Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 231-234
When you’re writing an adventure story in which the hero is fleeing from Country A to Country B, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep track of which country is which. It should be even easier in a book like Nicolae, in which the entire world has been simplified down to only two countries.
Yet here we are with Buck Williams, making a run for the border with his friend, the fugitive former rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah. Jerry Jenkins aims for a bit of suspense with an old reliable set piece: the bit where the man on the run encounters a policeman who seems not to recognize him. You’ve likely seen this scene many, many times, but I wouldn’t call it a cliché, because as often as this scene is portrayed, it still works. That’s why it’s so common and so popular, because when it’s done capably, it still creates a palpable tension. On the surface there’s a polite conversation, but the possibility of sudden violence simmers beneath. Even Jenkins is almost able to make this work.
Almost. There are bits of this scene that might have been suspenseful and exciting, except that Jenkins — who prides himself on being the fastest novelist in the business — finds a novel way to screw up even this tried-and-true stock scene. And he does so in a way that turns this entire Tsion Ben-Judah subplot into complete nonsense.
Jenkins gets Country A and Country B mixed up. Buck Williams, fleeing Country A for the safety of Country B, gets stopped by a policeman from Country B.
Buck is driving an old school bus toward the southern border of Israel, when “In the wee hours of the morning, about ten kilometers south of Beersheba, Buck noticed the heat gauge rising” and remembered Michael’s advice to make sure he kept the radiator full.
Buck pulled far off the road onto the gravel shoulder. He found a rag and climbed out. Once he got the hood popped up, he gingerly opened the radiator cap. It was steaming, but he was able to dump a couple of liters of water in before the thing boiled over.
Buck’s sudden shift to the metric system seems odd. Buck and the authors have, before now, always referred to miles and gallons. These books were written by Americans and for Americans, and here in America no one uses the metric system except for the sciences, soda and the drug trade. We tried switching to the metric system back in the 1970s, but such a switch proved culturally impossible at the same time that millions of Americans were reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. The use of such internationalist measurements was seen as a stepping-stone toward the Antichrist’s coming one-world government. Today it’s kilometers and liters, tomorrow it’s the Mark of the Beast.
While he was working he noticed a [police] car slowly drive past. Buck tried to look casual and took a deep breath.
He wiped his hands and dropped the rag into his water can, noticing the squad car had pulled over about a hundred feet in front of the bus and was slowly backing up. Trying not to look suspicious, Buck tossed the water can into the bus and came back around to shut the hood. Before he shut it, the squad car backed onto the road and turned to face him on the shoulder. With the headlights shining in his eyes, Buck heard the [policeman] say something to him in Hebrew over his loudspeaker.
Buck held out both arms and hollered, “English!”
In a heavy accent, the [policeman] said, “Please to remain outside your vehicle.”
That would all be pretty standard stuff and a decent set-up for this kind of scene, except that the bits I’ve put in brackets there actually say something different in the book. It doesn’t say “policeman,” it says “peacekeeper.” And it doesn’t say “police car,” it says “Global Community peacekeeping force squad car.”
And that just doesn’t make any sense at all.
The Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, has been elected/assumed/acclaimed as the dictator of the entire world — except for Israel. Every other nation has been dissolved and subsumed into the Global Community, a one-world government united by a single leader, a single (new) religion, a single currency (dollars) and a single language (American English). But not Israel.
Israel’s exceptional sovereignty is a major plot point and a cornerstone of Tim LaHaye’s “Bible prophecy” scheme. The seven-year Great Tribulation could not officially begin, according to LaHaye, until the Antichrist signed a peace treaty with the separate, distinct nation of Israel. And the entire prophecy timeline of that Great Tribulation is based on the status of that peace treaty. For the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist must honor that treaty — respecting Israel’s security and sovereignty. And then the treaty will be broken and a war of Israel vs. Everybody Else will begin, culminating in the battle of Armageddon and the End of the World.
