Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Meet Ryan Daley

And now we meet the last member of the Young Trib Force, the youngest and currently least interesting, Ryan Daley.

Sorry, but I'm having a really hard time snarking this chapter. It's just that boring.

Ryan, like everyone else in this book, lives in Mount Prospect and has friends who go to New Hope Village Church. Now a lesser writer would attempt to show the globe-spanning consequences of this disaster by doing it from different perspectives around the world, like say, Yanomani in the jungles of South America or a Masai in Kenya, but Jerry Jenkins is far above such lesser writers and decides not to frighten his audience by sticking to what's familiar to them: white suburbia.

Now to be fair, it is possible to convey world-spanning consequences with a relatively small cast of characters but it still feels like a Cozy Catastrophe as TV tropes would put it.

Anyway, Ryan is bestest buds with Raymie Steele.

[tangent] Again, why is he nicknamed Raymie and not Rayfie since he's supposed to be Rayford, Jr.[/tangent]

Anyway, they like to hang out at Ryan's house when his parents aren't home, which is totally against the rules, but one day Raymie doesn't want to go and this conversation ensues.

"Well you're not supposed to have anybody over without one of your parents there, right?"

"Hello!" Ryan said. "We've been breaking that rule for a long time. My mom never even suspected."

Now, I must confess this seems a minor sin. I know Ellanjay are going for the whole "Honor thy mother and thy father" approach and this is disobedience but I can't help but remember that when I was twelve, I could stay home by myself if I wanted. Anyway, whatever your view of their sinning may be this hardly seems worth being tortured for seven years over.

Well the two have a conversation and Raymie tries to get his friend to convert to no avail. But Ryan does get to overhear bedroom conversation between Irene and Rayford Steele. Surprisingly, he's not creeped out by it.

"Can you imagine, Rafe?" she was saying, "Jesus coming back to get us before we die?"
Ryan heard the rattle of a newspaper. Mr. Steele said, "Yeah, boy, that would kill me."
Now Mrs. Steele sounded mad. "If I didn't know what would happen to me I wouldn't be so glib about it."

Yes, isn't it wonderful? Jesus is coming to slaughter us all.

And with that cheery note, I leave you until Sunday when we finally get to the actual story.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Meet Lionel Washington

Jerry Jenkins can't write convincing rebellious teenagers. That much is a given. With the exception of Vicki, so far none of these characters ring true, and Vicki is receiving more sympathy than Ellanjay probably thinks she deserves. But for those who think his portrayal of Judd was bad, you haven't lived until you've read his portrayl of Lionel.

Lionel is black and even less rings true about his character than with Judd. This whole passage reads like a middle-aged white man's attempt to channel what it's like to have friends in the projects, yo.

And it is here I must make another confession: I am white. Therefore, I'm afraid I don't know much about black culture either, but I recognize bad writing and hopefully that'll be enough.

I'm going to refer quite a bit to James Baldwin here. James Baldwin was a great writer, far greater than Jerry Jenkins could ever hope to aspire, but I have a feeling Baldwin's works aren't required reading in RTC households. Here's a small example of this man's works. If you haven't read any of him, you should.

If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.

"Letter from a Region of My Mind" in The New Yorker (17 November 1962); republished as "Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind" in The Fire Next Time (1963)

Lionel didn't like the changes in his mind and body as he became a teenager. It was too strange. He found himself thinking more. He thought about everything.

And that's Lionel's cardinal sin according to Ellanjay: he thinks instead of mindlessly swallowing whatever the church tells him. Never mind that even Mary pondered the Lord's words in her heart.

He spends a lot of time thinking about his Uncle Andre, the bad seed of the family.

Uncle Andre was a great storyteller. He loved to regale the family with exaggerated tales that made them all laugh. He told the stories in a high-pitched whine, making up new things as he went along, and each story grew funnier each time he told it. He would throw his head back and grab his belly and laugh until he could barely catch his breath. Tear would stream along his face until everyone else laughed right along.

Once again, Jerry Jenkins doesn't provide us with an example of one of these tales which is probably a good thing. I'd hate to see what he considers funny then try to imagine it being told in a high pitch whine.

So anyway even though they live in Mount Prospect like every other character, at least they don't attend New Hope Village Church. This gives a little broadening of the narrow-minded views of the PMD. They're willing to allow a stereotypical black church into the fold, but they don't really give us a clear picture of this church because they have only the vaguest of notions about it.

