L.B.: Get in line

Left Behind, pg. 68

It was nearly Buck Williams’s turn at the head of the line at the Pan-Con Club counter …

Buck has clawed his way back to the terminal at O’Hare and worked his way into a line at the counter.

This doesn’t really make sense — the airport is clearly closed, it’s runways cluttered with burning wrecks and a still-unknown quantity of its staff vanished or dead. All the airports are obviously closed. Faced with an unprecedented local disaster as well as a mysterious and unprecedented global disaster it hardly seems likely that a Pan-Continental Airlines customer service agent will be able to offer much assistance, so why wait in line to get to the counter?

Yet this irrational behavior on the part of Buck and the others in line is one of the first things in the book to ring somewhat true. This might actually happen. Faced with an overwhelming, incomprehensible situation and carnage on a massive scale he sees a line of people and a person in uniform with an official-looking badge of some sort at the head of the line. What are they in line for? Who knows? But surely all these people wouldn’t be in line if it weren’t for something important. And if he doesn’t hurry up and grab a spot in line then others will just get there ahead of him.

Buck thinks of himself as a man of action, and confronted with the situation before him he acts. He gets in line. Others, frantic, may still be wandering in a panicky daze — We have to do something! Buck is doing something. He’s waiting in line.

It never occurs to the authors, or to Buck, that he might be in any way obliged, as an able-bodied young man, to participate in the desperate rescue efforts going on all around him. On the other hand, back on pages 10-14, Buck Williams personally witnessed an all-out nuclear assault in which the entire Russian arsenal was spent but no one was killed or even injured. After seeing something like that, he may no longer be able to appreciate the significance of a mere few dozen jumbo jetliner crashes.

During that nuclear assault, Buck had kept his wits about him enough to remember that he was a reporter. He observed and reported. But now his only journalistic instinct is to hurry back to the office, ignoring everything that’s happening around him.

Our hero journalist does not behave like either a hero or a journalist. Instead, a bit absurdly, he sets out to charter a private plane by getting into the very long line at the counter of an airline that does not provide such a service.

The further I get in this book, the more Buck reminds me of Arthur Dent from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series. The main difference being that Arthur, at least, realized that he was a confused and selfish man overwhelmed by the absurd events unfolding around him. And Buck, unlike Arthur, really is a jerk, a total kneebiter.


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  • Stacy

    Ah, I’ve missed these!

  • Chris

    Yeah!!!! LB is back.

  • Dan

    Excellent reference to Wonko the Sane!

  • Nick Kiddle

    A fix of LB – must be an early Christmas present!
    When my MCs have time to kill before the next plot point, they donate blood or help with heavy lifting, because that’s what I like to imagine I’d do in the same situation. Should we presume Buck’s behaviour mirrors what L&J imagine they would do?

  • Darryl Pearce

    One sentence in “Left Behind” gets this amount of write-up?
    The “annotated Left-Behind” series should be marketed… if only this astounding labor of literature can be completed!

  • Eric in TX

    Woo! It’s LB… I thought this series had been left behind. I started reading for these, but love all your other posts just as much…

  • Margaret

    Yah, I have been waiting for you to continue your comments.

  • changetion

    There’s another difference between Buck and Arthur, which is that while Adam’s protaganists had almost no redeeming characteristics, being selfish, confused, uncaring etc., they are human and likable in a way that Buck is not.

  • Best news I’ve heard today

    Slacktivist has started posting his analysis of the “Left Behind” books again. Today’s installment: Buck Williams as Arthur Dent. Check…

  • mecki

    Only 284 more pages! (252 if you’re not reading the mass-market PB edition) At this rate, you’ll be done shortly before the heat-death of the universe.
    Keep it up, though, it always brightens my day. (And I think you should put together the complete criticism at some point)

  • James

    So is the whole problem of LB really just that there’s no Ford Prefect?
    Or perhaps a certain pair of authors are reaching for the dizzying heights of Vogon poetry?

