Guys. It gets worse.
Jay and Lila and Dr. Cooper take off to the city, Zahida, in a jeep. They’re going to meet the shaman, remember. They don’t take Gozan, even though he would have made a great guide. They don’t take Bill, Tom, or Jeff, even though backup could probably be nice. Instead, they go alone, and use a map to find the Street of the Scorpion. I’m going to assume this map is in English, because Jay and Lila are the ones reading it.
Not taking Gozan is just the height of stupidity. Why.
The sun was a huge, red ball of fire just touching the distant san-dunes horizon as Dr. Cooper drove the jeep into Zahida. Jay and Lila were looking over a crude map of the city, trying to find the Street of the Scorpion.
I bet Gozan knows where it is.
“Oh, oh,” said Lila, “here it is. On the east side of the city.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” said Dr. Cooper. “That’s the least inviting part of Zahida. It’s a maze of tight little streets, an anthill of impoverished, desperate people. Crawling with thieves, criminals, occultists, sorcerers.”
It seems like taking Gozan with them would have helped with this!
The way Dr. Cooper talks about Zahida is gross. It reminds me of the way evangelical college students describe the short term missions trips they’re going on in their fundraising letters, minus the upbeat parts about about smiling orphans. It’s just all so negative. There is no redeeming quality, no spark of humanity.
And it doesn’t get better.
Sidetone—has Dr. Cooper been here before? He seems to know a lot about Zahida. Some background on this would add some interesting color—and perhaps help flush Dr. Cooper out a bit as a character! (Heh. I meant to type flesh him out, but more background probably would also flush him out, because it would likely reveal more racism.)
They entered the city and made a turn toward the east side. Almost immediately, as if crossing a border, they drove from a city of regal splendor
Some actual description would have been nice?
into a stinking sea of squalor and filth.
The streets were little more than tight spaces between rows and rows of old stone slums with rat-infested gutters and dirty human beings with blank expressions and vacant stares.
Jesus. This is starting to make me appreciate the way evangelical college students write about the places they go on their short-term missions trips. There is nothing redeeming in Peretti’s telling, nothing at all.
They keep driving. There are weird bits like this:
Dr. Cooper turned left, then right, then squeezed the jeep under a very low footbridge, then drove through an old courtyard past a broken fountain oozing green slime.
Dr. Cooper pulled the jeep to a stop beside an old man with a mangy, garbage-fed dog.
I mean, really?
Still they keep going. Finally, they arrive.
All the light of the dying day was gone by the time Dr. Cooper brought the jeep to a halt at what appeared to be a dead end. Stone walls towered all around them like the walls of a canyon—or a prison. There were several narrow passageways leading out of the very small square, but none wide enough for a vehicle. Dr. Cooper shined his flashlight here and there, and finally spotted the odd, foreign squiggles on a faded sign.
“Street of the Scorpion,” he said.
“Oh, terrific!” Lila said with foreboding.
Dr. Cooper checked his gun. “Okay, let’s go.”
Could we, like, not? What the heck are they doing here?! They have no reason to come here. An old man blew up their supply shed and slipped Lila a note while briefly kidnapping her (albeit perhaps only to get her out of the way of the explosion). Isn’t the better response to notify the local authorities of the crime, and turn the note over to them? I mean for god’s sake, they have a hotline to the president of the country.
Of course, this could be a genre thing. I’m reminded of the Doctor Who episode “Blink.” When Sally Sparrow’s best friend disappears, she goes to her friend’s brother’s video store to tell him what happened. The employee at the front desk is watching a movie on a television screen near the front desk. “Go to the police, you stupid woman,” he says to the screen. Sally overhears, realizes that’s a good idea, and goes to the police. The point is to make fun of all of the thrillers where the protagonist seemingly should go to the police about what’s going on, but never, ever does.
In other words, going off on your own into scary dark places when you should have notified the authorities may just be a genre thing, not a Peretti thing.
They got out of the jeep and went to the narrow little passageway which had somehow earned the name of a street and peered into the blackness. From here it looked like a dangerous, dark, drippy cavern, with stone walls rising straight up into the blackness of the sky and a dank, slimy pavement that glistened in the beams of their lights.
