How would you feel if you discovered you were of the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ? Would you want to use your powers for good, or for evil? Would you require sacrifices of your followers? If you were the king or prince of the world, how would you handle the duties and responsibilities inherent in the job description? Mark Christopher (Chris) Nix, a normal fourteen-year-old boy coming of age in the late 1960s, finds himself confronted with these issues and more in The Gospel of the Knife by Will Shetterly. It is the sequel to his critically-acclaimed novel, Dogland.
Compared favorably by some reviewers to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, itself a brilliant look at an America inhabited by the gods of many myths from many countries demanding sacrifices to stay alive and powerful, The Gospel of the Knife is a good, thought-provoking novel. However, IMHO, American Gods is the better of the two books, but comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Shetterly’s book is enjoyable, but the only way it compares at all with Gaiman’s novel is that it deals with a God that demands sacrifices and is jealous and vengeful.
So, is The Gospel of the Knife a Christian book that would appeal mostly to Christians? Or, does it deal with Christianity as a type of myth? Is it a fantasy that could have a broad appeal to people of all religious beliefs (and agnostics or atheists), or only to Christians? These are sticky sorts of questions about this novel, because it’s a little difficult to say which audience it’s written for. It is about potential messiahs and Jewish and Christian religious beliefs to an extent, which might lead one to believe it’s a book primarily for a Christian audience; but, on the other hand, there’s also a lot of swearing, some violence, and a brief R-rated sexual encounter between the then ninth-grader Chris and an eighth-grade girl, CC, on Halloween night in her backyard.
There are other problems some Christians would likely have with The Gospel of the Knife regarding, for instance, the section titled “The Gospel of the Knife.” There are two separate “Gods” depicted –Elah, or El, the creator of everything, and Yahu, the God of the Mountains. Jesus/Esu is, in this novel, the son of Yahu, who is not a very pleasant being much of the time. The Israelites in this account call him “the Lie.” Jesus/Esu tries to be good despite this, and Shetterly portrays him favorably, acting in opposition to Yahu for the benefit of mankind.
Since Satan, the Devil, is generally known as being the Father of Lies, this section, it should be easy to tell, will likely be antithetical to the beliefs of many Christians. Jews and Christians worship one God, not two, so saying that there are two Gods instead of that the two names were or are different names used for one God also will bother many. If one is an atheist or an agnostic, or a follower of another religion/philosophy, one may likely think of this book as a fantasy, though with a questionable interpretation of history, at best.
What are my personal feelings about the handling of various Biblical characters in this book? While I don’t agree with Will Shetterly’s interpretation of many things, in particular in the section called “The Gospel of the Knife,” I tried to disassociate myself as much as possible and regard the novel solely on its merits. It has actually many merits, and much to recommend it. I would say to me that the first section of the novel, entitled (like one of my favorite T.S. Elliot poems) “The Wasteland,” was my favorite part of the whole. It seems to be the most believable section and is really well-written.
“The Wasteland” is about Chris’s life as a pretty typical and rebellious fourteen-year-old. He has problems with bullies and thinks his father is too strict with him. Eventually, following an argument with his dad, Chris runs away from home and envisions hitching to San Francisco and living in a hippie commune. Picked up by people he assumes are fun-loving hippies or druggies in a flowered van, he’s disappointed when they turn out to be Jesus Freaks instead. One good thing about his being picked up by the Jesus Freaks is that it is in the van that he meets for the first time CC and starts a romance with her that continues throughout the novel.
The Gospel of the Knife is a novel that is well-written, though it may not appeal to people who might have a difficult or impossible time getting beyond their personal beliefs about Christianity and simply taking the book as what it is, fiction, and allowing themselves to enjoy a good read. I admit I had some issues with parts of the book, but “Big Whoop,” as one expression goes. I still liked it, though of the two books - this one and American Gods - I liked the latter more. If you like fantasy novels dealing with gods and religious beliefs, and are open-minded enough, I recommend The Gospel of the Knife. It is a thought-provoking book that will keep your interest whatever your religious leanings.