  • Brettvk

    Aaiigh! I just found out that a *new* LB book is coming out in March!! A prequel– “The rising: Antichrist is born before they were left behind”, according to my library’s catalog.
    I guess Tim & Jerry had to kiss and make up for the sake of the franchise. But, jeez–seems a little shameless to keep the series going after the Second Coming.

  • Scott

    But can Buck make a decent sandwich? :-)

  • Jake

    Arthur is a better character simply because he was an every man, an underdog and some one who had just lost everything in his life.
    Buck is an Ubermensch, He’s a MAN OF ACTION, the greatest journalist in the world, but when the entire world gets altered around him he loses nothing.
    Unlike Artur, Buck actually gains from the global tragedy, he’s a rather obvious war profiteer.
    Suddenly evangelical support for bush makes sense, a reformed sinner who is also a leech on the world’s suffering is their role model.

  • Scott

    Does this mean Hattie is Trillian?

  • aunursa

    There’s also another sequel planned, to be set following the events of the twelfth book in which the kind, loving Jesus appears and condemns to eternal damnation all of the evil non-believers who managed to survive the various tribulation catastrophes.
    All in the name of divine profits.

  • fnord

    Consider another difference between Buck and Arthur. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was originally written for and targetted to a primarily British audience. From the reading I’ve done, I’ve picked up the fact that the Brits like to read about the kind of people against whom the Universe seem to have a grduge, and yet they persevere. It says something about the British people, I think.
    Buck, on the other hand… well, only having experience from what you’ve (wonderfully) reported about the books… I hesitate to say.

  • RenegadeX

    I heard they’re planning a parallel series as a follow-up to Left Behind:
    Right Behind.

  • Left Behind is Back!

    Fred Clark, desperate to complete his fascinating critique of the morally execrable Left Behind series before the sun goes supernova,…

  • Left Behind is Back!

    Fred Clark, desperate to complete his fascinating critique of the morally execrable Left Behind series before the sun goes supernova,…

  • chris

    Yes, one of the real downers about the whole election was that it drove LB off Slacktivist. Ah well, things are back to normal.
    And after the sun goes nova he can do the Da Vinci Code.

  • mecki

    And it used to be that the US was a big fan of the underdog, rooting for the guy battling long odds against an evil enemy.
    Now we are that enemy.

  • none

    Only if you considered the enemy to be Ho Chi Minh and not Stalinism. Only if you consider the enemy to be Osama bin Laden, and not radical Islamic fascism.

  • Evan

    Fred, thanks for the new L.B. post! I hope we don’t have to wait four months for the next one. (Not that the intervening months haven’t been full of great posts, but I really do enjoy your Left Behind deconstructions a lot.)

  • jopilgrim

    Chris- we can only hope that he will eventually move on to the Da Vinci Code.

  • cjmr

    Oh please, Fred, save us from having to actually read The DaVinci Code, too!

  • nigel

    Welcome Back.
    I know your focus here is on LB itself and not the Biblical sourse material – but I’d love to see what you do with appocalyptic material within the Bible – before it was twisted into these page turning pearlers.

  • Peter

    >I heard they’re planning a parallel series as a follow-up to Left Behind:
    >Right Behind.
    OMG! Now they’re turning the other cheek!

  • Gift Basket

    Sweet Blessings, a new Christian-based online shop featuring cookie bouquets, candy bouquets and gift baskets, opens with a campaign to donate a portion of all profits to Habitat For Humanity. The devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while not a…

  • Goggle Hat

    Aside from the most obvious and glaring distinctions, there is one last key diference between Arthur Dent And Mister “Buck” ; Dent at least managed to get off the planet before it was destroyed.

  • TK421

    “Leave it to me, I’m British. I know how to queue.”
    Williams, Buck Williams! Do Panic, sinners!

  • (NOT Wonko the Sane. Whats-his-bucket, I forget his name, Wowbagger maybe, something like that, anyway he was called the “Infinitely Prolonged,” who decided to give his immortal self purpose in life by insulting every single other life-form personally and in alphabetical order.)

    (All right already, I’m going to bed.)