Maybe I don’t know enough about Middle Eastern cities, but I thought this was in a desert—where is all the water coming from? A broken water main? I would love to hear from someone with some experience in Middle Eastern cities in general. But then, I’m not sure this is meant to be realistic. It’s meant to be scary.
So the set off down what amounts to an alley.
The thick, wet air seemed to cary the sound of a snicker or a fiendish laugh. They could hear invisible rats skittering just ahead of their footsteps. Mmrroowww! A black cat jumped aside, and the kids leaped several feet.
Kudos to all the commenters who set about turning this book, into a DnD game last week, by the way. I know just enough DnD to find the description hilarious. This part is practically begging for similar treatment.
Occasionally they would catch a glance from a set of yellow eyes that seemed to float in the blackness without a face.
I mean, what the heck?
“Watch your step,” Dr. Cooper whispered, and they all stepped carefully around a narrow, deep hole in the middle of the passageway—a hole that reeked of sewage and starved carcasses.
You know what? No. No, I would not take my kids into a situation like this. Driving around the city looking for the Street of the Scorpion is one thing, but there’s no excuse for not immediately recognizing that this is a very, very bad idea. They don’t know this area of town, and the person who is luring them out here has already proven himself willing and able to do crimes—he blew up their supply shed! How the heck do they know he doesn’t have more in store for them? Or henchmen who are willing to do worse?
Why didn’t Dr. Cooper leave the kids with Bill and take Jeff, Tom, and Gozan on this excursion? This makes no sense. Dr. Cooper is a thoroughly irresponsible parent.
“How much further do we have to go?” Lila whispered ass she followed right behind Jay.
“I don’t know,” Jay answered softly. “I can’t make out any of these numbers.”
“Well, I just hope—”
There was a muffled cry, a scraping of feet, the rustle of clothing, and then nothing. Jay reached behind himself and swung his hand to and fro, but felt nothing.
Yep. Thoroughly irresponsible.
“Lila?” No answer. “Lila?”
Dr. Cooper heard a muffled cry from Jay, some kicking, some more scraping. He spun around, and the beam of his light caught a foot just slipping through a low doorway.
So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There is only one kidnapper. One. He never has a henchman. And yes, the kidnapper is the shaman of the desert, and that means he’s an old man. And Jay and Lila aren’t little kids—they’re thirteen and fourteen. Added to this, for the shaman to have rendered Lila unable to talk, he’d have had to both grab her and put his hand over her mouth. With what extra hands did the then grab Jay?This does not make sense.
But don’t worry, Dr. Cooper is on the case!
He bolted for the door, burst through it, and found himself in what felt like a mole’s tunnel. The ceiling was low, and he had to crouch. he looked this way and that and saw one door down at the end just swinging shut. He dashed for it, but it clicked shut before he could get there. It was locked.
The 357 snapped into action, and fire flashed form the barrel as the tunnel rang with the shots. The lock became scrap, and Dr. Cooper’s boot took care of the door itself.
I just … I … I can’t.
I am on the floor here. OMG!
Every time I read that last bit over again I start laughing again. I mean holy hell. Those two sentences should be nominated for something.
Anyway, Dr. Cooper makes it through the door only to find four different passageways, which makes me wonder what the heck this building is exactly. Frankly, this is starting to feel like a video game.
He listened carefully. From down one passageway there came the slightest little shuffle. he dashed after it, found another door, went through it, came upon a dead end, doubled back, tried another passageway, found nothing, tried a third, found a door, went through it … and found himself right back where he’d started.
I mean, what even is this building?
Anyway, he’s lost them. Dr. Cooper now does what he should have done in the first place. He goes to the authorities.
President Al-Dallam was sitting comfortably on a very soft couch in his private parlor, munching on raisins and nuts and enjoying a satellite broadcast of a soccer came on his wide-screen television, when the big, ornate doors burst open and Dr. Cooper came in like an army invasion.
Guys. I’m going to lose it again.
“Mr. President!” the American yelled.
The president, very startled, was immediately on his feet, his eyes full of surprise and questions, his fat cheek full of raisins.
OH MY GOD.
Okay, hang on. I just need a minute.
There, I’m back. Ok. I can do this. But I think my cat now thinks I’m demented. Maybe it’s all the random laughter. I mean really, did Peretti not have an editor for these books?
