Door in the Dragon’s Throat: Gaslighting a Curse

Door in the Dragon’s Throat: Gaslighting a Curse March 20, 2020

Door in the Dragon’s Throat, pp. 90-101

To recap, the shaman of the desert, who does not appear to have any name outside of that, kidnapped Jay and Lila in order to talk to them. Why he didn’t just meet with their father, I have no idea.

The shaman told Jay and Lila that he has a box passed down from father to son that contains a key to the door, and the behind the door is a great evil. He said that the box is cursed, and that his father and grandfather both died because they tried to open it. He begged Jay and Lila to tell him how to gain the protection of their god, so they converted him to Christianity. The shaman then gave them the box and asked them to destroy it.

“Here, please, you are strong in your God. Take the Chest and destroy it.”

“Okay,” said Jay. “But first I’m going to open it.”

The old man’s face paled with horror. “No! No! To open the Chest is to die!”

“Our God is greater, remember?”

“Yes, He is greater, but …”

“Don’t worry,” said Lila. “The Chest is harmless now.”

“I’ll be careful,” Jay assured him. “But it’s time this mysterious little box was opened.”

This is a terrible, terrible idea. Attempting to open this box got the shaman’s father and grandfather killed. The shaman has trauma surrounding this box. Why not wait to open it when he doesn’t have to be present?

Why not—here’s an idea—why not take the box to Dr. Cooper, and let him decide what to do with it? The whole section above read so weirdly to me. Sure, this is a book written for kids, and lots of books written for kids have kids that go off and do all sorts of unsafe things, away from their parents. That’s how they have enough agency to make for a good story. So I get that. This bit reads weirdly because there is an adult present. He’s just ignored and belittled and treated as though he’s unworthy of their consideration as an equal. Sure, they convert him, but only after he asks them to, and they immediately go back to ignoring everything he says.

I am really, really uncomfortable with how this section reads, particularly because there is so much casual racism in this book that I can’t read this section without feeling that that the shaman’s race and ethnicity play a role in the shameless way the children are treating him. We certainly never see the children treating anyone who isn’t from Nepur this way. Unsurprisingly, the children’s treatment of Gozan and the shaman is virtually identical.

There’s one other thing to address here: the issue of curses. We aren’t told specifically how the shaman’s father and grandfather died, so it’s possible we’re to think their deaths were unrelated and only connected to the box through superstition. But here we get into another issue—are curses real, in this universe? The children spend this whole time treating the shaman’s fear of a curse as ridiculous, even as Peretti details what sure sounds like a curse unfolding. You’ll see it in a moment. The weather changes, the animals start acting weird.

You could read this whole section in an arrogant westerners blundering into things they don’t understand and disregarding the wisdom of their native guide lens without changing a single word. The thing is, I don’t think it’s actually meant to be read that way. Then why is it written that way?

Peretti is combining evangelical religion with the special effects and feel of an Indiana Jones movie. This is why, when they begin opening the box, the sun goes behind a cloud, the wind picks up, and animals start howling. It’s because that is what would happen in an Indiana Jones movie. It’s just that in that Indiana Jones movie, this would happen because there was a curse, whereas here, there are no curses, because Jesus.

Jay stubbornly worked the sharp edge of the knife into the crack of the lid.

Just then the light in the room seemed to go dim.

Lila gasped. “What happened?”

“Relax,” said Jay. “A cloud must have passed in front of the moon or something.”

From the dark corner of the room came the voice of the cowering old man. “Jesus, You will protect us, yes?”

“He will.”

The hubris of these children. The absolute hubris. They think they can do anything, without consequences, because Jesus is some sort of magic genie protection spell.

Somewhere far-off along the Street of the Scorpion, a dog began to whale a long, mournful note.

Lila was getting edgy. “Jay, I think you’d better hurry.”

“I don’t want to damage this chest,” he answered as he kept working slowly and methodically.

Good on Jay, I guess?

The room filled with an old, musty smell, as if a tomb had just been opened. Fine, gray dust fell in little puffs from the lid as Jay set it down on the table. The Chest seems to be filled with it. Jay took a spoon and probed the gray surface. He found a piece of cloth, now totally decayed and crumbling, and moved it aside. It crumbled into powder. He carefully removed that powder and the fine little shreds that were left.