So at this point in the story, LaHaye’s whole prophecy scheme requires that Israel and Israel alone be sovereign, independent and separate from the regime of the Antichrist. And the current subplot involving Tsion’s flight from Zion only makes sense if Israel is a sovereign, independent state separate from the regime of the Antichrist.
But here we see that it isn’t. “Global Community peacekeeping force squad cars” routinely patrol the highways within Israel’s borders, cooperating with Israeli police to hunt down fugitives from Israeli law. Hebrew-speaking Israelis serve as GCPF officers — apparently having been granted a special exemption from the one-world language requirement imposed on the rest of that paramilitary secret police force.
If all of that is true, then what good will it do Buck and Tsion to make it across the border, out of Israel and into the OWG of the Global Community? If the border doesn’t mean anything to the Global Community peacekeeping force, then why should it mean anything to Buck and Tsion?
This is another example of the authors’ rejection of continuity — a dizzying approach to storytelling that weirdly winds up being less intrusive than the kind of smaller contradictions we usually think of as continuity errors. If, say, the Range Rover Buck Williams drove in one scene suddenly became an Escalade in the next scene, readers would notice the mistake and find it jarring. That kind of mistake is comprehensible because it’s not comprehensive. Readers are able to notice it because readers are able to understand how it ought to be corrected. “That shouldn’t be an Escalade,” we think, “that should be a Range Rover.” We’re able to identify the error because we’re able to identify the solution.
But larger mistakes like this one baffle our attempts to correct them. Their ramifications are so broad, so all-encompassing, that mentally correcting them would involve reconstructing the entire world of the novel, the mechanics of LaHaye’s prophetic plan, and most of the plot of these books. That’s a lot of work. We can’t do that work while also continuing to read and to turn the following pages of the book, so when we encounter such nonsense, we quite sensibly opt not to notice it. Rather than allowing ourselves to be completely derailed, we tend to just embrace it the way we do the logic of dreams, hoping to get past it by reading faster and less carefully until we wind up reading as fast and as carelessly as Jenkins himself worked when typing these books.
In this particular case, the familiarity of the wanted-man-at-a-traffic-stop scene offers us enough momentum to carry us through these pages. We already know what we’re supposed to be thinking and feeling. We’re supposed to be wondering if the policeman will recognize Buck, if the Good Guys will get away. So we keep our end of the bargain and do just that.
I’m fascinated by our capacity to do this as readers or viewers. This goes beyond the simple willing suspension of disbelief to something more like the willing abandonment of the expectation of sense. I suppose part of it, at this point, is a form of the sunk-cost fallacy — we’re 200-some pages into the third book of a series and if we stop now we’ll never get to the rewards we were implicitly promised as a storytelling audience. We should at least keep going until we get to the earthquakes and demon locusts and such, right? And maybe something in the chapters or volumes ahead will somehow make sense of all this nonsense.
For the fans of these books, though, the stakes are even higher. They have to believe that this story makes sense because this story is a vehicle for the theology they rely on to make sense of their own lives. I suspect that, too, is a big part of why those fans are able to keep reading here without getting thrown off by the absurdity of this Hebrew-speaking “Global Community peacekeeping force” officer shredding the plot by showing up in the wrong jurisdiction. LaHaye’s disciples can acknowledge and forgive minor continuity errors because they don’t reflect on the validity of that core theology. But they cannot afford to acknowledge the way these books repeatedly reject continuity and logic because to allow themselves to notice that would force them to confront the fact that LaHaye’s theology, like his story, just plain doesn’t make any sense.
Buck shrugged and stood awkwardly, hands at his sides. The officer spoke into his radio. Finally the young man emerged. “Happy evening to you, sir,” he said.
“Thank you,” Buck said. “Just had some overheating problems is all.”
The officer was dark and slender, wearing the gaudy uniform of the Global Community. Buck wished he’d had his own passport and papers. Nothing sent a GC operative running more quickly than Buck’s 2-A clearance.