But anyway Lionel and Andre have a conversation where they both confess they're not christians. Andre's been pretending for years, playing the classic gambit where he gets in trouble than comes up during the altar call, but with Lionel, it's harder to see what his sins are. So far, all he's done is be quiet and introspective about his faith, but once again we run into that wall where imagination is a sin and so is contemplation. Also, if their sister/mother Lucinda is supposed to be so smart, why hasn't she figured out that they're faking it? What does being a good Christian mean when it seems anyone can fake it and fool fellow Christians?

I will end with another James Baldwin quote which seems frighteningly appropriate.

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death--ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Meet Vicki Byrne

Our next protagonist, and my current favourite, is Vicki Byrne. Vicki is currently my favourite character not because we're both chicks, I'm not that shallow, but because right now she's being the voice of reason. A shaky one, but still she currently rings more true than Judd "I'm too sexy for my parents" Thompkins.

Of course, though, I have a sickening feeling that Vicki exists solely to pull in girl readers and soon enough, she'll be made into a proper Stepford wife as soon as she's saved.

Anyway, Vicki lives in a trailer park and is described like this.

Vicki Byrne was fourteen and looked eighteen. Tall and slender, she had fiery red hair and had recently learned to dress in a way that drew attention, from girls and guys. She liked leather. Low cut black boots, short skirts, flashy tops, lots of jewelry, and a different hair style almost every day.

So right now, Vicki falls into the Whore dynamic in the Madonna-Whore complex. I'm picturing Kristen Stewart from The Runaways movie playing her part. I keep waiting for her to start singing "Cherry Bomb" but if LaHaye and Jenkins heard that song, I think their heads would explode.

She was tough. She had to be. Other kids at school considered kids who lived in trailer parks lower class. Vicki's friends were her "own kind," as her enemies liked to say. When she and her trailer park neighbors boarded the bus on Vicki's first day of high school, they quickly realized how it was going to be.

If this was written by a true master of young adult literature, like say Katherine Paterson, we would delve deep into the culture of the trailer park and its inhabitants and get a clear picture of where they live. But as said before, LaHaye and Jenkins consider imagination to be a sin and want to make sure the readers don't identify with Vicki too closely.

Anyway, when Vicki was twelve, her parents got God. Before than they'd been the classic drinking, carousing stereotype of trailer trash. But at one of the trailer park dances, they got religion.

Basically what happened was this: some guy invited a preacher to talk. Jenkins describes it as this:

The man launched into a very fast, very brief message that included verses from the Bible and a good bit of shouting. Vicki had been to church only once with a friend and she had no idea what he was talking about. She was struck, however, that everyone, even the bartenders and musicians, seemed to stop and listen. No one ran around, no one spoke, no one moved.

That last part is clearly set in Fantasyland. In real life, if at a dance, someone stopped the music so some guy could preach, the poor preacher would get a beer bottle thrown at him or her.

Also, one of the curious things about these books is the lack of preaching. You go into a Left Behind book expecting to read long sermons, but there's none of that here. Not that long sermons would improve the book, but if you're going to describe the characters as being on fire for God, it might be helpful to show what ignited that fire and what God is.

Anyway, Vicki's father and mother receive Jesus and we get this conversation.

"I want to quit smoking and drinking, Dawn," he said, as Vicki came in. "I want to clean up my whole act.
"Now, Tom," Vicki's mother cautioned, "nobody says you can't be a Christian if you smoke and drink. Let's find a good church and start living for God and let him do the work in our lives."

At least they somewhat acknowledge that you don't have to be a teetotaler in order to be a Christian. As the saying goes, "The church is a waystation for sinners, not a country club for saints." It may not be much, but it is progress of sorts for Ellanjay.

But Vicki's not convinced. And why should she be? No doubt, she's heard these kinds of promises before.

"I'll tell you what I bet," Vicki said. "I bet you'll be drinking and cussing and fighting and losing your job again."

And with that quote, I want to shout "Brava!" to Vicki. Again if what we can tell, Vicki has endured years of abuse at the hands of her parents. I can understand perfectly why she would be skeptical of any promises made by them.

But in Ellanjay's universe, skepticism of any kind is a cardinal sin and no doubt, they have quite the punishment in store for Vicki.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meet Judd Thompkins, Jr.

Jerry Jenkins is a hack.

