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My Impressions on "Behold the Man"

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  • EverKing
    Eternal Companion
    • Jan 2004
    • 977

    My Impressions on "Behold the Man"

    Ok, this got a little personal in a few parts...this book just spoke to me that clearly.

    Thanks to the intervention of a fellow MWM member, I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of “Behold the Man.� I read in the course of about 2.5 hours one night last week and was very impressed. I’ve read many of your works, Mike, and few have failed to impress me in some way or other and although I think some of your more recent works contain some of the most mind-blowing literature I’ve read; this piece spoke to me on many levels.

    I can definitely see how this novel is among your most celebrated. The demystification of the events of New Testament have become fairly common place in recent years and people of my generation, I think, have become fairly inured to it; yet, “Behold the Man� still seems so fresh and original. Its use of modern psychology and the motivations of Karl Glogauer were so fascinating that it would make for an interesting read even outside of the context you chose. Yet, for all of its deconstruction of Christian Mythology and dirty realism what spoke to me most was the protagonist himself.

    Throughout the novel I often found myself mildly disgusted, not with the novel, but with myself. I could truly understand Karl Glogauer. Up until the last two years or so, I felt much the same about life as he did and was tormented by many of the same questions. Several events of his life, such as his turning away of his first love and his emotional masochism throughout, seemed to be taken directly from my own experience. His conversations on humanity, religion, and psychology spoke directly to my own past. This obvious empathy with the character served to bring to the surface my past struggles with self-loathing, cynicism, and masochism. I was not at a happy point in my life at the time and often fell into depression, with which I am still struggling. I saw in him the same failures I saw in myself, and to some extant still do. I feel it is only natural to be turned off by this under appreciation of one’s self. While reading his tale there many times I wanted to reach out and slap him; tell him to get over himself and move on with life. But, I think what I really wanted to do was slap myself because I knew that whatever I try to say that same darkness is lurking within me (if you’ll forgive the melodramatic wording). I am not saying I suffer from a Messianic Complex, although it is possible I might or at least used to, but I do think I still have a bit of the hopeful martyr in me and that knowledge it mildly disturbing, especially when seeing what can come of it.

    I am not saying I think I would ever want to become a martyred messiah, but I had problems picturing Karl as anyone but myself, and that was unnerving.

    I have to wonder what your motivations were in writing that book. Were you being deliberately controversial just for sake of being controversial? Were you trying to express your own doubts and anxieties? Or, was this just a way to explore certain aspects of psychology?

    I also found myself wondering if there was something in the minds of people during the mid-late sixties that brought ideas of Messiahs and martyrs to the surface. Many of the most famous biblical epics come from this era and the theme found itself into some of the literature of the time; “Behold the Man� and Frank Herbert’s “Dune� are the first of these that comes to mind. Although, admittedly, Dune has the Messiah idea twisted and altered to suit what is essential an ecological novel. Still, the presence of a Messianic figure seems to be fairly common for the time.

    What really set Behold the Man apart, in my opinion, was its exploration of the mind of a messiah/martyr. I thought you handled this in a very interesting way by internalizing most of the story and building the character bit by bit through flashes of his personal history and putting it all in cotext with the later "interpretation" of the Gospels.

    In all, I’d have to say it was an excellent book if for other reason than it gave me so much insight into myself. No matter how much I tried to dislike Karl (and I think I disliked him for what I saw as his complete foolishness), I was forced to turn those emotions onto myself because of the endless parallels between his psychology and my own. It was the level to which this disturbed me that impressed me.

    Well done, and thank you.
    "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
    --Thomas a Kempis
  • Michael Moorcock
    Site Host
    • Dec 2003
    • 14278

    Thanks. I've said elsewhere that I was brought up in an almost wholly secular environment, except for my exposure to Anthroposophy which did to a degree influence my fiction but didn't impinge much on my life.
    My interest was in demagoguery and how a demagogue is created by the will/need of the crowd. In this respect, I suspect the book was of its time (I think of A Face in the Crowd, for instance, which I must admit I haven't seen since it came out, but was about that subject -- in this case as applied to American politics). Much of the rest of the book was drawn from my own experience and I sort of exhausted all the unhappy episodes of my childhood -- that's pretty much all of them, including some invented ones! When the book came out I received excellent reviews for it in the religious press. People saw it as an 'imitation of Christ' theme rather than an attack on Christianity or its values. Clearly, the Southern fundamentalists weren't too happy with it and from them came the death-threats. If they included an address with their threat I would apologise for the book not being to their taste and sendi them a dollar (the price of the book, plus postage, in paperback) as seemed right and proper given the customer's extreme dissatisfaction. But I also had fan mail from nuns and priests and other persons of the cloth, so clearly many Christian intellectuals understood the book's intention and its discussion. I was rather surprised by the impact of the book -- indeed of the impact the book still gets. It's being republished in the US in about a year and it's still in print in many parts of the world, including China. I suspect the Chinese like it because they see it as debunking Christianity, which was not my intention. I am inclined to see most religion in terms of superstition while respecting people's need for faith and indeed their outstanding moral behaviour, in many cases. It's not so much the hypocrisy, whcih exists in most religions, including various branches of Buddhism, which makes me wary of religion as the politics. I believe that once a religion becomes organised it ceases to be predominantly religion and becomes a political institution. That seems particularly evident today with the behaviour, say, of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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    • EverKing
      Eternal Companion
      • Jan 2004
      • 977

      Thank you for the insight.

      I began to turn away from most organized religion in my teens because I too grew weary (and wary) of the politics. For me, I must admit, it was initially the blatant hypocrosies of religious doctrine that turned me away. Later, it has become less an emotion distast as an intellectual one. When examining religion I ahve found a great many of them have established doctrine not to increase faith in their religion, but to maintain or grow their religion's power. That is the nature of man, I suppose; but, when it comes to something as central to many people's lives as religion--that is, something that can change people's lives and to some extant control their reactions and personal politics--it seems an abusive disregard of indivuality. Demogogue, as you said.

      I didn't see BtM as an attack on Christian doctrine, so I'm sorry if my previous sounding like I did. I saw it as a beautifully done examination of messianic physchology. It was the insight into this psychology, its origin, motivations, and eventual conclusion that I found so attractive.

      Again, a very well done novel. I'm happy to hear it is being re-realeased in the US...I know a few people who would enjoy a copy.
      "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
      --Thomas a Kempis


      • David Mosley
        Eternal Administrator
        • Jul 2004
        • 11823

        Indeed: Behold the Man @ = آ£5.59 + shipping.
        _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
        _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
        _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
        _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."


        • DeeCrowSeer
          Eternal Champion
          • Feb 2004
          • 2214

          Behold the bargain:

          Behold the Man @ = آ£5.49 (free shipping).

          (No money was received for this endorsement, no animals were harmed to make me this beautiful)
          "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild