By Charlene Brusso
Arthurian legend has had a lasting impact upon western literature and fantasy fiction in particular. Over the last decades an immense number of writers have explored the Arthurian mythos in a variety of different ways. This week, Charlene Brusso examines a recent book that explores a conjunction of Arthurian and Christian stories in a modern setting.
The Book Of Joby
Mark J. Ferrari
Tor (638 pp, $15.95, Aug 2007)
Reviewed by Charlene Brusso
Ferrari draws themes from two of the most best-known sources in Western literature – the Bible and Arthurian legend – for this first novel about a modern-day Job. Cheerful, good-hearted nine-year-old Joby Peterson, one of God’s most beloved, lives and breathes stories about King Arthur and the brave Knights of the Round Table. (Little does Joby know, but he’s really a reincarnation of King Arthur. And his best friend is Lancelot, and the sweet neighbor girl down the street is Guinevere, too).
Unfortunately the boy’s joy and innocence make him the fall guy when God agrees to “the same stupid bet,” the latest of many, with Lucifer. Lucifer thinks free will is the most idiotic thing God has ever thought up, and he’s determined to get rid of it once and for all. God agrees to let the fallen angel destroy humanity and recreate it according to Satan’s plan, if Lucifer can make beloved Joby renounce God.
According to the rules, Lucifer can do anything he wants to Joby, and God may not interfere -though this leaves a loophole most readers will see immediately: there’s no rule against God’s angels, including old Merlin, Joby’s grandfather, lending the kid a subtle hand up from time to time.
Joby’s life, like that of his namesake Job, goes from happy to miserable. Lucifer’s minions convince Joby that God doesn’t want him to fight back against the bullies who torment him, leaving the boy open to near-constant accusations of not being “man enough.” Joby’s father, fearing that his son is homosexual, even tries to beat some manliness into him. Joby’s shining memories of childhood, and most of his friendships, are lost in a tortured adolescence and adulthood.
Eventually Joby finds his way to the quiet, lovely Northern California community of Taubolt, his grandfather’s hometown. In Taubolt Joby finds some peace, for the town is actually the secret hiding place of the Holy Grail, shielded from Lucifer’s minions by Merlin. When Lucifer learns both Joby and the Grail are there, he orders his minions to destroy not only Joby but Taubolt itself. Apocalyptic fireworks ensue.
Thematically, the novel sticks close to the original Book of Job, dressing the story in modern garb while avoiding the question of why God would subject someone he claims to love to such torture – a problem readers have found with the Book of Job since the beginning. Instead, Joby remains persecuted on a deity’s whim, convinced he’s done something horribly wrong – especially when faced with the large-scale collateral damage to friends, family, and others who’ve been killed or have had their lives ruined along the way.
Lucifer is the CEO from Hell, of course, while God is a cosmically powerful slacker who says he’s grown out of dramatic tantrums like “that stunt with the comet” that destroyed the dinosaurs, now preferring more subtle manipulation. The addition of elements cherry-picked from a very Christianized version of Arthurian legend fails to add resonance. This is a novel which could have broken new ground in fantasy, but instead remains well within traditional bounds.