Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Left Behind”

Dear Frank,

The bullets I take for you keep getting bigger and bigger, but I don’t know how I’m going to top the first book in the Left Behind series, because this insanely popular global phenomenon (16 books! 25 bajillion copies sold! at least sixty souls saved!) is just… Just… Oh, I lack the words at this moment.

But let’s make something clear up top — I’m not anti-religion in the slightest. What I am is anti-bigotry, anti-ignorance, anti-hatred and anti-judgment (except when it comes to shitty media). This keeps me at odds with most contemporary Christian denominations, especially ones that seem to really enjoy reading a poorly-written Tom Clancy-esque rendition of the Rapture unfolding on Earth.

(Yes, I am aware of the feature film starring Kirk Cameron, and that it would be far easier for me to watch that awful movie as opposed to reading this awful book. But the born-again version of Kirk Cameron weirds me the fuck out. Fun party game, Frank: Doing his Way of the Master “Are you a good person?” quiz with friends. “Okay, who here has lust in their hearts?”)

Writers Tim LaHaye (the guy in charge of the Bible stuff) and Jerry B. Jenkins (the guy in charge of the writing stuff) kick things off with a truly sanctimonious dedication to two women “who ensured we would not be left behind.” Then we’re meeting Rayford Steele (sigh), an airplane pilot with a happy nuclear family but lust in his heart for his hottie lead flight attendant Hattie.

Rayford’s lust isn’t his fault, though. It’s his wife’s fault, because recently she’s become a hardcore born again Bible-thumper and that’s a real turn-off for him. (NOT MAKING THIS UP THIS IS HOW HE REALLY FEELS.)

Oh, but Rayford’s not a God-less atheist or anything. He just thinks “God is OK” and that his casual approach to faith won’t fuck him over when the Rapture comes. Whoops!

Because then the Rapture happens, on page 16, while Rayford’s flying his international airplane to Europe and musing about how deep he wants to bury his bone in Hattie. (Sorry, the more puritanical the literature, the dirtier my mind gets.)

Oh, before then, we got some flashbacks to some crazy Biblical shit that was happening in Israel, courtesy of Buck the Ace Reporter, who’s flying first-class because he’s a member of the Godless media. But right now let’s just stay focused on how a hundred passengers have just disappeared off the airplane, leaving their clothes behind, and that the world below is in chaos.

It takes Rayford four pages to figure out that his wife was totally right about the Rapture and that he’s been left behind. Way to keep the mystery alive, duder. By the way, this is one of those books where everyone’s referred to by their full names on pretty much every occasion. And it’s not Ray, it’s Rayford. Boy I’m glad I don’t have a gun right now.

It’s on page 19 that the weird dilemma of Left Behind becomes apparent. Because the thing is, now that all the saved people have fled the mortal plane and apocalypse is upon us, the only characters in the book are unclean and unchosen. Yet, in theory, for this to be at all engaging (the way that it clearly is to some — seriously, can actual numbers count how many copies of these books have been sold?), we have to be able to emphasize with these characters at least a little, for many many more books. It’s an interesting challenge Messrs. LaHaye and Jenkins have set forth for themselves.

(Spoiler alert: They pretty much fail.)

Post-Rapture, there’s the expected looting and freaking out amongst those God screwed over. Suicides are common. But not Rayford! For one thing, he’s getting a helicopter ride back to his suburban Chicago home (with Hattie on his lap — hoo boy!), and he’s also got an unsaved college-age daughter named Chloe waiting for him. Alas, his wife and young son have flown the coop.

Cut back to Ace Reporter Buck, who’s hot on the case of what caused this — and who’s been told by his editor that a bunch of international Jewish organizations have been meeting recently and maybe that’s the cause. WHO DOES’T LOVE A JEWISH CONSPIRACY? Topical Rick Sanchez reference!

Hattie’s off trying to track down her family, Rayford’s moping about how his son and wife are gone, and Buck’s getting the scoop on the Anti-Christ Nicolae Carpathia (sigh), a Romanian politician who’s emerged on the world stage as a calming figure for the panicked. The Anti-Christ Nicolae Carpathia gets the approval of The World’s Most Important Jew, Chaim Rosenzweig (sigh), so he must be good news, right?

