Tag Archives: Christopher Moore

Review 64: Lamb


Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

If you’ve been following my reviews over the last few years, I don’t see any reason why I should have to put a caution into this, but here it is: if you’re not interested in speculative fiction, open to the reinterpretation of the life of Jesus, speculation on the gaps in the gospels and the possibility of pan-religious values having been vital to the formation of Christianity, then you should probably not read this book. Nor should you really be using the internet – there’s just too much nasty “Free Thinking” out there. Take your hands off the keyboard and back away slowly.

Okay, that’ll weed out the wusses. Although, as I think about it, perhaps those are exactly the people who should be reading this book. I’m sorry for all the nasty stuff I said – come on back!

Each time I read this, I love it more. For one thing it’s Moore’s best work, without question. Not only is it blindingly funny, which is a hallmark of Moore’s style, but it’s also thoughtful, philosophical, and is supported by obvious research. Because he’s dealing with real places and real people, Moore has made sure that his depiction of first-century Israel is as accurate as he can make it. It’s all there in the details about the lives of the characters, the struggles they go through and the understandings they come to. Without hours of research as its foundation, the book would have failed almost instantly. Moore didn’t have to do it, but it is a great sign of his character as an author that he did.

This is also by far my favorite interpretation of the life of Jesus. It is the Gospel According to Biff, the best friend of Joshua bar Joseph, the man who would one day be called Jesus Christ. Of course, when Biff met him, the young Son of God was occupying himself by resurrecting lizards after his brother smashed their heads in. But they grew to be fast friends, and everywhere that young Joshua went, so went his buddy Biff.

The best way to describe Biff would be Jesus’ Sidekick. He’s a troublemaker, sarcastic, and far too prone to succumb to temptations of the flesh. But he’s clever and resourceful, and mindful of his friend’s mission on this earth. He’s young Joshua’s best friend in every way, so when Josh goes searching for the three Magi who attended his birth, Biff knows he has to go with him. The way to finding Joshua’s destiny will be long and hard, and Biff knows that his friend needs him.

The main part of the book has to do with Biff and Josh’s search for the Magi, to learn from them how Josh can be the Messiah. On their way they face demons, death and certain temptation, but also wisdom and experience from the wisest men in Asia. From Balthazar in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, Joshua learns of the Tao, contemplating its Three Jewels – compassion, moderation, and humility. He learns about suffering and mercy and kindness and the effects they bring.

Biff, on the other hand, learns about the ways in which eight Chinese concubines can make life a wonderful place, night after night. He learns how to make potions and explosives, how to cast metal and read Chinese. He learns vital skills that the Messiah cannot – or must not – know.

From there they go to China, to a monastery high in the cold mountains to study with Gaspar, a monk of the Zen school. From Gaspar, Josh learns stillness and mindful breath, compassion for all things and, oddly enough, how to turn invisible. He discovers the divine spark that exists in all things, a holiness that no one can claim or take from you. He also learns what it’s like to be the only one of his kind, and foreshadows the tragic end that can bring.

Biff, of course, is learning kung fu and how to break bricks with his head.

Finally, they go to India to seek out Melchior, an ascetic yogi and the last of the wise men. Joshua here learns about sacrifice and blood, and the horrors that are perpetrated in the name of religion. He discovers the injustice of denying the Kingdom of God to anyone, Jew or Gentile, and the futility of trying to teach yoga to an elephant.

Biff, for his part, manages to put together a truly spectacular version of the Kama Sutra.

Don’t get me wrong – while Biff is certainly more earthly than his friend, he is also devoted to both Joshua and his mission. He is Josh’s anchor to the real world, always reminding him of his mission and making sure he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Biff, in this rendition of Jesus’ story, is a necessary element in the ultimate teachings of Christ.

As he admits in his afterward, Moore has tackled a very tough subject here, one that he knows is likely to rile people up. Jesus is one of those characters that is very set in peoples’ minds – he is the tall, beatific figure with a gentle voice and blue eyes who glides around in robes followed by insightful and worshipful men.

He certainly never ate Chinese food on his birthday, nor did he get hopped up on coffee or learn kung-fu. He’s never had a sarcastic best friend who was willing to risk damnation to describe what sex was like to the young Messiah, who was pretty sure that he wasn’t allowed to Know women. We haven’s seen Jesus get frustrated and yell at his disciples because they didn’t get the message he was trying to send, or be torn between what he has to do and what he wants to do. The Jesus in this book is an excellent meld of the human and the divine. He has the miracles and the powers, but his mind is human. He knows that he’s the son of god, but he feels like just a regular guy who’s been tapped to save humanity from itself. It’s a very difficult situation to be in, and Moore does a really good job of getting us to understand that.

