Review: The Antichrist Handbook: The Horror and Hilarity of Left Behind

10 May

-Fred Clark.

The people in this book are not human.

If you are genuinely interested in writing, there are few better online resources than Fred Clark’s elaborate takedown of the Left Behind books. The books fail on so many levels that it is utterly depressing to contemplate the fact that there are 11 novels and uncounted spin-offs, including three movies, based around them. Clark, however, dives into precisely why the series is so utterly awful, as well as putting forward snide comments and insights that leaves one worrying about the sanity of the writers.

Left Behind claims to be a story of Earth’s last days. God has taken his true believers to heaven, leaving everyone else … well, left behind. Centred around the main characters of Rayford Steele and Buck Williams, the series follows their adventures (and countless telephone calls) as they struggle to survive, while the Antichrist slowly takes over the entire world. Thankfully, as Clark points out, the writers have inadvertently proved that such events cannot possibly take place.

One particularly jarring example of their warped logic appears within the first few chapters. Israel, through a magical formula, has managed to make the desert bloom … which, assuming one includes both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, still gives them less productive capability than a single small US state. Wanting to claim this formula for itself, Russia (!) and Ethiopia (!!) launch a massive nuclear (!!!) attack against Israel (enough tonnage to obliterate Israel a hundred times over), which is a complete and utter failure. With Israel protected by Almighty God, the rest of the world … yawns. No one seems to take account of the sudden shift in power.

What makes matters worse, however, are the two main characters. Steele is creepy; he’s a middle-aged married man who has his eye on a pretty flight attendant, but reassures himself that he has never touched her and never will. This might have worked if his conversion had shown him what he really was, and how best to redeem himself, but he’s still a complete jerk after becoming a Real True Christian. Buck Williams, meanwhile, is supposed to be a globe-trotting reporter, yet it is painfully obvious that he lacks any real competence at his work. On one hand, he witnesses the attack on Israel; on the other, he isn’t interested in writing about it (and later his inaction will help the Antichrist rise to power). In short, both characters are Jerk Sues with paper-thin backgrounds.

For example, Steele is supposed to have served on a church board at one time, making him a hypocrite. However, as Clark points out, someone capable of faking such a role convincingly would not be bemused by relatively simple and common bible verses. He cannot be both a naïf and a hypocrite.

If this isn’t bad enough, there is a nasty streak of sexism running through the story. We are meant to regard Irene Steel as the very model of a decent woman, yet there is a strong sense that Irene isn’t (wasn’t) the sort of person anyone would enjoy knowing. It is actually quite hard to blame her poor husband for considering an affair. On the other hand, Hattie Durham (the object of Steele’s creepy lusts) is a much better person, yet the book considers her a slut and has many – many – punishments for her in store. This gets worse, as if it could, later in the series; Buck’s female boss (tagged as a lesbian, although the word isn’t said outright) is entirely correct to consider Buck a moron, but the book presents her as a villain. Her humiliation conga is the sort of thing that would only be enjoyable to watch if it happened to either Buck or Steele himself. And then there’s Chloe Steel. She starts out as a competent resourceful girl, easily the most capable character in the series, and turns into a zero-dimensional idiot at the end of the first book.

But it is in world-building where the authors show their greatest failures. At the start of the book, God defends Israel. This would be quite permission, but no one ever reacts to this. Later on, millions of people just vanish … including all of the world’s children. A few chapters after that and everything is … well, not quite back to normal, but certainly much calmer than they should be. And then there is the rise of Antichrist himself, which makes absolutely no sense at all. The authors needed to do a lot more bloody research.

Worse, they honestly can’t decide what sort of book they’re writing. It starts out as a disaster story, of sorts … and then it turns into a conspiracy novel. Apparently, a group of international financiers (think Jews) are somehow involved with the Rapture. This might not be a bad idea, if it was clear that the financiers in question had prepared for the Rapture, but none of the characters in the book seem to consider the possibility. Later (beyond the scope of Clark’s first book) it tries to turn into a romantic comedy. Trust me, it isn’t remotely romantic.

Clark believes that many of these problems grew out of the subculture itself. The Satan-figures are ones that pervade the culture, but that tends to weaken them when compared to the real Antichrist. The UN, Jewish financiers, liberals, lesbians (I can’t recall any suggestion that the authors even know that male homosexuality is a real thing), etc … they’re all nightmares haunting the authors’ minds. And their response is not warm and welcoming, nor an attempt to convert the unbelievers; it is little more than a florid “we’re right, you’re wrong, burn in hell, etc.”

The truly annoying thing about the series, although Clark doesn’t say as much, is that it had a great deal of potential. What if they’d worked to turn both of the main characters into genuine people? Or what if they’d thought through the implications of some of their concepts? A disaster on the scale of the Rapture would provide an ample opportunity for Antichrist to come to power … but that, alas, seems to be beyond the authors.

You can learn a great deal about writing by reading this book. Above all, Clark provides excellent commentary on what not to do. But you will probably also find moments to amuse you and moments to depress you. Clark notes moments where Jenkins – the prime writer – offers insights into Rayford Steele, but offers none into Buck. Could it be that he was taking a subtle shot at his co-author? There are also vast moments of infodumping – the writers seem curiously obsessed with telephone calls and the minutiae of international travel – bad science and worse.

Reading the Left Behind books is tedious …

… But reading this takedown is unashamedly fun.

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4 Responses to “Review: The Antichrist Handbook: The Horror and Hilarity of Left Behind”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard May 10, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

    I tried to read this series and it grew old fast.

    I had gotten into “End Times” stuff in the past and “left it behind”. [Wink]

    Oh, the “miracle” that saved Israel bothered me as well.

  2. Chryssie May 10, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

    I grew up with a very religious family and was not religious myself like age 8 mostly because I read a lot and learned to question the world.i despise these books which were constantly pushed on me as I grew up as these great Christian books. Anything promoting god usally sucked I learned and why ?? Well cause people want to confirm their beliefs and be able say how good they are so they buy this trash without ever reading it mostly for show and authors know this and don’t care they just suck up the money

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Smearing by Mensch, 3 | Edinburgh Eye - August 27, 2015

    […] Christian Zionism, Fred Clark at the Slacktivist blog has been tirelessly expounding since 2004 on the horror, hilarity, and terrible theology of dispensationalism in Left Behind, a famous series of religious novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins: a chapter from […]

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