If you don't come away with anything from these posts, come away with this knowledge: Jerry Jenkins is a hack.

LaHaye is also but I'm picking on Jenkins more because I have a feeling he does more of the heavy lifting and toting involved with these books.

Judd is our first of four protagonists and like all characters in a hack novel, he is broadly sketched.

I have a feeling that Jenkins thought that writing kids' books equals easy. After all, kids don't have the life experience and the vocabulary that adults do. So all you have to do to write a kids book is dumb down the language and halve the age of the characters, right?

Wrong. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, writing a children's book may be even harder than writing for adults, because the writer has to stretch his or her imagination more in order to fully get in the mindset of someone younger, whose life experiences may not match up with his or hers.

Anyway our first protagonist, with the porn-style name, is a rebel. What he's rebelling against is never stated due to failure of imagination. This whole section reads like a goody-good brown-noser's attempt to channel one of the foul-mouthed partiers in the back of the class. Nothing about this character rings true.

Another problem, which keeps this from being good adult literature, is that Jenkins is bending over backwards to make this be good Christian literature. That means no matter how bad these "bad" kids may be, they're not going to do anything really bad. Therefore, when we learn about these kids and their so-called sins, we're disappointed. To paraphrase what Fred Clark said about Bruce Barnes, the kids in this series commit and confess to a series of petty sins but not the sin of pettiness itself, of living a numb, meaningless life.

But then again, these aren't round, fully developed characters we're dealing with in this book. Judd, Vicki, Lionel, and Ryan exist solely to be upheld as examples, a sneering "Be good or this will happen to you." Therefore, there's no chance that they can become real and take on a life of their own because the authors won't allow it.

Anyway, here's Judd's sins.

Judd felt like he'd outgrown church. It had been OK when he was a kid, but now nobody wanted to dress like he did, listen to his kind of music, or have a little fun. At school he hung out with kids who got to make their own decisions and do what they wanted to do. That was all he wanted. A little freedom.

Judd, if you're wondering, attends New Hope Village Church, the same church as all the other characters in the series. Now little is talked about the nature of this church. We don't know what tradition it follows, save for the Darby-Scofield one, whether they are part of a denomination or broke off from another one. We know nothing about their views on infant baptism and communion. For all we know about the look of the church and its people, they might as well be a generic building with a cross on top. There's no colour to any of the descriptions in here.

He didn't sing along, he didn't bow his head during prayers, he didn't shut his eyes. No one had ever said those were the rules; Judd was simply trying to be different from everyone else. He was way too cool for this stuff.

It's not hard to pick up on the sneering, mocking tone of this paragraph. Jenkins and LaHaye barely hide their contempt for someone who doesn't get the same lift out of rapture sermons as they do. This is another sign of their failure of imagination: in order to be a good writer, you must be able to empathize with your characters. Note, by empathize I don't mean agree with everything they do. I mean, understand why they would do what they do.

LaHaye and Jenkins can't do this because that would force them to admit that to a young person, hearing about how Jesus is going to torture and kill everyone you love, is not an appealing topic to anyone. Because this is a mortal sin in their book, they have to close their eyes and ears to any empathy they might have for the character.

In the next paragraph, we get Left Behind Theology in a nutshell.

As usual, Pastor Vernon Billings, got off on his kick about what he called the Rapture. "Someday," he said, "Jesus will return to take his followers to heaven. Those who have received him will disappear in the time it takes to blink your eye. We will disappear right in front of disbelieving people. Won't that be a great day for us and a horrifying one for them?"

This is Left Behind theology in a nutshell: It's basically going "Haw Haw! We were right and you were wrong!" Nothing in there about having to love your neighbour or any of that wussy crap.

What follows in the rest of the chapter is that Judd commits credit card fraud, buys a plane ticket aboard the same plane that Rayford Steele is piloting, and :gasp: :choke: accepts some champagne. And that's what I'll leave you with until we get to next week when we meet our next protagonist: Vicki Byrne.


Hello and welcome to my blog. I'll keep this short and to the point. Fred Clark of Slacktivist has inspired me to my own snarking of the Left Behind kids' books. I can't promise to be as punctual in my postings as Fred because I have a busy life as a college student, but I'll try. So without further ado, let's get started.

BTW, if you haven't read Fred Clark's takedown of the Left Behind series, then you should. Fred is a masterful commentator, an artist whereas I am a mere scribbler in comparison, but I shall do my best to analyze these books.