Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christ The Lord : Out of Egypt by Anne Rice


Alfred Knopf, 321 pages, $35.95

When I heard that the Queen of the Vampire Chronicles (who hasn't heard of "Queen of the Damned" or "The Vampire Lestat") was putting the nails on the vampire coffin and writing a tale about Jesus Christ instead, my interest was piqued. I also liked the fact that this novel was a fictional autobiography devoted to Jesus' early years. When I think of Jesus I usually think of him as a grown man with long, flowing brown hair, a beard and white robe and sandals; I don't often think of the innocent boy Jesus so, to be exposed to Jesus' early years, before even HE knew he was "Christ The Lord" was a treat indeed! Best of all, Ms. Rice makes the child Jesus the narrator which I think is a unique and wonderful way of retelling the story of Jesus' childhood. That child-voice, which Rice pulls off with remarkable consistency, lends the story a simple but realistic tone.

Ofcourse, Anne Rice's presumption that she can speak for Jesus may not go down well in some quarters; there are those who would certainly consider this work a blasphemy, but I think she wrote it out of a sense of deep conviction and a wanting to tell the story of Jesus the way she sees it.

This novel essentially covers one year in the life of Jesus (when he was 7 years going on 8). It covers the boy and his family's return to Nazareth from Egypt. (They had all fled to Egypt to escape the tyrannous rule of Herod the Great. They returned to Nazareth only when Joseph learned in a dream that Herod had died and that it was safe to return to Israel).

The real drama unfolds as Jesus, the child, initially is confused by these special powers he seems to possess - he is astounded that he can make clay birds fly, stop the rain, bring a playmate back to life and prolong the life of a beloved uncle. The novel follows his development as he slowly becomes aware of his powers, questions, learns, dreams and ponders, eventually discovering the magic of his birth and his role in life.

The other reason why this novel is so different is because Anne Rice borrows tales not from the Bible as we know it, but from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas that scholars agree have no claim to fact.

The lone reference in our Bible to Jesus' childhood years -- the visit to the temple -- is transformed in Rice's hands. She portrays Jesus not as some precocious kid, competing with the learned rabbis in a contest of theology, but as an inquisitive little kid, interested not so much in the scriptures, but about his own past. He wanted to know--- What really happened in Bethlehem? Was there an angel that appeared to shepherds telling them about a babe in the manger? And mysterious visitors from the East? Were children slaughtered?

This novel has received an enthusiastic response at Belief.Net, where reviewer David Kuo predicts it will become the literary equivalent of Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion.” That’s probably an overstatement, but it does show the enthusiasm of Christian groups to have a book like this! A chapter of the new book is available for review at BeliefNet.

Finally, appended in the novel is the author’s note which is almost as fascinating as the actual novel itself. In it Rice tells us the story of her conversion and return to Roman Catholicism owing to the death of her husband and her many recent illnesses. Ms Rice invites us all: This is a book I offer to all Christians—to the fundamentalists, to the Roman Catholics, to the most liberal Christians in the hope that my embrace of more conservative doctrines will have some coherence for them in the here and now of the book.”

I couldn't resist the invitation and I'm glad I didn't for I will have to say that reading this novel made the Christmas season more memorable.

For a great interview with the author, go HERE