Behold the Man (novel)

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The first Karl Glogauer novel developed from the 1966 novella of the same name.

Publishing History (UK)

  • Hardcover, Allison & Busby, 144pp., ISBN: 0-85031-004-0, Mar 1969, Cover by Gabi Nasemann
  • Mass Market Paperback, Mayflower, 144pp., ISBN: 0-583-11787-2, 17 Sept 1970, Cover by Bob Haberfield
  • Mass Market Paperback, Mayflower, ISBN: 0-583-11787-3, 1973, Cover by Bob Haberfield
  • Mass Market Paperback, Fontana, 144pp., ISBN: 0-00-615344-5, 29 May 1980
  • Mass Market Paperback, Grafton, ISBN: 0-583-11787-2, 1986, Cover by Geoff Taylor
  • B Format Paperback, Gollancz, 128pp., ISBN: 1-85798-848-5, 11 Nov 1999, Cover by Jim Burns

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Omnibus Publication (UK)

Publishing History (US)

  • Mass Market Paperback, Avon Books, 160pp., ISBN: 0-380-39982-2, 1970
  • Mass Market Paperback, Avon Equinox, ISBN: 0-380-28571-1, 1976
  • Mass Market Paperback, Avon Books, 160pp., ISBN: 0-380-00637-5, 1978
  • Mass Market Paperback, Carroll & Graf, 160pp., ISBN: 0-88184-369-5, Oct 1987
  • Paperback, Overlook Press, 124pp., ISBN: 1-58567-764-7, 29 Jan 2007

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Synopsis

* * The following section may contain spoilers * *

By interpolating numerous memories and flashbacks, Moorcock tells the parallel story of Karl's troubled past in 20th century London, and tries to explain why he's willing to risk everything to meet Jesus. We learn that Karl has chronic problems with women, homosexual tendencies, an interest in the ideas of Carl Jung, and many neuroses, including a messiah complex.

The story begins with Karl Glogauer's violent arrival in the Holy Land of A.D. 28, where his time machine, a womblike, fluid-filled sphere, cracks open and becomes useless. The time machine lands in a wilderness area far to the southeast of Jerusalem. Sick from the travel and injured from the landing, Karl blacks out after he exits the vessel. He is carried to a cave and washed by strangers who witnessed his landing; he reads Aramaic well and has a limited knowledge of the spoken form of the language, so he is able to communicate with the men who found him. In response to his fumbling questions, however, the local men initially believe that Karl has told them that he is Jesus of Nazareth rather than that he is seeking Jesus of Nazareth. After correcting his rescuers on that point, Karl then lies to John the Baptist—who is described as the “virtual leader” of the Essenes in their cave-system township (p. 44 - 1st Avon Printing, 1970)—by trying to use a cover story that he is a traveler from Syria who has passed into Judea by way of Egypt, and saying that his name is Emmanuel (which is truly the first name of Karl’s father). John accepts Karl into the Essenes’ companionship initially because he appears to believe that Karl is a magician from Egypt.

Citing a need to pray for guidance concerning Karl’s disposition, John disappears for a month and orders the Essenes to keep Karl within the settlement during his absence. During the month, Karl begins to participate in both the work and religious practices of the sect, which maintains a record of the visions and miracles its members witness on a set of vellum scrolls. He comes to believe that though he is afflicted by a different type of insanity than the Essenes, his sanity is no stronger than theirs.

When John returns, it is immediately obvious to Karl that the Baptist had been checking social contacts to determine if Karl was a Roman spy. Conversing with John, Karl ascertains that it is 28 A.D., and that the crucifixion of Christ should take place within the year. He also ascertains that John is fomenting armed rebellion in Jerusalem as against Roman rule, with the rebellion being planned to occur during the next Passover. John asks Karl to baptize him—in a staged ceremony—to restore the then-flagging morale of the Essenes because the Essenes already regard Karl as an otherworldly prophet sent by Adonai.

As the staged baptism begins, Karl suffers a migraine and collapses into John, and then spontaneously asks John to baptize him instead, reversing the roles that they had planned to play. Largely unconscious of the remainder of whatever ritual was being played out at the riverside, Karl runs off into the desert, apparently having decompensated following the stress migraine in the river. Wandering dazed through the blazing, barren hills—and shredding his clothes and skin against the brambles—he hallucinates recollections of arguments with Monica, shouting his ripostes aloud to the desert. In this damaged and altered state, he stumbles from town to town in the region, seeking—and eventually finding—Nazareth.

