L.B.: Thank heaven for little girls

Left Behind, pp. 49-54

Right. So. Where were we?

While trying to find some way home from the airport, Rayford Steele checks his mail and finds an in-joke between the book’s co-authors:

Besides a pile of the usual junk, he found a padded envelope from his home address. Irene had taken to mailing him little surprises lately, the result of a marriage book she had been urging him to read. …

That’s probably a reference to one of these books by Tim LaHaye. He’s written several books on the subject, which is interesting coming from a man whose own key to marital bliss was to convince his wife to get a job 3,000 miles away.

Rayford sticks the envelope from his wife into his pocket and sets out to find Hattie the hottie. But LaHaye and Jenkins tell us that the shock of the mass disappearances has softened Steele:

Funny, he had no emotional attraction whatever to Hattie just now. But he felt obligated to be sure she got home.

“Emotional attraction” seems not quite the right phrase to describe the subverted lust of Steele’s previous fantasies for the “drop dead gorgeous” flight attendant. He’d been stringing her along for months, reassuring his ego that, at any point if he decided to, he could have an affair with this lovely but lonely younger woman. That’s not so much “emotional attraction” as it is “warped, manipulative ego trip.”

And now we’re supposed to accept that Steele’s cruel selfishness has suddenly been transformed into pure chivalry. He learns that he can sneak Hattie aboard a pilots-only helicopter ride to the suburbs where they live if he can find her in the next two minutes:

He grabbed a courtesy phone. “I’m sorry, we’re unable to page anyone just now.”

“This is an emergency and I am a Pan-Continental captain.”

“What is it?”

“Have Hattie Durham meet her party at K-17.”

“I’ll try.”

“Do it!”

Consider Rayford’s use, again, of the word “emergency” here. Parts of the airport are actually still on fire. The runway is littered with wrecked planes and dead bodies. They have run out of room for incoming planes to land, but more planes are arriving every moment. To Rayford, none of that constitutes an “emergency.” An emergency is something that affects him. If you’ve ever waited tables, the scene is all too familiar: 1) The lack of perspective; 2) the “do you know who I am?” assertion of importance; 3) the adolescent shouting.

Hattie arrives just in time for them to catch the helicopter ride, which is only supposed to be for pilots, but a little more bullying and bluster from Rayford and they let Hattie ride:

The pilot pointed at Hattie and shook his head. Rayford grabbed her elbow and pulled her aboard as he climbed in. “Only way she’s not coming is if you can’t handle the weight!”

“What do you weigh, doll?” the pilot said.


So now we know that Tim & Jerry like ’em small. Hattie weighs 115 pounds — so readers who have been picturing the sexy flight attendant as, say, looking like Catherine Zeta Jones in The Terminal now have to downsize their mental image to something more like whichever of the Olsen twins it is that has the eating disorder.

“I can handle the weight!” he told Rayford. “But if she’s not buckled in, I’m not responsible!”

“Let’s go!” Rayford shouted.

He buckled himself in and Hattie sat in his lap. …

Is that a padded envelope from your wife in your pocket? Or are you … oh, nevermind.

… He wrapped his arms around her waist and clasped his wrists together. He thought how ironic it was that he had been dreaming of this for weeks, and now there was no joy, no excitement in it, nothing sensual whatever. He was miserable. Glad to be able to help her out, but miserable.

This prompts a long oh-what-a-fool-I’ve-been interior monologue in which we are told repeatedly that Rayford no longer feels the slightest attraction to this poor girl. We’re supposed to gather from all this that his feelings toward Hattie have shifted into something wholesome and paternal. Yet his earlier fantasies also seem to have been at least partly paternal. Rayford is one creepy man.

Thankfully, once Hattie gets off of the helicopter, L&J seem to be finished exploring the fetid swamp of Rayford Steele’s sexuality:

She wrapped her arms around his neck in a fierce embrace, and he felt her quiver in fear. “I hope everyone’s OK at your place!” she said. “Call me and let me know, OK?” … “OK!”

She wraps herself around him and quivers. She asks him to call her and he says he will, even though he has no intention of doing so. And then she’s gone and he doesn’t need to worry about her after that.

Nice guy that Rayford.

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  • yam

    Fred, I’d like to thank you again for taking these bullets for us, the fraidy cats who wouldn’t dream of reading this dreck.

  • Stacy

    I guess there’s only 2 kinds of people who get left behind.. sluts and jerks.
    I could accept that Rayford isn’t supposed to be sympathetic at this point, what with his being all non-Christian and everything, but it would be interesting (for a very limited sense of the word ‘interesting’) to find out if his sense of entitlement and propriety towards others improves over time.

  • emjaybee

    Fred, at this rate you’re never going to finish the whole damn series. Or did you just intend to read the one and then stop?

  • jacobeanone

    Stacy – he’s still a jerk later on, just a moralistic one.

  • michael

    emjaybee: this is what I’ve been saying…
    I’m guessing around 2030 we can look forward to the book form: The Sane Person’s Guide to “Left Behind”…
    still I come back here every day hoping for more of this…

  • Michael Bowen

    The Sane Person’s Guide to “Left Behind
    [Chuckle]… of course if LaHaye and Jenkins are right then we probably won’t make it to 2030. ;)

  • mecki

    Want to second the thanks. There are many things I have hated without ever having read/seen (a GWB speech, for instance)
    Now, at least, I don’t have to read any of this LB nonsense.
    On a completely different topic, I saw a car with both a fish and a darwin fish on it. At first, I thought the owner might simply be schizophrenic. Then, I realised that there actually is no contadiction – it’s just that the religious right wants to make us THINK there’s one.

