L.B.: Do Panic

Left Behind, pp. 15-19

So, anyway, back to Rayford Steele. You remember Rayford. He’s the kinky, control-freak, middle-aged pilot so obsessed with his lust for a young, subservient flight attendant that he seems not to have noticed a nuclear war.

LaHaye and Jenkins strayed from Rayford for a few pages there in order to introduce us to Buck Williams, and to provide a little more background. Through Buck’s eyes, we learn that this story takes place in the proverbial “not-so-distant future,” in a world very much like our own. Only a few, minor details have been fictionalized for the sake of the novel. I’ve noticed four so far in the book:

1. In Left Behind, our Newsweek magazine is replaced with its fictional counterpart, Global Weekly.

2. Rayford and Hattie work for a fictionalized American-based airline, called “Pan-Continental.”

3. While in our world the Concorde has ceased making commercial flights, it’s still flying in the pages of Left Behind.

4. There’s a miracle formula that turns desert sand into fertile soil; the world’s economy has been transformed so that agriculture is more lucrative than high-tech industry; Israel has made peace and lasting friendship with the Palestinians and all her Arab neighbors, who have happily ceded their territory and sovereignty; Russia has formed an alliance with Ethiopia — now a feared nuclear power — and launched tens of thousands of warheads at otherwise tranquil, peaceful Israel, but all of the missiles are destroyed harmlessly in a blatant act of divine intervention, providing such overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence of God’s existence that everyone is forced to ignore it.

But, you know, except for little details like that, this world is exactly like our own. It’s uncanny.

So again, back to Rayford:

Not sure whether he’d follow through with anything overt, Captain Rayford Steele felt an irresistible urge to see Hattie Durham right then. He unstrapped himself and squeezed … [oh, good God no!] … his first officer’s shoulder on the way out of the cockpit. [whew!] “We’re still on auto, Christopher,” he said as the younger man roused and straightened his headphones. “I’m gonna make the sunup stroll.”

Christopher squinted and licked his lips. “Doesn’t look like sunup to me, Cap.”

“Probably another hour or two. I’ll see if anybody’s stirring anyway.”

“Roger. If they are, tell ’em Chris says, ‘Hey.'”

Rayford snorted and nodded. As he opened the cockpit door …

On the other side of that door, Rayford runs into Hattie Durham. She’s still “drop dead gorgeous,” but in a hysterically crying, stark-raving panic kind of way. It seems that the most significant and interesting event of the entire story has already occurred and we, the readers, were left behind. Or at least left out. (L&J rarely miss an opportunity to replace action with exposition.) But at least we get to hear about it second hand from Hattie:

… Her knees buckled as she tried to speak, and her voice came in a whiny squeal.

“People are missing,” she managed in a whisper, burying her head in his chest.

He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. “What do you m– ?”

“She was sobbing now, her body out of control. “A whole bunch of people, just gone!”

“Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered to the lavs or –”

She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself understood. “I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling you, dozens of people are missing.”

“Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find –”

“I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have disappeared.”

“It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying to –”

“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!”

Here I would like you to do something that L&J do not. I’d like you to try to imagine that you’re actually on that airplane.

Imagine you’re the pilot and you step out of the cockpit and the first thing you see is a hysterical flight attendant who tells you, between sobs, that dozens of people on the jumbo jet have mysteriously vanished without a trace.

It might occur to you that your flight attendant is having a breakdown. In the book, Rayford believes Hattie because she seems sincere and genuinely frightened. He interprets this as evidence that she’s not going crazy. Of course, if she were, how would she act? That’s right — sincerely and genuinely frightened.

(Steele also seems to take Hattie’s word for what has happened because she keeps interrupting him and shouting. He is apparently a fan of Bill O’Reilly, and has come to believe that if someone shouts a lot and doesn’t let you finish a sentence, then they must be telling you the truth.)

It might occur to you to investigate Hattie’s claim. Certainly you might want to look around a little more thoroughly than this:

Rayford scanned the rest of first class. Most passengers were still asleep … But indeed several seats were empty.

