10 October 2010

Left Behind

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come

So I have been reading the first book of the Left Behind series, Left Behind. In case you're unfamiliar with these books, they're an imagining of the world after the Rapture; the Antichrist comes to rule, Mark of the Beast, etc. I assume (and so far this is true) that it will basically be the Revelation of St. John written out elaborately and badly.

The Rapture, of course, is the first step in dispensationalist Christian eschatology. Yes, there are many different versions of the end of the world, all depending on their interpretation. Christians have been waiting for the end of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God basically forever, since Christ kind of messed with his guys by describing the apocalypse then saying, "Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done." (Mark 13:30) Whoops, sorry folks!

So anyway the whole Rapture thing was shoe-horned into Christianity when Jesus' coming as the Jewish Messiah didn't fulfill Biblical prophecy. There were all kinds of things like Isaiah 26:19, which said that "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise." All war was supposed to end, all Jews would be repatriated, and everyone would be Jewish/Christian. But obviously those things haven't happened, despite Jesus' arrival as the heralded messiah. To make it right, subsequent generations of Christians decided that the messiah would come a second time and do all this stuff: the Second Coming. What a slacker.

The Left Behind books are all about the bad stuff between the vanishing of all righteous people and the Second Coming. And so far they are very religious but not very well-written. The most immediate and glaring flaw, right from the first chapter, is that apparently the authors (Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins) have some serious issues with naming. The two lead character are named Rayford Steele and Buck Williams. Now granted some people might have these names somewhere (and probably do) but... seriously?

On his way to work, Rex Throbbingrod looked at the tall building, musing, "That sure is a tall building." He wondered about how big the building was.
He bit into the apple. It was delicious, and the tart juice ran down his chin. He loved apples, and mused about it quietly. Why did he like apples so much? Was it because he thought they were delicious? That might be it, he decided.
Rex looked at the muskrat. It was furry. He smiled to himself and thought, "I see a muskrat, so I am thinking about it. Muskrat."

There are plenty of other flaws. For one thing, people only seem to be able to think about things immediately confronting them. When they're talking about something or watching something, they're thinking about it. Other than that, they do not seem very contemplative.

This actually goes along with a larger criticism: the characters have little resemblance to real people. The only parts that have any life to them are the brief passages of evangelical repentance or so on. Other than that, the characters behave like wooden marionettes of unusually poor construction.

For example: in the Rapture, many millions of people vanish. They never actually explain why, since it seems like really only a few million people in the United States and a few thousand elsewhere would be Raptured (did Jesus snatch up some Muslims and Buddhists?) but still, so it goes. This is terribly tragic, and the sudden vanishing of airplane pilots and truck drivers while mid-journey has had some predictable consequences of havoc; the character spend a third of the book dealing with the widespread disaster. And naturally, many people are upset and seeking spiritual solace. Even if they're bad Christians and didn't get Raptured, they're certainly brought back to the fold by such an event. Makes sense, right?

Except that they wait until Sunday.

Seriously. On 9/11, churches and blood drives were packed for a week. But when the Rapture happens and disaster strikes a thousandfold worse, the guy in charge of the church (an insufferable fellow named Bruce) is not sure - two days later - if anyone will show up for services that Sunday. It's like a butcher hearing about an outbreak of mad cow disease and deciding to stock up on extra ground chuck for the next day.

Another thing is that everyone loves phone conversations. Most authors use phone conversations sparingly, because they're a lazy way to do dialog and seem lazy. But not these guys. There's a lengthy conversation on the phone every chapter or two, with the series of back-and-forths broken up only by the occasional "he muttered" or "There was a silence on the line." It's the same amount of characterization you could express on an Etch-a-Sketch.

Further, the authors announce what's going to happen, and everyone else seems like they should know it, too. The moral message is spelled out in 124-pt. font but it doesn't seem like the characters of the book can read at all. The first time the Antichrist appears on television, this conversation ensues:

Chloe smiled. "So you're not going to start comparing him with the liar the pastor's tape warned us of, somebody from Europe who tries to take over the world?"
"Hardly," Rayford said. "There's nothing evil or self-seeking about this guy. Something tells me the deceiver the pastor talked about would be a little more obvious."

It's just painful to read. But it must have been really easy to write. Here, I can do it.

Lily laughed. "I know the scientist said that the cheese would be poisonous, but surely the Baron wouldn't have hidden cheese inside of something, right?"
"Of course not," Rex said manfully in a way that was totally the opposite of gay. "I don't think anyone would put cheese inside of a food. Here, have one of these sandwiches."

I now demand my degree in Biblical Dispensationalist Eschatological Theology.

1 comment:

  1. You're a braver man than I. I've read the blurb on a couple of the books and formed the impression they were merely a grossly extended version of your average Chick tract.