Jay! No! Stop!

Jay took the spoon and began to carefully scoop out the gray dust and the rotted shreds of cloth wrapping.

What?! Wait! Ugh!

None of these people are actual archaeologists. These are treasure hunters. That cloth should have been analyzed. Heck, even the dust should have been analyzed. It should have been opened in a lab, with careful, cautious precautions to make sure that nothing is lost. But no! Couldn’t possibly wait for that!

Jay blew the dust away and wiped the object with an old rag. The more he wiped it, the shinier it got, until they could see that it was made of beautiful, glimmering, bronze like material.

Lila observed, “It’s the same metal the Door is made of!”

“Will you look at that!” said Jay, holding it up, turning it this way and that, trying to figure it out.

I’m pretty sure even the coating on the key should have been tested, but noooo, he has to see it shimmer, evidence be damned!

The metal object looked like some strange alien garden tool—with a handle at one end, a long narrow shaft, and then a strange, clawlike cluster of fingers at the other end.

Jay thought he’d figured it out. “Remember the shape of the keyhole in the Door? You hold this end, and then this end here—with all these fingers on it—goes into that lock, and there you are!”

What.

No.

They didn’t see the keyhole until they’d blasted the door hinges such that the blast cleaned the dust off of the whole door (that would not happen, explosions actually create dust). The keyhole is 40 feet off the ground. The key they’re describing here is small enough that Jay was able to hold it up, “turning it this way and that.” It does not appear to be particularly heavy, or large. You might be able to see a keyhole only a few inches in size from the ground 40 feet below, but you probably wouldn’t be able to make out its precise shape. You might not even be able to tell that it’s a keyhole, beyond guessing based on placement.

Suddenly a cold wind caressed their necks, making the hair on their necks bristle. Outside more dogs were mourning and howling, their moans and cries filtering down through the narrow streets and alleys.

“I am afraid,” said the old man.

Jay didn’t hear his comment; he was too interested in his theory about the key.

You see what I mean! This reads like a story of western hubris ignoring the critically important knowledge held by the local native population, to their peril! But that’s not actually what it is. We’re supposed to be on Jay and Lila’s side, and see all the brown people as superstitious! It’s bizarre.

“Sure, it makes sense. The ancient Chaldeans got tier mystery religion and beliefs from Babylon, from Nimrod. Obviously, when Nimrod passed down his religion to the Chaldeans, he also entrusted them with the key to his treasure. The keeping of the key became part of their religion.”

Forget what the shaman has said about the door containing evil! Jay knows what’s actually going on, and that’s that there’s treasure!

The shaman doesn’t buy it.

“There is more,” said the old man, is eyes wide with fear as he looked around the room and out the windows. “I can feel it. Evil is at work tonight.”

The cold wind raced in through the window again and chilled them with icy fingers of air. The candle flickered.

You see what I mean! Peretti is describing the situation around them in a sinister way, with dark and sudden blasts of cold air and flickering lights, with the shaman again warning Jay of his danger.

But. I don’t think we’re actually meant to see the shaman as particularly prescient here, though, because he’s described as having eyes “wide with fear,” and every time a Nepurian character has been described as being afraid it’s been seen as a sign of superstition. Yes, the shaman has been converted, but it’s not like Jay is suddenly listening to him. And just a little bit ago, also after his conversion, the shaman was described as “cowering.”

Jay tells Lila to close the shutter. Lila walks toward the window, and then screams—she says there was someone outside the window watching them. They all three rush over to the window, but they can’t see anything. However, when they turn around, they suddenly realize that the door to the room is open.

The heavy door stood open as the cold night wind entered and raced around the room, raising the hairs on their arms and teasing the candle flame. The table in the middle of the room still had the old, open chest on it.

But the key—the key to the Door—was gone.

Cool story. 

I’ll go ahead and spoil this for you. The person at the window was Gozan. He overheard their conversation about the key and the Door and the treasure, and rather than rescuing the teens as he was sent to do, he swiped the key and ran off into the night with it. So that’s cool.

