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.


mmy said...

Hi -- its mmy from the slacktivist board. I'm looking forward to your deconstruction -- or your slagging -- of the books.

Apocalypse Review said...

"Judd Thompkins Jr." definitely sounds like one of those porno movie names. :P

Anyway, in all seriousness, while I get that Jenkins wants to portray the "kids" as sinners initially, he's got a funny way of doing it. Nobody would serve alcohol on a plane to an obviously underage person, I don't think.

This is one of those "OOH I AM SO COOL" things like Buck McGillicuddy with his LOOK AT ME I GOT TO REFUSE THE WINE. *rolls eyes*

The kid charging up stuff on the old man's credit card without permission is believable. It's happened before.

mmy said...

Yeah, Apocalypse Review, not really a convincing picture of a really rebellionous youth is it?

How much of this do you think has to do with the standards of "Christian publishing" and how does it have to do with the author(s) being out of touch with current culture?

A good point of departure for this question would be the issue of drinking under age. For most USAians the experience of drinking under age doesn't take place on an expensive plane ride it happens at someone else's party, or using fake ID in a bar or getting a friend/someone you just met to buy booze for you. And it is an everyday occurrence not something that happens in a special place.

Mink said...

"Won't that be a great day for us and a horrifying one for them?"

The amount of glee uttered in this one line is astoundingly obscene. Hey, kids! Won't it suck if you're stuck here with all the sinners when the Tribulation comes?

Apocalypse Review said...

@Mink: WTF? Damn it's been too long since I read the books. God, LaHaye and Jenkins have no sense of shame. Just no bloody sense of shame.

Ruby said...

It's me, Ruby, checking in from slacktivist and my Heathen Critique.

I am so excited (and yet, oh so jealous) that someone is tackling The Kids. Ryan's story, especially, makes me want to smack LaHaye and Jenkins silly.

Was Jenkins ever young? Because the Judd passages sound like the thoughtless jabs leveled against any teen who doesn't perfectly conform to parental expectations. Oh, of course he's doing it just to look cool and be a rebel without a cause. Surely he couldn't have real doubts and questions about his parents' faith. Surely he couldn't be trying to think for himself and establish a bit of normal, healthy independence. Nope, he's just doing it to be a rebel and annoy his parents. Because that's what teenagers do.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Well, LaHaye wants people to go to the right sort of church that's sound on the important stuff in life (i.e. the Rapture), and little differences between them can wait until the huge civil war that they'll start as soon as someone thinks he's likely to win. :-)

(Found this from Ruby's blogroll, catching up. -- Firedrake)