Jenkins’ non-descript description has me picturing this officer as a young Muammar Gaddafi, wearing epaulettes and a sash festooned with ribbons and medals.
“Are you alone?” the officer asked.
“Name’s Herb Katz,” Buck said.
“I asked are you alone?”
“I’m an American businessman, here on pleasure.”
“Your papers, please.”
LaHaye and Jenkins really should have sorted out the whole “when is it OK to lie?” business before they started this story. I think they realized that appearing to condone lying to the Antichrist’s police would draw criticism from some in their target audience. In the white evangelical subculture, “situational ethics” is an all-purpose epithet — a dimly understood slogan meant to condemn liberals and hippies and various other infidels. So even when it seems prudent and unavoidable for Buck to lie, they have him relying on a weirdly evasive casuistry. He doesn’t want to lie by offering a direct answer to the officer’s direct question, “Are you alone?” And even when he’s traveling under false names, he likes to say, “The name’s Herb Katz” instead of “My name is Herb Katz,” because the latter would be a lie, while the former might not quite be, in some technical sense.
The result is that whenever Buck needs to lie to escape the Antichrist’s forces, he winds up sounding squirrelly and suspicious.
“Mr. Katz, can you tell me where you got this vehicle?”
“I bought it tonight. Just before midnight.”
“And you bought it from?”
“I have the papers. I can’t pronounce his name. I’m an American.”
“Sir, the plates on this vehicle trace to a resident of Jericho.”
Buck, still playing dumb, said, “Well, there you go! That’s where I bought it, in Jericho.”
… “Are you aware of a manhunt in this country?”
“Tell me,” Buck said.
That phrase “in this country” underlines the strangeness here of a Global Community policeman patrolling “in this country” — the one country in the whole world where he has no jurisdiction. Or maybe it’s meant to suggest that GC police are only participating in that manhunt within this country, and that GC officers on the other side of the border won’t care about the hunt for Tsion. Or …
No, we can’t make sense of it. We just have to plow ahead.
The officer tells Buck that the original “owner of this vehicle was detained, just over an hour ago, in connection with aiding and abetting a murder suspect.”
“You don’t say?” Buck said. “I just took a boat ride with this man. He runs a tour boat. I told him I needed a vehicle just to get me from Israel to Egypt so I could fly home to America.”
Buck shows him the ownership papers for the school bus that Michael had given him. The officer — whom I now picture as looking and speaking like a young Maj. Strasser from Casablanca — examines them and says:
“We have reason to believe that the man who sold you this vehicle has been harboring a murderer. He was found with the suspect’s papers and those of an American. It will not be long before we persuade him to tell us where he has harbored the suspect.” The officer looked at his own notes. “Are you familiar with a Cameron Williams, an American?”
“Doesn’t sound like the name of any friend I’ve got. I’m from Chicago.”
“And you are leaving tonight, from Egypt?”
“Why? –” Buck repeated.
“Why do you need to leave through Egypt? Why do you not fly out of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?”
It’s not Buck’s fault that he isn’t readily able to answer that question. All he knows is that God/the authors gave him a dream within a dream in which he was Joseph from the Christmas story, having the same dream Joseph had in that story, in which he (Joseph/Buck) was told to flee to Egypt. That’s the only reason he’s headed for Israel’s far border with Egypt.
Buck explains that he wants to leave for home that night, and he was able to charter a flight out of Egypt. Buying the old school bus, he says, turned out to be cheaper than hiring a driver for the trip. That seems vaguely plausible.
Or, rather, it might seem plausible if this conversation weren’t occurring just three days after the Global Community Air Force had nuked both Chicago and Egypt.
See how that works? That’s how powerful our defensive mechanism is as readers when we encounter the rejection of continuity. We’re so instinctively determined to keep up our side of the storytelling bargain that we have to actively, consciously force ourselves not to forget a nuclear war.