Jay tries to run after Gozan—we know it’s Gozan, but he doesn’t—but the shaman stops him.

“But he has the key.”

“He also has the curse.”

“There isn’t any curse.”

“Oh no?”

Suddenly there came a terrible crash of thunder and a cold blast of angry wind. The moon disappeared behind a boiling curtain of inky black clouds, and dogs all over the city began to howl and bark. From somewhere came a scream, and then another, and then the nerve-chilling shriek of a cat.

I am so confused right now. Are we meant to think that there actually is a curse, and that Jay was spouting nonsense when he insisted that they should open the chest, because Jesus? If so, Jay never actually gets any comeuppance for his actions. And that would also mean that we’re to assume that some of this Jesus talk has been too cavalier. I don’t see that being the case. But Peretti is also not only having the shaman warn of a curse but also describing a curse in action. I feel like I’m being gaslit.

The shaman says they should all go find Dr. Cooper, which is the first good idea anyone has had in a long time.

They jumped from rooftop to rooftop and climbed up and down long, precarious stairways.

The clouds above them continued to boil and churn. Suddenly, frightening in their startling, night-shattering brilliant, huge bolds of lightening split the sky, accompanied by teeth-rattling thunder.

This is going great.

Also, what is this, a video game?

They take a shortcut through a tunnel filled with human bones and “cat-sized” rats.

At last, after squeezing through a very tight space between two stone walls, they came upon a well shaft that went down into eerie blackness, but also soared high above them. Water trickled down its sides while flashes of lightening flickered across the opening and reflected down the wet walls, lighting the shaft with spooky blue rays.

The old man started climbing a long series of primitive hand- and footholds made of stone, and Jay and Lila followed him.

Yep. It’s a video game.

Lila suddenly slipped. She grabbed Jay’s foot just above her as her own feet tangled helplessly above the abyss. The old man held Jay firmly until Lila could place her feet in the slippery cavities once again. They then continued their long, vertical climb.

What. If the shaman went first, how was the shaman able to hold Jay firmly with Lila—who would be about the same size and weight as Jay—dangles from Jay’s foot? Did the shaman somehow reach down below himself somehow, to grab Jay? No. Physics. They would all be dead. 

But, I mean. Video game?

They could hear the echo of the wind howling down the well, and charles of lightening came fast and furious. The wind whipped downward into the shaft and spit cold spray at their faces.

Finally, with a few last disparate clawing at the slippery stones, they emerged from the shaft and found themselves in a wide, deserted street. All around them, the windows were rightly shuttered; there was no sign of life anywhere. The clouds above still boiled angrily, and the lightening was terrifyingly close. The old man looked around, his face etched with fear.

“Please,” he said over the rush of the cold wind, “we must call on the name of Jesus and his Father our God. Evil is rampant in the city tonight. Perhaps we have brought it upon ourselves.”

Do you know what’s bizarre? They don’t call on the name of Jesus. Instead, at that moment, Dr. Cooper drives up in his jeep. Maybe we’re to see this as an answer to a prayer the shaman suggests they make, but no one ever pays any attention to the shaman (now, before, or later), so I don’t think we can assume that.

Dr. Cooper drives up, Jay and Lila and their father are all thrilled to have found each other, Jay and Lila introduce the shaman as “a friend” and “a new believer in Jesus,” and everyone gets into the jeep.

I just flipped through to the end—we’re almost there—and no one learns anything from this. There’s never a moment where Jay’s like “hey, maybe I should have listened to the shaman,” or a moment where Dr. Cooper says “hey, maybe I should have listened to Gozan.” There’s never a moment where they all realize that they should spend more time listening to God and being cautious and less time assuming God will protect them even if they run pell-mell into danger or do things other people have told them are dangerous.

Oh, and both Gozan and the shaman are dispensed with without a second thought. Neither are treated as characters worth following up on or caring about at all.

There are probably two weeks left in this review series, and the closer we get to the end, the more disgusted I become. Peretti makes his version of Christianity look thoroughly and completely unattractive.

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