The Robe a Three-Year Bestseller

Easter CrossRather than  post the list of 1943 bestsellers I’ve slated for review, since today is Easter on the Christian calendar,  it’s perhaps appropriate to mention a novel related to the events of Holy Week.

I first reviewed The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas on the 50th anniversary of its first appearance on the bestseller list, which was in 1942. The novel not only stayed on the list a second year, but rose from seventh place in 1942 to first place in 1943.

In 1953, The Robe made a comeback, again hitting the top spot on the bestseller list, as the film version of the novel appeared in movie theaters with Richard Burton in the role of Marcellus Gallio, the Roman centurion who presides over Christ’s crucifixion.

A novel that makes the bestseller list three years out of 11—and two of those in the number one spot—deserves rereading if for nothing more than the novelty. However, I think you’ll find the story worth your time.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Robe’s still good fit for Biblically literate

Easter Cross

The Robe is Lloyd C. Douglas’s most famous novel and perhaps his best.

For insulting the emperor’s stepson, the young tribune Marcellus Gallio is sent to Minoa (Gaza). In Jerusalem on security detail, Marcellus’ unit crucifies Jesus. Marcellus wins the robe Jesus wore.

Bother Marcellus and his slave, Demetrius, are convinced Jesus was innocent. Both men become converts.

Demetrius rescues the woman Marcellus loves from the clutches of the new Emperor, Caligula, and all three head back to Rome. Diana is skeptical of Christianity, but stands by her man.

The story is far more complex and exciting than my summary suggests. Douglas weaves ancient history and Bible stories into his narrative skillfully. The ogres of Roman history appear, as do the martyrs of the early church:  Peter, John, and Stephen.

Few writers can pull off a historical novel without bogging down in history. Douglas does it superbly.

However, I’m afraid even regular church-goers nowadays lack the Biblical knowledge to understand big chunks of The Robe. Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to appreciate Douglas as a storyteller.

As a rule, I don’t like religious novels and off-the-shelf characters bore me, but I enjoyed The Robe anyway. Maybe you will, too.

The Robe
Lloyd C. Douglas
Houghton Mifflin, 1942
508 pages
#7 in 1942, #1 in 1943

Photo credit: “Easter Cross” uploaded by Watford

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Nazarene Is Bizarre

As you can tell from the title, Sholem Asch’s The Nazarene is a retelling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth.

If you have read any of the novels dealing with the religious history of the period, you will expect to find the story told by a fictional unbeliever who is an eye-witness to the events related in the gospels.

Asch is true to type there.

What he does that’s totally unexpected — and thoroughly bizarre — is to have the story told by two narrators. Both are first century characters whose souls are transmigrated to 1930s Warsaw.

The one narrator, Pan Viadomsky, is a Catholic nutcase who has been mixed up in all kinds of religious frauds. Pan believes he is the Roman Centurian who supervised the crucifixion.

The other narrator, a devout Jew who helps Pan Viadomsky translate a Hebrew manuscript, comes to realize he was a pupil of Rabbi Nicodemus in a previous life.

The plot reads like the creation of inmates at an insane asylum.

Asch’s  prose plods with elephantine grace. The paragraphs are sometimes a page long. The novel goes on, and on, and on.

I suggest you go on without it.

The Nazarene
By Sholem Asch
Trans. Maurice Samuel
G. P. Putnam’s 1939
697 pages
1940 # 5
My Grade: C-
© 2009  Linda Gorton Aragoni