I take it back. I wish I had a gun.

Oh, especially after Buck says, re: religion, “The Jews hate Jesus.” WHAT? This is in the course of a big Buck section about the world switching to a single currency and streamlining all finances, to make it easier for an individual to take it over — like, say, the Anti-Christ Nicolae Carpathia? YET MORE SPOILERS, FRANK!

Then we get back to feeling sad about how all the kids everywhere got Raptured, and Rayford (fuck it, Rayford is the stupidest name ever, I’m calling him Ray now) is reading the Bible, and I’ll be honest with you, Frank, I’m now pretty much just flipping through the pages in the hopes of getting through this faster.

Ray’s daughter Chloe shows up after taking a bunch of planes from Stanford to Chicago, and the two of them fight over whether or not Jesus took Mom on a joyride to Heaven. (Because Chloe is a young woman, she is clearly on the wrong side of this fight.) But then Ray and Chloe watch a videotape (1995!) made for people left behind, and a whole lot of Jesus talk later Ray has accepted Christ as his savior and accepted what’s happened to the world. Chloe’s pretty skeptical, though, and the only thing that keeps me from liking her is the fact that I’m sure this won’t last.

Oh fuck me freddy I’m only halfway through this. Okay, Buck’s trying to investigate the Jewish conspiracy, despite the occasional assassination attempt. Ray wants to convert Hattie, while playing things cool with her heart because he feels guilty about wanting to bang her in those heady pre-page 16 days. Hattie is sad about how her abortion counselor sister is out of work. Flying Spaghetti Monster, this gets worse and worse…

Buck finally meets the Anti-Christ Nicholae Carpathia, who’s so charming and suave and reassuring and vaguely resembles a young Robert Redford (so sayeth LaHaye and Jenkins, anyway)!

He’s so smooth and reassuring that Buck’s boss Steve goes to work with him as a press agent, leaving Buck to take over running the Global Weekly Jewish Conspiracy Rag.

There’s a bit of a love triangle here, btw, between Buck, Hattie and Ray. Except that Buck’s trying to woo Hattie with an introduction to now world-famous the Anti-Christ Nicholae Carpathia, while Ray’s totally over trying to bang her, but wants to save her immortal soul. Frank, just a tip — one of these approaches works on girls in the real world, and one of them doesn’t. Hopefully, you can figure it out on your own.

In the Left Behind world, however, Hattie gets turned off Buck because of this stunt, but that’s okay because Buck’s just fallen madly in love with Chloe (who he meets because he wants to interview Ray for some reason). RAPTURE = GETTING A SHOT AT HOT YOUNG BABES. That is what we’re all learning today.

This leaves Hattie free for Ray to scoop her up with the classic line “I’m sorry I nearly adulterated with you and I want you to consider becoming born again.” She’s into it, AT LEAST FOR NOW.

Meanwhile, Chloe is so touched by all the stuff Ray says in his interview with Buck about the Bible predicting the end of the world that she finally converts! Oh, and she’s totally into Buck too! Double hooray!

And get ready for the double-plus hooray — Buck has figured out that Nicholae Carpathia is (gasp!) the Anti-Christ. So he and Chloe and Ray, affirmed in their belief that world events are echoing what the Bible predicted (go Bible!), decide to start a secret Green Beret organization to fight Carpathia and remain pure in the coming days of fire. Seriously, the Green Berets are the reference point, though there’s no word as to whether or not they’ll wear fancy hats.

But they’re not all one big happy family — the Anti-Christ Nicholae Carpathia has not only taken over all the world governments and revealed himself privately as evil, but he’s gotten Hattie to join his side. (That is the one major hazard of the introduce-the-hottie-to-a-famous-person wooing plan, btw.) This looks like a job for the Tribulation Force! In the sequel, that is. Because this book is over. Happy sigh.

Fun fact, Frank: In the course of writing this, I did my very best to avoid taking the Lord’s name in vain, because for some reason it felt wrong to do so. Like rubbing salt in the wound, I suppose. Because man oh man. If there is a God, He deserves better fiction than this.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on October 18, 2010, in All the Spoilers, Books and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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