. When the hero of the New Testament meets his end too soon, the author makes the novice decision to resurrect him, putting the book on par with day time soap operas. And when Moses is leading his people out of Egypt, the author was stymied by his own poor geography, cornering the Jews against the Red Sea. “What now?” the author must have thought. “I can’t just have Moses part the Red Sea. Oh wait, no, I can just have him part the Red Sea!” Faced with such cheap tricks, I would have been happier with an aborted exodus.

Fig. 2, The Red Sea defies gravity while God defies talent

The New Testament also employs a narrative device whereby it retells the same story from four different perspectives, subtly changing details at times and outright contradicting itself at others. Its cleverness has perhaps been diminished by the recent box office mediocrity of the movie Vantage Point, which employed a similar device ad nauseam. Readers will therefore probably tire of the trick, as it has been executed more ably by authors such as, off the top of my head, J.R.R. Tolkien. The Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that the author already disposed of the worst of the offenders, but the tedium is such that editors of subsequent revisions would be advised to cut these ‘Gospels’ down to just two, or perhaps even one. Zero is also a good number.

Plotting and scheming

The plot itself is predictable, but this is as much to do with the protagonist’s tribulations being revealed as ‘prophecies’ much earlier in the book as it is to do with it just being a crappy story. One of the critical elements of the story feels so contrived one suspects the author of reverse engineering it. In the protagonist’s eyes, copulation is such a heinous sin that he later has to become a martyr in order to exculpate everyone for their own existence, begging the obvious question as to when and why progeny inherit the guilt of their own parents for sins which they weren’t alive to prevent. It would have been far more realistic for all concerned to celebrate rather than mourn his death. After all, nobody asked him to die for them. And this brings me to another point: whence the immorality of sex? The protagonist’s demonic obsession with the dirty deed is such that one smells a severe case of sexual repression. The character was clearly a closet homosexual. Why didn’t the author make more of this avenue?

Fig. 3, 32/M, loves cooking, Sex & the City, and spin class

All's well that shouldn't have been written in the first place

All in all, this novel is poorly written and stretches the imagination too far at times. It also comes across as too preachy. By contrast, Frodo’s message can be so subtle that many ignorami have been unaware until recently that Frodo is a prophet and a God, and worthy of worship as our Messiah. While the movie adaptation may be more accessible to modern audiences, its overt anti-Semitism is still a little off color. The crash of the Hindenburg is more surprising than Mel Gibson’s dislike of Jews. By way of advice to the Bible’s author as regards a sequel, I will say only this. Don’t presume you’re above editing, respect rather than resent your audience, and for Frodosake, get your head out of the clouds!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At 5 years old my school's principal told me that all good little girls should read the 'B'ook [sic]. Yea, really sick. Good thing I didn't waste my time - Frodo's book comes with much better pictures.