For five years now, Canongate’s Myths series has been imaginatively recasting the ancient stories that are the foothills of myth across cultures from China to ancient Greece and the Amazon; now comes one of the major peaks. So far none of the various distinguished authors in the series has had such a risky task as Philip Pullman in his retelling of the four Gospels: Margaret Atwood’s sideways glance at the Odyssey or Salley Vickers on the Oedipus story are hardly as vulnerable as Pullman to the fury of devotees worldwide. I wonder whom Canongate has signed up to have a go at the Koran. In Pullman’s book there is material enough for the virulence of the self-righteous: a transformation of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels that follows on from Pullman’s earlier indictments of institutional religion. It turns a gaze on the Jewish prophet from Nazareth that is both satirical and serious, blending canonical gospel, ancient apocrypha, modern critical commentary and the wit and subtle invention of a great storyteller.
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