Apocaliterature and Historical Fiction

Apocaliterature and Historical Fiction January 12, 2009

NB: This post compares and contrasts a set of books that I have never read (just like a true academic, or a true fundamentalist, er, a true ideologue of some sort ), so any feedback would be extremely helpful.

It is useful to compare the Left Behind series that has been so popular since 1995 in evangelical circles, with the Work and the Glory series since its release in 1990. Both are multi-volume epics that are aimed at the faithful as didactic literature that inculcates its audience into a theological and cultural insider status. Left Behind represents “apocaliterature” while the Work and the Glory takes part in the historical fiction genre. I am interested in the ways that these two series are expressions and producers of popular culture in each community represent different relationships to the presence of God.

In the Left Behind series, God is seen as acting through history in the very near future, in apocalyptic times. The series opens with the Rapture, where the righteous are miraculously taken up to heaven, and continues with the end of days with the rise of the Antichrist and the wars and disasters of the Book of Revelation. The readers are given a peek into the near future and an understanding of the real significance of contemporary geopolitics, letting them know who to watch out for. Security is offered to the readers by letting them in on the secrets of the future of God’s intervention.

In the Work and the Glory series, God’s presence is depicted primarily as occuring in the past, particularly around the early days of the church. The fictional family that is being followed becomes the lens through which the story of the early church, and God’s intervention into history. The readers are led through the miraculous beginnings of this dispensation. They are reassured of God’s involvement with the LDS church.

How do these two series represent the hopes and anxieties of these two communities? For evangelicals, how is God’s coming in the future addressing anxieties about a rapidly changing world which is seen as increasingly secular and hostile? For Mormons, how does the idealized, spiritualized past where God is ever-present reaffirm the rather mundane spiritual life of the modern church?

Of course, the days of the idealized past can be found in Evangelical accounts of the life of Jesus, and Mormonism is not short on accounts of the idealized future, but the popular cultural expressions of these ideas seem to have been put on the back seat in these two series. In other ways, the story of the Restoration is also a story of the end of days, so the differences between the two may not be completely overstated. Nevertheless, there seems to be a significant difference between these two series and how they express God’s presence in history for the believers.

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