God is dead. “Died and fell into the sea.” That’s what Raphael, a despondent angel with luminous white wings and a blinking halo, tells Anthony Van Horne on his fiftieth birthday.
Soon Van Horne is charged with captaining the supertanker Carpco Valparaiso (flying the colors of the Vatican) as it tows the two-mile-long corpse through the Atlantic toward the Arctic, in order to preserve Him from sharks and decomposition. Van Horne must also contend with ecological guilt, a militant girlfriend, an estranged father, sabotage both natural and spiritual, a crew on (and sometimes past) the brink of mutiny, and greedy hucksters of oil, condoms, and doubtful ideas.
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A COMMENT BY THE AUTHOR
What especially energized me when composing Towing Jehovah was the opportunity to work within–and perhaps even to revive–an honorable but neglected literary tradition: the Sea Saga of Ideas. Whatever resonances of Moby Dick and The Sea Wolf the reader may detect are deliberate, and the novel is in many ways an homage to Conrad’s Lord Jim, updated in reference to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Instead of jumping off the Patna, Anthony Van Horne accidentally rams his ship into Bolivar Reef. Instead of trying to redeem himself through heroics in the Far East, he seeks salvation by according the Corpus Dei a decent burial in the Arctic.
The novel’s second major strand is the death-of-God theology so memorably articulated by Nietzsche and subsequently explored by various thinkers in the second half of this century. I was particularly intrigued by the way that, as the narrative unfolds, Anthony Van Horne’s cargo becomes a kind of three-dimensional Rorschach test. For radical feminists, a male Corpus Dei implicitly ratifies the patriarchy and must be blown out of the water. For the Catholic Church, God’s body is both a sacred trust and a thoroughgoing embarrassment; the sooner it’s secluded in its tomb, the better. For atheists and humanists, the corpse is no less of a scandal; if God is dead, then He once existed, and the secular worldview is therefore invalidated.
In this sense, Towing Jehovah evokes “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” the Hindu folk tale in which each member of a troupe of blind men reaches a different conclusion about the same pachyderm depending upon which part he encounters: trunk, tusk, tail, ear, leg, or side.
Reprinted from SFWA Bulletin
THE STORY IN BRIEF
Guilty over his role in a terrible oil spill, Anthony Van Horne visits the Cloisters in New York City, seeking absolution by bathing in the consecrated fountains. Suddenly, the archangel Raphael appears to him, bearing the news that God has died. His divine remains–a two-mile-long cadaver–lie floating off the coast of Africa. Raphael convinces Anthony to reassume his old command and tow the Corpus Dei to a tomb in the Arctic.
|Anthony succeeds in connecting his supertanker, the Carpco Valparaiso, to the great corpse, and the tow proceeds uneventfully. But then, as the crew members start to realize that God, being dead, is no longer watching, they descend into depravity. The situation builds to a crisis when an island rises out of the Gibraltar Sea, grounding theValparaiso. The mutinous sailors desert and, finding an ancient pagan temple, engage in a primordial orgy.|
|Eventually Anthony regains his authority over the ship’s company, convincing the sailors to dig the Valparaisofree of the island. No sooner has the voyage resumed than a new catastrophe arises. Hired by a band of militant atheists who can’t abide the idea that God once existed, the World War Two Reenactment Society attacks Anthony’s cargo with dive bombers and torpedo planes.|
|Will the Valparaiso and her captain survive the Second Battle of Midway? Will Anthony get God to His final resting place? Why did the Creator choose to bring the “theistic era” to an end? The answers lie in the final chapters ofTowing Jehovah.|
Paintings © Jon Weiman for unrealized serialization of Towing Jehovah in Amazing Stories. To reach the artist, contact
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
“It has been four years since James Morrow caused me untold embarrassment because I couldn’t stop laughing out loud, and long, while reading his Only Begotten Daughter on the commuter train. Now along comes Towing Jehovah, and he has done it all over again. The man defines fantasy. If Salman Rushdie had had Morrow’s light-handed sense of satire, he would be in demand for all the right reasons.”
“Towing Jehovah is the kind of book that might get Morrow stoned in a less secular country. Its satire can be described as Swiftian, encompassing high and very, very low comedy and inciting a number of uneasy laughs. Its targets include the Catholic Church, fast food, condom manufacturers, joyless rationalism, oil companies, and the films of Cecil B. DeMille. Morrow’s aim is unerring … Making fun of McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese or Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses is easy; but getting to the philosophical and psychological consequences of discovering God’s body takes more effort. Morrow is easily equal to the task, probing the many ways humankind might deal with profound ontological shock.
San Diego Union-Tribune
“James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah doesn’t have to take a back seat to any novel written in this century in terms of audacity … This is a book that should make everyone–from atheist to devout believer–think about things they never may have considered before.”
“In the past few years, James Morrow has made a career for himself as a master of seriocomic blasphemy, using the Bible as a springboard for leaps of antic imagination, rather than of faith … InTowing Jehovah, Morrow exercises his creative blasphemy with a concept that even he may not be able to top: the literal, physical death of God … About half-way into the book, when the already-decomposing corpse gets grounded for a time on a blatantly symbolic island, I had the uneasy feeling that author was losing control of the situation … But by the end, Morrow had won me over again, with his overall ability to maintain just the right balance between satire, pathos, philosophical/anthropological musings, and even a kind of mad beauty (well-served by his mastery of prose) …Towing Jehovah deserves to become a classic, to amuse and delight a host of readers well into the next century.”
“In his new novel, Towing Jehovah, Morrow sticks it to the Big Guy quite literally, though with enough wit and grace as to endear him to any but the most humorless Inquisitor … After reading Towing Jehovah, I had strange and disturbing dreams of a religious nature and was relieved to wake up and recall that, for now at least, the rumors of Yahweh’s demise are exaggerated, or at least unconfirmed. It’s a tribute to Morrow’s skill as novelist and amateur theologian that he could give even a dedicated agnostic a bad night’s sleep, by writing boldly about what our dear angels dread most.”
Science Fiction Age
“If God had a belly button, what was He attached to? Theological speculation on subjects like God’s pupik is one of the delightful offshoots of James Morrow’s new novel, Towing Jehovah. A master satirist, Morrow takes on Christianity with the same loopy fervor he applied to the Orwellian mediocrity of life in Veritas (City of Truth) and to nuclear annihilation and its aftermath (This Is the Way the World Ends) … Nothing is too sacred for Morrow, and his unique way with words makes Towing Jehovah an ironic, theatrical, absurd, and ultimately thought-provoking story about sin and redemption.”
The Thirteenth Moon
“It is a pleasure to watch as Morrow gleefully, and at times elegantly, flays the human race … Those who find religious satire blasphemous should avoid this book. It is important, however, to remember that Morrow is writing about the vices of man … Readers of Barth or Updike who haven’t yet discovered Morrow’s droll novels will find them very satisfying indeed.”
Washington Post Book World
“Towing Jehovah is an important book, perhaps the most important book the genre has produced since William Gibson’s Neuromancer. In one fell swoop it sets standards for vision and originality and sheer chutzpah.”
The Silver Web