More importantly, the life of Jesus hasn’t been this funny before. This is the kind of book that will piss off your family or co-workers, because you’ll want to read out passages from the book every five minutes, but you won’t get it out right because you’ll be laughing too hard. The way the book is set up, Biff has been resurrected by the angel Raziel in order to write a new gospel. Unfortunately, he’s been resurrected in the modern age, about two thousand years too late to help his friend avoid the awful, horrible sacrifice that he knows he has to undergo. So he writes in the modern American vernacular, assuring us that while the words may not be a direct translation of first-century Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, Chinese or any of the other languages they encounter, the tone is accurate. And the tone is comedy, all the way through.

Of course, the comedy kind of drops off as the book races towards its unpleasant end, which is where my troubles with Moore as a writer usually lie. He tends to write endings that are abrupt and unfulfilling, as though he just wants to finish writing the book so he can, perhaps, get on with the next one. Even though we know how this story ends, it still feels rushed. Biff’s attempts to save his friend from horrible death make sense, but I would like to have seen them drawn out a bit more. I have a feeling that Moore could have added another hundred pages without breaking a sweat – and I wish he had.

The best thing, though, is that Moore treats his characters with the utmost respect. Nothing that Jesus does in the book is out of character for him, insofar as we know his character. And Biff is more than just a goofy friend of the Messiah – he is the reminder and the anchor of Jesus’ humanity. I’m not a Christian – I don’t claim any religion, in fact – but this version of Jesus would be one that I might be willing to give some time to.

It’s a brilliant book, in my top ten….

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“Josh, faking demonic possession is like a mustard seed.”
“How is it like a mustard seed?”
“You don’t know, do you? Doesn’t seem at all like a mustard seed, does it? Now you see how we all feel when you liken things unto a mustard seed? Huh?”
– Biff and Josh, Lamb
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Christopher Moore on Wikipedia
Lamb on Wikipedia
Lamb on Amazon.com
Christopher Moore’s homepage

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Filed under angels, Christianity, Christopher Moore, coming of age, demons, friendship, good and evil, humor, Jesus, quest, religion, travel

Review 50: The Stupidest Angel


The Stupidest Angel – A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

It’s an old saw, but a good one – Be Careful What You Wish For. It’s the staple theme of many a cautionary tale, which I suppose we could say this book is. It’s a warning I’ve always kept close to my heart, even though I know I have no rational reason to do so. For example, I might wake up one morning, tired from a poor night’s sleep, and a thought will emerge from my brain – “I wish I could just stay in bed all the time.” I have to squash that thought, because I know it’ll inevitably lead to some mystical creature appearing in a puff of smoke, saying “IT IS DONE!” at which point I get hit by a bus and become a quadriplegic.

No thank you, sir.

I’m lucky – I learned this lesson from reading the right stories and watching the right movies. Little Josh Barker of Pine Cove, California didn’t seem to have that advantage. To be fair, though, he was under a lot of stress. He had just seen Santa Claus get killed with a shovel to the throat, and that’ll mess up any seven-year-old’s day. So when an angel – an honest-to-God Angel shows up in town, looking for a child to grant a Christmas Wish to, what else is a boy to do but wish that Santa would come back?

If it had been any angel but Raziel, it might have worked. Another angel might have gotten more details from the child about where Dead Santa was, rather than just “Out behind the church.” Another angel might have been more diligent in making sure the child got what he wanted, rather than what he asked for. Another angel might not have carelessly caused a zombie invasion of the weird little town of Pine Cove.

But this is Raziel, who has that most unfortunate of personality combinations – stupidity and confidence. Mix in a little laziness, and you have a recipe for the most horrible Christmas celebration ever.

This book is nice, entertaining, and very silly. Intentionally silly, really – try as I might, I couldn’t find too many overarching themes or messages other than the one I’ve already mentioned – be careful what you wish for. Alongside the unmedicated movie queen, the Evil Developer, the doped-up constable, and the talking fruitbat (who chooses not to talk, of course) you’ll find a diverse cast of bizarre characters that you’re not sure you’d ever really want to hang out with. I mean, don’t get me wrong but Pine Cove seems like that weird little town where they’re just one bad day away from, well, a zombie apocalypse. And god help you if you are the one who decided to wear your red Star Trek shirt to the annual Christmas costume party.

So if you like zombies, dope paranoia, swords and some good laughs, check out this book. As Christmas stories go, I can guarantee you’ve never read anything quite like it. It’s funny, not entirely scary, and written in Moore’s very conversational style that makes you want to turn around to your friends and co-workers and read passages out loud, no matter that they’ve developed a Pavlovian twitch every time you open your mouth while staring at a page….

It’s also a kind of Christopher Moore All-Star story, so if you’re a fan of his other works, you may see some of your favorite characters show up in these pages. And that’s always fun, although if he had added Biff and Maggie, I would have been a thousand times happier with it….

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“It’s Christmas! Ah, Christmas, the time when all good people go about not decapitating each other.”
– Tucker Case, The Stupidest Angel
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The Stupidest Angel on Wikipedia
Christopher Moore on Wikipedia
Christopher Moore’s homepage
The Stupidest Angel on Amazon.com

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Filed under Christmas, Christopher Moore, humor, zombies