That’s it. He finds Hattie hysterical. She tells him people are missing. He glances around the unlit, first-class cabin, sees some empty seats and decides she’s right! Yes, he then decides to walk through the plane, but only after — based on this initial cursory glance — he has accepted Hattie’s raging panic as fully justified and that dozens of people have, indeed, vanished without a trace. In Steele’s mind, there can be no other explanation for several empty seats in first class.

Think about that phrase “without a trace.” These people didn’t actually vanish without a trace — they left their clothes, their luggage, their seatmates and traveling companions. Perhaps someone might like to examine these more closely? Maybe try to figure out what all the missing have in common? Carefully preserve their abandoned clothing so as not to destroy potential evidence?

Nah. Let’s just panic:

Rayford wanted to be strong, to have answers, to be an example to his crew, to Hattie. But when he reached the lower level he knew the rest of the flight would be chaotic. He was as scared as anyone on board. As he scanned the seats, he nearly panicked. He backed into a secluded spot behind the bulkhead and slapped himself hard on the cheek.

That’s at the bottom of a page that begins with this sentence: “He bit his lip hard and winced at the pain.”

Rayford Steele is a very odd man.

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  • Bill S

    I’m starting to believe a blindfolded monkey, using a typewriter that has 3 letters missing, could write a book that was more plausable and coherent.

  • meg

    You are going to take a loooong time to get to V. 3 and the place where I broke into hysterical laughter and gave up reading entirely.
    It is really unfortunate that these are so poorly written. Actually, Amrmageddon should be a legitimate topic for fiction. These books are a mess, instead.

  • mondo dentro

    I was initially excited about this effort, Slacktivist, but I’d be a lot more interested in hearing someone more expert than I discuss the theology of the books. After all, the spiritual content could be true even if the books are laughable. It seems to me that just turning this into a chance to mock the big-haired schlock-TV Bible thumpers is not going to get anyone anywhere–I mean, it’s just so easy to do that.
    My reason for asking is that I’d like to consider the issue with somewhat of an open mind in order, ultimately, to better be able to argue against an apocalyptic mindset that I find worse than appalling, especially given it’s growing influence at the highest levels of government.

  • tim

    I was rooting for the carpathian dude who shows up poised to rule the world with his slick charm. But then turns out to be THE ANTICHRIST

  • Eli

    mondo dentro – I’m interested in a theological reading too, but I think we’ve already gotten some of that in his pointed remarks about death and resurrection earlier on, and I expect to see more… right now there are all these introductory pages to get through and I’m perfectly happy to see them picked apart.
    Unfortunately, to get the full benefit of this, I’m probably going to have to get the book… somehow… and… read… it.

  • Julia Grey

    I like it just like this, the steady, step-by-step picking apart, in every way: narratively, logically, theologically.
    It’s ALL good.

  • Dick Durata

    But do the actual clothes they’re wearing get left behind, or go with them? I mean, if we’re going to go to heaven in the clothes we’re wearing, I’m going to have to be a lot more careful about what I wear. Life is short, but eternity is long.

  • Bill S

    Which “cheek” did Rayford slap? Face cheek or butt cheek?

  • alphabitch

    Take heart, all. Once the main characters are introduced the series becomes extremely repetitive and it will be possible, I think, for Our Fearless Reader to both pick up the pace of this extremely laudable effort (should he wish to do so) and also provide more commentary on the theological underpinnings of the, um, novels. As one who has slogged through books 1-10 so far, I am really enjoying this commentary. And I encourage anyone who is tempted to dismiss the overall tone of this review as mere snarkiness on the Slacktivist’s part to read the novels; a serious reader can’t help but be appalled by the generally low quality of the writing, and all of the issues the Slacktivist is raising do (in my view) undermine what could be a really exciting adventure-type thriller series (yes! to Meg’s comment above) as well as serve to trivialize any important theological content it might happen to contain.

