Earlier this week, I attended a discussion between Booker Prize winning author Salman Rushdie and fairy tale scholar Maria Tatar about Rushdie’s latest children’s novel, Luka and the Fire of Life.
Rushdie, famous for the controversy created by his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, has long been known for writing about religion and faith in various contexts. In Luka, a not quite sequel to Rushdie’s prior children’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, 12 year old Luka embarks on a quest to find the Fire of Life and save his father.
Asked about his use of gods in literature and Luka, the British novelist—and knight—had a few interesting things to say:
“[The] great pantheons were once living religions. The Greek gods were once the religion of Greece, the Roman gods ditto, and the Norse gods the same and the Aztec gods the same and so on. And they had priests and temples and no doubt inquisitions and the whole apparatus of a church. Which doesn’t attract me. But when people stop believing in [these gods] literally, they become available to us to believe in in a much more interesting way, which is in the way that we believe in literature. We find in them the truth that we find in literature rather than the truth that some priest has once told us…and the reason why I’ve always been more interested in polytheisms than monotheisms is because they’re so much more novelistic.
The monotheisms don’t have nearly such good stories. And also they’re tediously moralizing. The great, great thing about these ancient pantheons is that the gods are not moral. You know? The gods don’t say do as we do, because they behave very badly all the time. The gods are lustful and greedy and vengeful and petty and and and spiteful and malicious and capricious and stupid and they are, in other words, just like us, you know, only much, much bigger and therefore they could be just like us on a bigger scale. And so it seems to be that what interests me about them is, if you like, their human characteristics, not as some kind of repository of spirituality but as a repository of human nature…and they show us ourselves, projected onto each other and I like the idea of gods that don’t behave well, you know? [They’re] so much more enjoyable than preachy gods.”
Do you agree with Rushdie? Do you enjoy the novelistic quality of Greek gods, and other polytheistic religions?