Door in the Dragon’s Throat: Game Over

Door in the Dragon’s Throat: Game Over April 10, 2020

Door in the Dragon’s Throat, pp. 112-125

Here we go, guys. The very last installment.

Dr. Cooper, followed by Jay and Lila, came to the edge and looked down into a very dizzying, horrifying whirlwind of red, glowing smoke and dust that rushed and rose around and around the walls of the Dragon’s Throat like a cyclone.

He’s going to take his kids down there. This is some serious child endangerment. It’s the asking your kids to run into a burning building with you level of child endangerment.

And here’s the thing—kids do things like this in plenty of YA or children’s books. Okay, maybe not this extreme, but yes, kids do dangerous things in books like this! Think of Narnia. Were all those kids really supposed to be in that battle? Or Harry Potter—those kids put themselves in harm’s way repeatedly. But then, there’s the key—put themselves. In books like this kids usually do the dangerous things when the adults are away, because if the adults knew what they were doing, the adults would stop them. 

Here, the adult isn’t stopping the kids from putting themselves in danger. In fact, after telling the shaman that he can “flee to safety and wait for us if you wish,” he never extends the same offer to Jay or Lila.

Together the three descend the stairway built along the Dragon’s Throat, “the roaring wind ripping at their clothing and hair, the dust and debris stinging their skin like hail.”

The wind rushed in pulses, first fierce and hot, then less severe; then another blast of wind would swirl from below and nearly scorch them.

“Dad,” Lila screamed, “we’ll never make it!”

“Our God is greater!” was Dr. Cooper’s quick reply. “We have no choice. We have to try.”

Okay, so much to talk about here.

I’ll start by noting that it’s Lila who isn’t given a choice. Dr. Cooper does not tell her that she can go back if she wants, and he did not ask if she was okay with heading into what looked like a toxic blazing furnace to begin with.

But there’s something else going on here that is much more fundamental to the evangelical perspective on the world. I once asked my dad why we were so active in politics—trying to “take the nation back” for Christ—if the Bible said the world was just going to progressively get worse and worse until the rapture and tribulation. His response? “We still have to try.” The fact that God was in charge and would work out his plans no matter what we did didn’t absolve us from trying. The same principle appears to be at play here.

There’s a difference, though—according to Dr. Cooper’s understanding of the situation, God has specifically written in the book of Revelation that this Door is to be opened in the end times. It seems odd to think, given that this door was put there for the end times and for the end times only, that there is even a possibility that humans could open it early. God is all powerful.

What this amounts to is this: God could keep that Door shut without batting an eye, but for some inexplicable reason, rather than simply keeping it sealed he wants one of his followers and two children to put themselves at risk of extreme pain and death to … do it for him? Because they have to try? This seems sick.

Here, I found a sort-of analogy. If I thought there was a potential gas leak, I would call the gas company. As a legal adult with money and a phone, I have the power do that. I wouldn’t first wait to see if my children notice the gas smell and are able to patch the gas line with tape, endangering themselves in the process.

This isn’t just about Dr. Cooper endangering his children. It’s also about God endangering the Coopers. God could have had the president’s limousine run out of gas in the desert. He could have done all manner of small things that would have prevented things from getting to this point—even giving Dr. Cooper a bad feeling about this project would have stopped this, because it was Jay and Lila who got the shaman to give up the chest he was guarding, which then put the key in the the way of the president. But God didn’t do any of the small things he could have done to prevent this situation, and now the Coopers are headed into the fiery pit.

Now they could look up and see the glowing gases flowing in a torrent like an upside-down river just above their heads, rippling and roaring along the ceiling of the corridor.

I feel like we need to pull up Revelation 9 again:

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.

So, the star is given the key—I guess this is why Peretti has the key being kept by someone (the shaman). The star opens the door, and smoke comes out “like the smoke from a gigantic furnace.” Just prior to this, Dr. Cooper said: “The star that fell from heaven … the God of the Earth … and that name the old man used: Shandago. That’s an old expression for the word dragon or serpent.” Jay reacts in horror: “Satan!”

The idea here is that when the 5th angel sounds his trumpet, Satan gets the key (from the shaman I assume), goes to the Dragon’s Throat, and physically opens the door using the key. (That could explain why the key hole is 40 feet above the ground, but it doesn’t explain why the key is the size of a regular skeleton key.)

So anyway! When the door is opened, smoke is supposed to come out like “a gigantic furnace,” and that’s what we’re seeing here. That’s why there are all these glowing gasses.

Finally, they come into the cavern.