  • Beth

    Excellent, as always, Fred, but you mischaracterized Steele’s paging conversation. Behavior like that is only overbearing and childish if it’s done by women and liberals. When done by a conservative Christian man — especially one with a homoeritic name like Dick Cheney or Rayford Steele — it’s firm and masterful, the mark of a natural leader. As Sylvia Plath said, every woman loves a fascist (though I suspect even Sylvia would have made an exception in Steele’s case).

  • ProfessorPlum

    I love books. I love love love them. I received the first in this series a few years ago from an in-law of mine, a dear woman, who shares my love of books and knew there were many in this series. I read the first 2, maybe three pages, and stopped. I saw immediately where they were going – Rayford Steele is sort of a good guy, but not “saved”, so they were setting up their protagonist as someone who was fantasizing about having sex with a pretty stewardess. The incredibly ham-handed, clumsy, manipulative, and transparent moralizing stopped me dead in my tracks. My soul rejected the book, and I sold it to a library a while after that.
    Rarely have I ever had that kind of a reaction to a book – I can usually slog through them, even the bad ones. But something about those first few pages just screamed out to me that I had better things to do with my time.
    I also want to thank Fred profusely for finally providing me entertainment from this wretched book, and also using it to reveal the messed-up souls of the authors so well. I know now that I made the right decision, but I also find the hypocrisy evidenced therein completely entertaining, and scary. Thanks again Fred.

  • Beth

    his feelings toward Hattie have shifted into something wholesome and paternal.
    This reminds me of another novel in which the protagnist denies his lust and takes a paternal attitude towards his former object. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian, too, sees in his renunciation the first step toward salvation. He hurries to the portrait that mirrors his soul to see what changes his newfound purity has wrought. Wilde writes:
    He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite.

  • Patrick Mullins

    Beth–you could do wonders with Cheney’s crooked mouth–it’s almost a duplex. “Style is character.” At least Dorian Gray was a deteriorated dandy,you could concentrate on the rest of the face, and find fault with all of it if such was your intention. I never can get past the mouth with people with 2-pronged mouth movement. Besides Cheney, I remember 2 others, and one changed his name from David to Sarah, but has successfully retained his piano career post-op. The other had quit her job and was trying to get Unemployment Benefits. I met the latter 2 personally, but was not sure any of this was meaningful, whereas it does seem utterly revealing with Cheney.

  • Iain

    I haven’t been following this too closely, but is this a theological or literal review of the Left Behind series? I don’t mean to be rude, but it seems as though you’re just slagging it now. I haven’t read the series (and don’t intend to) but what’s your purpose here?

  • Wow

    Very interesting… I did read these books when they came out… and was more in that frame of mind back then. I was raised in a church that believed just like that. AT that time I also started attending a church that didn’t necessarily believe quite that way about “end events”. It blew my mind. But thank GOD for the mind blowing. Seems like the modern world view is/was very much about “predicting” and having things all nailed down/figured out.
    So ya, interesting post, this. I saw recently that another one came out. (or maybe it’s already old) 2030 here we come. (or not)

  • mecki

    The shorter form of what you said: IOKIYAR
    (It’s OK if you’re a republican)
    See atrios for many, many instances of this.

  • Thlayli

    Fred has been hitting two themes:
    1) This is a terrible piece of writing
    2) The authors are using a minority interpretation of Revelations, and — because of the sales figures — their view is being taken as “mainstream”.

  • michael

    Click on the “Left Behind” category–at the bottom of the post or in the blogroll. All Fred’s “Left Behind” posts, dozens by now it seems like, are in there–down at the bottom, one of the first couple of posts, there’s a sort of manifesto for the project…
    Anyhow, there’s been plenty of theological debunking…but always remember that bad writing usually means bad thinking.

  • cmb

    Fred, I love your illustration of what 115 lbs really looks like.

  • bellatrys

    Wow, I think they’re planning on extending the series in both directions – prequels AND sequels. (I know, blew my mind too. Post-Apocalyptic Apocalypse fiction…Apocalypse Now-and-Then? Too much for parody.)
    Just curious, since you went to one of those End-Times-Fixated churches – how do they deal with the Gospel bits about how not even the son knows the day nor the hour? That always seems an insurmountable hitch to the sort of certainty of immediate 2nd Coming that accompanied Y2K, for instance.

  • Steve

    bellatrys: “You won’t even know the day or the hour…”
    Ahhhh, but I’m pretty sure we can narrow it down to the week or month….
    I’m sure that’s how some people justify the hysteria…remember, these people believe the Bible “literally”. We don’t know the “day or hours”…but all signs, in their theology, are pointing to it being real soon now. It’s like a surpise party that you know is coming up, but you don’t know the EXACT details.

  • Pinkoflaggo

    The thing that I love about this section is that it comes shortly after the heroic Rayford Steele refuses a ride from the plane to the terminal because it would look bad to his passengers. Possibly the most glaring bit of hypocrisy in the book.

  • Kit

    Hattie could also just be really short. Y’know, ’cause that makes the paternalistic sleaziness better.