“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded.
A very imposing guard stepped in behind Dr. Cooper and started to grab him, but Dr. Cooper plumed his elbow into the guard’s stomach and was obviously prepared to further defend himself.
Very obviously. Very.
I forget which commenter pointed out that Peretti overuses the word “very” just like he overuses the word “special,” but this week’s installment is proving that commenter very, very right.
Anyway, Dr. Cooper explains that his kids have been kidnapped. Al-Dallam isn’t particularly concerned. He’s annoyed. He wasn’t happy that Dr. Cooper brought his kids to begin with. He tells Dr. Cooper off for bringing him “trouble” by bringing his children.
Then this grossness happens:
“My children are in danger! I demand you do something! I’ll offer you a reward!”
At that statement there was a gruff snorting and snoring, and then a slurred question, “A … reward?”
Over in the corner of the room Gozan’s burly head appeared from behind the couch he’d been sleeping in. The mention of a reward had awakened him.
Good god. Peretti is the worst.
Dr. Cooper meant what he said. “Yes, I’ll offer a reward to whoever finds my kids.”
“How much?” Gozan asked, his teeth glistening with a greedy smile.
I’ll spare you the rest of this. Dr. Cooper ultimately says he won’t do anything more to open the Door until they find his children, so President Al-Dallam tells Gozan to go find the children—or lose his life. At this, Gozan finally starts asking Dr. Cooper for information about where the children were last seen. Both Gozan and President Al-Dallam are horrified when Dr. Cooper mentions the Street of the Scorpion.
None of this feels real. Does Zahida have an American embassy? If so, Dr. Cooper would probably be best off taking himself there post haste, and having done with the thing. Also, are President Al-Dallam and Gozan the only government officials in this entire country? Is there a reason President Al-Dallam can’t put his chief of police, or some such, on this? Gozan is the president’s assistant, not law enforcement.
Talk turns to the shaman, whom the president reveals he already knew about. Really, Dr. Cooper should have asked a lot more questions when he first started his mission, because all of this seems like it would have been helpful to know about earlier. It’s possible Gozan would have held out on him even if he’d asked, but Gozan was happy to give long, detailed answers to the small number of questions Dr. Cooper actually put to him.
For an archeologist, Dr. Cooper is profoundly incurious.
Okay, more about the shaman. “He is a troublemaker!” the president says. “He has threatened me with his warnings, not only me but the entire country, trying to keep us from opening the door!”
“And why haven’t you arrested him?”
“He lives on the Street of the Scorpion!” Gozan answered.
And he what, never leaves? We know that’s not true.
Peretti’s approach not only to Gozan but also to the president is racist as heck. Let’s talk about Orientalism for a moment. Orientalism involves portraying the Arab world as backwards and uncivilized, but it also involves portraying it as exotic and romantic. We don’t see any of the exotic or romantic in Peretti’s rendition.
“Orientalism” is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous.
Examples of early Orientalism can be seen in European paintings and photographs and also in images from the World’s Fair in the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The paintings, created by European artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, depict the Arab World as an exotic and mysterious place of sand, harems and belly dancers, reflecting a long history of Orientalist fantasies which have continued to permeate our contemporary popular culture.
You see what I’m saying? It’s similar to what I said about evangelical college students’ short-term missions trips. There are frameworks that portray the developing world, or the non-Western world, as a place of great poverty and filth, backwardness and disease, but also a place worth going to—worth saving. Children are unkempt and unclothed, but they are worthy of attention and care. I’m not saying this framework is great—it’s not. It has all sorts of problems. But at least it includes something positive about the people it sets out to save.
I see none of that, here. None at all. Dr. Cooper doesn’t use his trip through the east side to tell Jay and Lila that these people, too, are children of God. He never humanizes them in any way. Instead, Peretti writes about the people they see as though they are animals, as fundamentally unworthy of any thought as the skittering rats. This is a book written by a well-known evangelical author, to edify evangelical children, and yet it leaves me not just unconvinced of the message it preaches but also completely uninterested and thoroughly turned off.
There is no moral high ground here.
At this point, the story switches to Jay and Lila’s point of view. I know I don’t usually leave you with a cliffhanger, but this time I will. God. This book. Every time I think it can’t get worse, it hits a new low.
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