The Door could be seen at the far end of the room, looking like the sun during a total eclipse. The face of the Door was dark, maybe glowing a dull pink, but all around its edges was a brilliant red light, the rays shooting out in all directions and projecting solid, undulating curtains of red through the smoke and haze that filled the room. Black vapor seeped out through the cracks in thin, curling sheets, and the Door was creaking, rumbling, groaning, moving with a deafening roar like that of a million giant hornets echoing and reverberating behind it. The Door seemed to be breathing, heaving in and out, though actually it was being pushed from behind, inch by inch, as some incredible force was steadily, relentlessly pushing it open.

So this is cool.

Oh, and then there’s this:

They could see a sharp, laser like beam of red shooting out from the keyhole in the Door and sweeping about the room like the beam from a lighthouse.

Is the beam … moving?

It appears that unlocking the door does not automatically open it. Instead, it makes it so that it can open, if pushed from behind by the hornet demons. Oh by the way, according to Revelation:

The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.

Unfortunately for us, we never get to see Peretti describe these things, because the door never actually opens. But it’s bulging. It’s being pushed open. And the seams are all lit up, with “black vapor” seeping out of the cracks.

Even though they can’t see a key, the Coopers quickly determine that the door was unlocked and their first step has to be to find the key—which, they figure, means finding the president. Finally, they do find him.

He sat with his back against the rocks, his mouth gaping, his eyes wide in trancelike shock. He was motionless, staring at the Door.

Just once in this book I’d like to see a white person end up like this—frozen in shock. But no! Even Jeff, Bill, and Tom had enough wits about them to run away, rather than winding up frozen in gaping shock.

The Door groaning and inching forward in the background, the Coopers converge on the president—and the key gripped in his hand.

They tried to uncurl his fingers one by one.

“C’mon … c’mon …”

Suddenly, with a bloodcurdling scream, the president came up off the ground like an explosion, sending them all tumbling. He took one crazy-eyed look at the Door, screamed, ‘They’re coming out, they’re coming out,’ and ran like a madman, in circles, up and down formations, bumping into rocks, screaming and struggling to escape.

And then there’s this:

Like a crazed animal, he clambered up a rocky wall of the cavern, going higher and higher, jumping from this ledge to that, falling, climbing up again, scratching, clawing, grabbing the rocks, gasping in fright.

Like a crazed animal … I just can’t, y’all.

The Coopers chase after him, because they need the key.

There was a long, terrible scream, and Jay looked just in time to see the president go tumbling off the ledge, tumbling over and over until he disappeared into a deep crevasse. In the red glow of the Door, Jay could see the twinkling, spinning reflection of light off the key as it flew through the air, bouncing off some rocks, flipped several more times from rock to rock with a metallic ring, and finally sailed into the crevasse and out of sight.

Where did this crevasse come from?

So they all run up to the edge of the crevasse.

The key had landed on a narrow ledge some eight feet down and was balanced there precariously, tilting, teeter-tottering over the abyss.

Wait, where did this abyss come from?

There are earthquakes described here. Best as I can tell, the earthquakes opened a crack in the ground that’s so deep they can’t even see the bottom, and the president fell in. But no one mourns the president. He is forgotten. All that matters is the blasted key, which is on a ledge 8 feet down a crevasse so deep they can’t see the bottom.

I assume it looks something like this:

Just kidding, that’s not real, it’s from a movie!

Here’s the best picture I could find of an earthquake-induced crevasse:

I feel like the crevasse above probably has a bottom.

But I digress, because this book also has demons, which means that in the grand scheme of things earth-quake crevasses that end in abysses are really the least of our worries. I’m much more concerned about this:

Dr. Cooper hollered, “Lila, you first!”

She crawled headfirst down into the crevasse as Jay grabbed her ankles.

Yes, this is really happening.

Jay followed right after her as the second link in the chain, and Dr. Cooper anchored his body between some rocks and took hold of Jay’s ankles.

No. They would all die.

The earth shook fiercely, knocking Lila around in the abyss like a rag doll.

Yep. They would definitely all die.

Lila was still swinging about, but then she made use of her movement, pushed herself off one wall of the crevasse, and swing over near the key.

How is she not banging her head into the walls of the crevasse?

She reached out with straining fingertips to grasp the key.

She got it!

“Pull me up!” she screamed. “Pull me up!”

Dr. Cooper strained and pulled against the rocks to back away from the edge, and finally worked Jay up out of the crevasse.

This sounds painful.

Then the two of them snatched Lila out of the jaws of the abyss.

Poetic.

They scurried down the rocky walls to the cavern floor.

Wait, the crevasse was in the wall? What? I know the president had climbed the wall before then falling into a crevasse, but I just sort of assumed the crevasse was in the floor, by the wall, and that he fell off the wall?

Is any of this even possible? Would Jay seriously be able to hold tightly enough to Lila’s ankles—given that she probably weighs about what he does—while dangling upside down in a crevasse? Would Dr. Cooper really be able to support the weight of both children, without, I don’t know, his hands slipping?

If this were a movie they would definitely need stunt doubles.

