Adaptation is nothing new to storytellers. Since the times of early humankind we’ve told variants of the same stories over and over again. We’ll add a unique spin here, a twist in the tale there, but down at their core the story is the same and the theme and message are delivered.
Some of these stories go on to become very famous indeed. One of the most famous stories in the world is the tale of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. His story has inspired and guided many people through the centuries. At its core, it’s a great story filled with enlightenment, tragedy and hope. This story has inspired countless retelling and re-imaginings. In the cinematic form alone there are dozens of versions from the silent classic "The King of Kings" to the recent "The Passion of the Christ". It’s easy to see why story tellers continue to return to this tale.
Christopher Moore was inspired enough to write his own take on the life of Joshua of Nazareth, and the result was something very interesting. In the book "Lamb" Moore explores the "missing years" of Jesus’ life. Where did Jesus go from the early age of 12 till he returned to Galilee in his thirties. Moore concocts a tale of Joshua (also called Jesus) and his best friend Levi (also called Biff) and their search for the three wise men. Along the way they encounter demons, wizards, a harem of Chinese concubines, Kung-fu monks, The Great Wall of China, wizened gurus, The Kama Sutra, and even get to recreate a scene from "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom".
Obviously the book is pure fantasy... but it’s also pure fun. Moore never lets the character of Jesus get away from him either. This journey to find the wise men is what allows Joshua to learn what it means to be a messiah and just what his message to the Jewish people will be. His pal Biff is along for the ride, enjoying the more earthly pleasures and helping Joshua understand that even the most sinful man needs a friend.
Moore took one of the most familiar stories ever told and made it new, entertaining and inspiring all at the same time. Of course the book isn’t for everyone. Those who find the idea of Jesus even talking with a Chinese concubine disturbing best look elsewhere. But those who won’t feel their faith challenged by a good story should check the book out. I was pleasantly surprised.
Since this already turned into a bit of a book review, I need to bring it back around to the topic of story telling. Moore had a major challenge in that many people know this story and have an image in their mind of how it goes. He made it fresh and new by adding humor, high adventure and showing us the formulation of Jesus’ teachings. This is one of the best reasons for any writer to check this book out (and read it for instructional purposes). There are no new stories. They’ve all been told before, but it’s how you tell the story that makes it unique and entertaining. Moore nailed it.
Can you think of any retellings you were surprised with (books, movies, televisions series all count)? Do you read "Lamb"? What did you think?