When he arrives at the town, Karl’s reputation is as a madman. Identifying himself as a prophet, he is introduced to Joseph, Mary and Jesus, who are, respectively, a poor carpenter, his slatternly wife, and their blind, hunchbacked idiot son. Mary and Joseph fall into bickering before Karl, and reveal that Jesus was the product of Mary’s adultery. Karl flees for a few hours only to return and have sex with Mary while Joseph is away. Later, he finds refuge in a synagogue where he spends the next several weeks researching information about the Christ in its library; during his time there, the rabbis come to believe he is a holy prophet and eventually permit him to begin to read scripture during worship services. At this point, Karl assumes for himself the role of the historic Christ and begins to attract followers from among the Jewish community of Nazareth who believe he is the Messiah; it is noted that “(n)ot since his first weeks with Eva had he felt like this” (p. 128 - 1st Avon Printing, 1970). Further, “(i)t became a duty to himself to make Jesus a physical reality rather than the creation of a process of mythogenesis…his sense of identity grew increasingly more tenuous and was replaced by a different sense of identity…It was an archetypical role…to appeal to a disciple of Jung…that he must now play out to the very last detail” (p. 132 - 1st Avon Printing, 1970).

Wearing a white robe, Karl travels throughout the Dead Sea region, preaching and claiming to have performed miracles, with his followers in his wake; from among these, he selects an elect group of twelve men with whom he speaks his mind frequently and freely. When he is asked by an Essene to help John, who has been imprisoned by Herod and faces death, Karl refuses to help the Baptist, stating that it is God’s will that John cannot be saved. Following John’s beheading, Karl—whose personality is now almost completely sublimated to that of the Christ of his memory—repairs with his followers to the home of Simon—who Karl prefers to call “Peter”—in Capernaum, pronouncing prophesies about the fates of his followers and himself. In the spring, Karl/Christ begins traveling toward Jerusalem on a schedule and route that will allow him to reach the city by the Feast of the Passover. Two days before Passover, he makes arrangements to enter the city on the back of a donkey and to have Judas Iscariot deliver a message to the Romans after his—Karl’s—entry therein.

When he arrives in the city, he dismays John’s followers by refusing to aid them in an armed rebellion against the Romans. Judas, meanwhile, delivers his message to Pilate; the message is that Karl/Christ is claiming to be King of the Jews and fomenting insurrection and that the Pharisees, who distrust him, want him arrested. While Karl remains in a state of madness, the events of The Passion of Christ then begin to unfold in earnest under the time-traveler’s instigation and cultivation: Judas identifies him to the Romans with a kiss; he is tried under “an arbitrary mixture of Roman and Jewish law” (p. 154 - 1st Avon Printing, 1970); it is decided that he will be crucified so that he may be humiliated; he is dragged toward Golgotha wearing a crown of thorns and falls twice en route; at the crest, he is crucified while begging for mercy. As he dies, he hears Monica’s voice in his head telling him, “Martyrdom is a conceit” (p. 160 - 1st Avon Printing, 1970); his last phrase, repeated thrice, is, “It’s a lie” (ibid.). His body is then stolen by doctors for dissection while rumors spread among the general populace of Jerusalem that he has not died.