  • Deana Holmes

    Not only does the Concorde still fly in the Left Behind world, the Internet, at least in the first few volumes, simply does not play much of a role. What I would be curious to find out (and which I am NOT volunteering for) is to see how things in the background change as time passes. The first book came out in April 1996, and the last volume is due out in April 2004. Surely, over twelve volumes, one could see that the earlier stuff shows more signs of age….

  • Chris

    What’s with the clothes anyway? Why do they get “left behind?” Is this some kind of pro-nudist statement about the innocence of Eden? Or perhaps it’s a gnostic statement about the evil of matter (which would be weird since the bodies are gone)? The implications are fasinating.

  • Jorge

    Chris hits on a point I’ve wondered about as well. Why aren’t the bodies left behind? Since as the Evangekicals are fond of telling us, the flesh is week and evil and nothing compared to the Spirit. Of course, having invisible, colorless and intangible essences evacuate a plane makes for poor drama as it would be assumed that a plague has taken these people’s lives. But yeah, what gives with the clothes? Is everyone isued a unitard in heaven?

  • darwyn

    My question is, do crowns and fillings get left behind also? If not, why?

  • Jorge

    I was just thinking about the physics of this. Several people suddenly leave an airplane in midflight. How many total? let’s say a nice round dozen. Let’s say average weight is about 180 lbs (I’m assuming the saved are a svelt bunch as a whole). Tha means the plane is suddenly 2160 lbs lighter. We could safely assume 2500 lbs acounting for a couple fatties. Now I know these planes are big but you can’t tell me an experienced pilot wouldn’t feel that on the controls because that’s some serious payload loss.

  • Singerbear

    I stopped after The Mark (or thereabouts, I think it was 6 or 7 of the books). It’s weird how much the later books remind me of glorified Chick tracts… And can someone tell me where he got a name for a rebbe like “Tsion”? Is this a common Name?
    Also, in later books when they “Finally” get the internet working for them in the secret, vaguely illuminati-like bible-covens where everyone is listening to ‘Radio Free Jerusalem’, you wonder why everyone is having such a time trying to find a copy of a bible on the internet or on a cd. Seems like you can get one in a cereal box if you really look hard enough. Haven’t these putzes heard of biblegateway.com???? Sheesh!

  • Amber

    My question is, do crowns and fillings get left behind also? If not, why?
    Crowns, fillings, contact lenses, glasses, hair plugs, wigs, hearing aids, any prosthetics, and jewelry are all left behind.

  • Bill S

    Let’s not forget breast implants, Amber! :)

  • Amber

    Woops! Must have slipped my mind. So to correct myself, breast implants, metal pins, and other non-organic products of surgery or plastic surgery.

  • Amber

    Woops! Must have slipped my mind. So to correct myself, breast implants, metal pins, and other non-organic products of surgery or plastic surgery would all also be left behind.

  • Apocalypse Monday

    Well, it seems we only have one more day until the final reckoning. I have to admit, I’m a bit sketchy on the whole revelations / rapture / end of days thing, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be one of those people who just disappears into thin air…

  • Skyknight

    Granted this is more than a year late (I only found this site a week ago), but I think the clothes may have been discarded to make room for the new white robes waiting in Heaven.
    That should make things interesting, if someone would have preferred, say, a green robe…

  • none

    Do Christians actually have breast implants?

  • Maverick

    What about artificial heart valves and pacemakers? Artificial limbs? Do these all get replaced with “real” ones, and if so, why not just replace everybody’s bodies?

  • Jenn

    Hmm, I’m rather surprised you didn’t mention the weirdness of Hattie pulling Raymond close and whispering (seductively?) in his ear, all the while hysterical. I mean, if I were panicking, that’s exactly what I’d do. Uggh, it’s the typical “maiden in distress” trope. After all, a good Christian book couldn’t have a woman actually being strong and sensible, right?

  • Nik

    Hey, Slactivist, could you delete these spam comments?