Thursday, November 30, 2017


A few  days ago, when I posted about re-reading Good Omens, my Facebook friend Jayna pointed out its similarity to J.B., the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Archibald McLeish.

As it happens, I read that play back in college and was quite moved by it. And what's more, fifty-some years later, I still have my copy -- with notes in the loopy backhand I affected at the time.

J.B. is an interpretation of the Book of Job -- one of the most beautifully poetic, as well the most perplexing (not to say downright annoying) books of the Old Testament. MacLeish uses elegant blank verse and a spare stage setting to tell the story -- setting it in the modern day (Job becomes J.B., a wealthy banker) and allowing God  (Mr. Zuss) and the Devil (Nickles) to comment and argue on the action.

And what a story it is! I have a vague feeling that I might have seen it performed while I was in college but I'm not sure -- just reading it with the stage directions brings it vividly to life. The poetry reads easily -- lots of internal rhyme and alliteration make it poetic but still allow it to sound like natural speech.

The dilemma remains -- why does God allow the Devil to inflict suffering on this "perfect and upright man" (not to mention his wife and children) -- and MacLeish, while not solving the dilemma, at least offers a pretty good attempt at dealing with it.

Just as Good Omens led me to J.B., now I'm thinking I need to reread the Book of Job (King James Version, of course -- nothing can touch it for poetry.) 

Where wast thou
When I laid the foundations of the earth...

When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for

And then maybe I'll give Robert Heinlein's irreverent JOB: A Comedy of Justice a re-read - it's on my shelf too...


Barbara Rogers said...

See what happens when you've got hours to read, instead of plant, weed, and harvest! Enjoy! I once tried reading a book about the authors of the King James Bible! (It got really dense and I kind of skipped a bit at the end.)

Sandra Parshall said...

Long ago, I read a book callec Sing, Morning Star, and now I can’t recall a thing about it except the title. I’ll have to look it up.

Anvilcloud said...

Job is a weird book within a weird book. :)

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I saw J. B. years and years ago, and was captivated by the language and the sound of it. At that time, I didn't realize who Priestley was, and I didn't realize the dialogue was in blank verse. No wonder it sounded so lyrical, so musical, and so moving. Thanks for enlightening me.