Interpretive Notes

  • The novel prominently features dialogued (or imaginary) debates between a character with a romantic personality who believes (or who wants to believe) that a human has a spiritual/supernatural aspect to its being and a character with a skeptical personality who rejects (or who wants to reject) such theories (or theologies) in favor of a more rational/realist conception of human nature. In BTM, Karl is the romantic and Monica is the realist (there is also an animus/anima aspect to their relationship).
  • Though The Eternal Champion amongst others identifies Karl as an aspect of the Eternal Champion, it is—in my opinion—critical to consider the character as also personifying an Eternal Victim; all of the EC series show Champion and Victim to be two mutable and reversible roles undertaken by a unitary entity within the length of a single lifetime and over the course of several lifetimes—which perhaps run concurrently rather than consecutively in the fractal, scaling schema of the multiverse—of the same unitary entity.
  • Assuming, arguendo, that Glogauer is intended to be an EC, the stories featuring him principally focus upon his awareness of himself as a victim—i.e., as a person shaped by his environment—rather than as a victor—i.e., as a person who shapes his environment. Behold The Man depicts the paradoxical character of such a person caught in a closed (literal and metaphorical) time-loop, while Breakfast In The Ruins illustrates the dynamic, yin-yang relationship between victor and victim, by means of a series of character studies that portray how a person who is a victor one day may be a victim the next, or how a people who are pitiful victims of mass crimes in one generation may become, over time, aggressors who perpetrate against others the same types of crimes that caused the debasement of their ancestors.
  • There is a paragraph in an old biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, describing the mythic character of the emperor, that reminds me of ideas that Glogauer’s persona—particularly the Glogauer of Breakfast—may have been drawn in part to depict, especially when that persona is viewed as being a component of the EC: Yet in spite of the prodigious amount of study that has been devoted to the man and his times, there is still little general agreement as to whether Napoleon is more important as a product and symbol—a victim, perhaps—of circumstances that were not of his making, or as a man who, pursuing his own destiny, shaped circumstances that governed the course of history. Like all great men, Napoleon was both, of course; but to a degree uncommon in other great men, he was also an opportunist who took circumstances as he found them and used them to his own ends…By his own confession his ultimate objectives were often not clear. In the final analysis it was his own destiny that mattered, and this he identified or confused with the destiny of civilization itself. As Madame de Stael observed, ‘he wanted to put his gigantic self in the place of mankind.’ J. Christopher Herold, The Horizon Book of The Age of Napoleon (Dell, © 1963, p. 7).
  • All 3 Karls (i.e., the Karls of the BTM novella, the BTM novel, and Breakfast in the Ruins) suffer from stress-induced migraine headaches, and experience a headache flare at a crucial point in each of their respective, principal storylines. Of course, all 3 are obsessive-compulsive neurotics as well, though the Karl of BITR—through the concurrent therapies of dreamtime travel and an intense, taboo-busting, gay sexcapade—seems to learn how to escape his neurotic past.
  • As noted above, the Glogauer of the full-length novel version of BTM experiences migraine stress attacks during which he has hallucinatory episodes wherein he imagines himself as other selves; such episodes may signal a mild schizoaffective disorder (as the psychotic breaks are experienced by a depressed person and are concurrent with acute episodes of anxiety) well in advance of the severe decompensation that Karl experiences in the desert after he has traveled to the era of Jesus the Christ. This quite important distinction from the character in the novella version of BTM also permits the reader of the novel version of BTM to infer that Glogauer’s dramatic time-travel experience is another of his migraine-induced schizoid fantasies, albeit one from which he should not be expected to awaken.
  • The Glogauer stories develop the idea begun in the Elric series that individuals may awaken the Eternal Champion in themselves (or perhaps summon the Champion to themselves) when they break with the reality they believe to be conventional to (i.e., commonly shared by) the immediate society in which they find themselves. Following that line of interpretation, perhaps all of the Champions are psychiatrically disabled, or the products of what are now commonly considered—at least in the post-Victorian/Freudian West—to be psychiatric disorders…

Mike Says

  • "Behold the Man wasn't inspired originally by religion but by demagoguery."[1]
  • "I'm not trying to attack other peoples' belief systems...I happen to have a fairly strong conviction in the existentialism in the mantra I wasn't. I am. I won't be. I also happen to believe that you might as well do your best to make the world a better place than you found it. And, given that I was raised in a predominantly Christian culture, I know that I am essentially a Christian, though I can't accept the supernatural element in that belief. Which is about all Behold the Man says, I guess."[2]
  • "To be honest, I never once thought of death threats or of giving offence, perhaps because I was raised in a secular background and taught myself most of what I know about religion (Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy was the best book on the subject I know -- respectful without going for any particular sect). And England's church attendances are dropping by thousands a week, apparently. It was an intellectual debate, a question of faith and all that. I had no intention of giving offence and it wasn't until the book was published in the US that I started getting the death threats. The aggressive nature of evangelical sects was something I thought of as belonging to the 19th century. I didn't realise that so much of America hadn't actually moved out of the 18th, let alone the 19th!"[3]
  • "Behold the Man was understood by many critics in England as a respectful examination of someone who needs to imitate Christ,as it were. But in the US it got me death threats from some quarters and seemed to give offense to the Baptists, who ar no doubt easily offended. Otherwise I got excellent reviews in both the Catholic and Jewish press of the time, as well as in the usual newspapers. There is something about Americans which means they get furious with someone who doesn't toe their particular line."[4]
  • "I've had death threats from Texas (though not as I recall from the Austin area where I live) and always made sure the threatener got their money and postage back, since they were clearly disappointed with what they bought. Behold the Man is the book they usually complain about. Hate to have a dissatisfied customer. I have had disturbed people influenced by my books as well as feeling threatened by them. I do my best to deal with that, since I actually do believe an artist has a certain responsibility, especially when dealing with the kind of material I deal with. But I despise the kind of authoritarian fundamentalist who uses God as a weapon rather than as an example. I'm always glad to tell them so."[5]

Notes

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