Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Left Behind: Crappy Apocalypse


OK. I read the first "Left Behind" book, the mid-nineties apocalyptic end-of-the-world serial for right-wing evangelicals. I was stuck in an airport.

The writing - by right-wing kooks Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins- is terrible. Really really bad. Bad. But one thing I’ll say for it - they knows they're crummy writers, so they don't aim for any effects they can’t pull off. Mostly, they aim low and hit half the time. But the book keeps moving. You can see it coming a mile off, the characters are cardboard cut-outs, they speak to each other as if they learned to communicate by watching TV, but hey it moves. There are no long asides to describe architecture or someone's childhood traumas. The authors know we don't care and we're waiting for planes.

(Example of the crappy writing: a young reporter is nicknamed 'Buck' because - he bucks the system. He bucks convention. So people call him Buck. Really.)

The book proselytizes to this very specific brand of end-times born again Christianity. Interesting though, because a lot of what it reveals are the political prejudices of these folks. The Antichrist is an East European (they’d never be so crass as to make him Jewish or a member of an easily identifiable ethnicity) whose vehicles for world domination are - the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other targets of right wing paranoia. The Antichrist preaches peace and disarmament. That's how you know he's the Antichrist. Good Christians need guns.

The writing is too incompetent to really describe something – so the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia (he’s from the Carpathian Mountains, just like Dracula!) is always described as being ‘handsome like Robert Redford,’ ‘passionate,’ ‘articulate,’ ‘with a photographic memory,’ and People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive,’ not to mention he somehow manages to become President of Romania and Secretary General of the UN in about – I don’t know – two weeks. He gives a speech where what really impresses people is his ability to recite a list of all two hundred UN members in alphabetical order without missing one – and this is what impresses everyone so much they make him Secretary General. And then they hand over all their weapons. So, theoretically any competent soap actor with a good memory and six hours to kill could take over the world.

But I digress. All my snarky bile aside, clearly the Left Behind books are not to be looked at as models for fiction. That's obviously not what the creators are interested in. They’re interested in scaring the crap out of people so they’ll turn to Jesus. It’s the “Love God, or He’ll kill you” method of evangelizing, Isaiah by way of Stephen King.

And yet – I breezed through four hundred pages waiting for planes this weekend. Because after a while I realized – any important point is going to be repeated eighteen times –so I don’t have to pay attention! And I wouldn't miss my boarding call! I whipped thru 400 pages rolling my eyes and gazing in slack jawed wonder at the craptastic nature of it all.

Does God really need such crappy fiction to get His word out? Shitty cliche-ridden, lazy prophecy?

If something is worth doing, isn’t it worth doing well?

And does it matter if it sells 100 million copies?

7 comments:

David D. said...

That all sounds HILARIOUS. And terrifying. I think you should collect the whole series and make it your airport reading for the next year or two. We need you on that wall. And then, at the end, write a play in that same genre. YOUR Pop Apocalypse Play. I would pay to see that.

David Johnston said...

And hey - you can now buy the 10th anniversary edition!

Seriously, though - like Dorothy Parker said...not a book that can be put down, but rather needs to be hurled with great force.

Connor said...

Hi. Your entry makes me wonder (and doubt) if you have actually read Isaiah. Are you educated in the bible or one of the people who uses their notion of the bible (like the authors Left Behind) to their own purposes? There is some remarkable prophecy and poetry in the book. Check it out.

Left Behind is a dangerous tool of the right wing. Your blog entry no less so. Be smart, sir.

David Johnston said...

Yes, Connor, I've read Isaiah. I don't claim to understand all of it, but yes, it's got some wonderful poetry and imagery in it.

Am I educated in the Bible? I'd say I'm familiar with it, and trying to educate myself.

My blog entry is a dangerous tool of the right wing -as dangerous as the Left Behind series, which as sold tens - if not hundreds of millions - of copies? You give me a great deal of credit, sir. But I somehow don't think it is. Thanks for chiming in.

Lovelady said...

"Left Behind."

I am aghast.

Even THAT you'll read before you even open the cover of an Ayn Rand novel...

I'm so ashamed...

TD said...

Great review, David! I've wondered what those books were like.

Now, didn't they make this into a movie with Kirk Cameron? Or am I thinking of another classic of the evangelical apocalyptic fiction genre? =)

David Johnston said...

Ayn Rand sits on my shelf, Lovelady, mocking me and my liberal tendencies. I can hear her laughter late at night as I read the New Yorker.

I think there might be a movie. I dunno. Kirk Cameron sounds about right. I assume he would be 'Buck.'