Anyway, so now they have the key. But since this is all one giant video game, their problems aren’t over. The earthquakes are so fierce a huge section of the ceiling falls in, and in dashing to get out from under it, Jay ends up next to the Door while Dr. Cooper and Lila end up closer to the cavern entrance. The fallen ceiling forms a rock wall between them. Dr. Cooper ends up pinned under a rock, and Lila ends up a ways away from him, dodging rocks. Seriously, video game.

Lila throws the key over the rock wall to Jay, whom she can’t see, and this somehow works. (I feel like if this were a video game you might have to play through this part a couple of times before making this transfer successfully).

So now it’s all on Jay.

For a moment he could feel himself being paralyzed with panic; eh even thought his heart had stopped.

Then his father’s voice came from the other side of the rocks: “Jay, rebuke it! Turn them back!”

“I come against you in the name of Jesus!” he cried. “And I command you to get back in there!”

Ooooo, rebuking demons! I cannot tell you how central this idea was to my understanding of the world, as an evangelical teen. I practiced. I was ready! I was mostly just terrified that I would wake up in the night and see demons by my bed, but by golly, I was ready! The power of Jesus’ name was enough to rebuke demons and send them back, into retreat. It was a weapon I had, and also one I was terrified to use.

I didn’t really want to ever encounter a demon.

Remember the Vashta Nerada, in Silence in the Library? (You know, in Doctor Who.) In that episode the Doctor says: “Almost every species in the Universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they’re wrong, because it’s not irrational. It’s Vashta Nerada.” That’s how I felt as a child and teen, except about demons. The dark is scary and spooky and you’re getting weird goosebumps and chills? Demons. It might be demons. Probably.

Anyway. So Jay rebukes the demons.

As if in response, the earth shook violently, throwing Jay to the ground. The Door quivered and vibrated as incredible forces kept ramming it from behind. But suddenly a new sound emerged, a sound like a million sirens, wailing, crying, shrieking in ear-jarring pitches that rose end fell. Something had happened!

He rebukes them again, and the sound intensifies, and it definitely looks like the Door has stopped advancing. I think we’re to take the wailing as the sound of the demons being burned by Jesus’ name. Or something.

The door has slowed its advance, but it hasn’t stopped entirely. Jay climbs up the scaffold along the door, which is somehow still there despite all the quaking and despite the door pushing against it. Finally he reaches the top, forty feet in the air.

He was in the thick of the smoke and vapor, and he couldn’t breathe. The red fire seemed to be all around him.

This is fine.

Jay shoves the key in the keyhole, and the demons press it back out.

Through the keyhole he could hear screams, the roar of winds, the hissing of nostrils. Never had he been in such direct conflict with the enemy powers.

This is the stuff of teenage evangelical nightmares.

Finally he gets the key in all the way and starts to turn it. Problem: at that moment, the scaffold collapses under him. He holds onto the key and manages not to fall.

Fifty feet up, he hung onto that key, still stuck in the hole. Then, working one hand at a time, he began to twist the key with the weight of his dangling body, one turn, one more turn, grip by painful grip, inch by inch.

Is this even possible?

I went back to where they took the key out of the shaman’s chest, and there is very little description of size, except that Jay holds the key up and turns it around, without the text suggesting that he exerts any special effort doing so. There is no statement or suggestion that it is abnormally large, for a skeleton key.

The most generous reading I can think of is that the handle end of the key is about the size of a doorknob. That’s about as big as it could be without its size being worth remarking on. So what Jay is doing here is effectively dangling from a doorknob forty feet above the ground, using his body weight to slowly turn it.

Slowly, painfully.

His legs and chest slapped against the hot bronze metal of the Door, and he could feel the searing heat scorch his clothes and sing his sink. Terrible pain poured over his body and shot through his aching arms.

Um, okay then.

As Jay is turning the key, a huge boulder breaks off from “the opposite wall” and starts rolling toward him. Jay at first seems to think this is an attempt to foil him, but it turns out it’s actually God—the boulder slams into the Door just as Jay completes his final turn, putting an end to the last shrieks of the locusts within and offering something other than the floor forty feet below for Jay to fall on—and fall he does.

Jay briefly loses consciousness. When he regains it, Dr. Cooper and Lila are there by him.

“You have to hand it to the Lord, son,” said Dr. Cooper. “He has terrific timing. If this boulder hadn’t rolled underneath you, you would have fallen all the way to the bottom. I’ve checked your leg. It looks like a bad sprain, but no breaks.”

“Yeah …” Jay said, wincing in pain. “I remember … I remember seeing this boulder coming at the Door …”

“It was quite a collision … and it idd the trick. The Door is shut, and the lock is in place again, thanks to you. It’s a real miracle.”

I … what?

Ok his leg is fine, but what about his burns?

But also—why the heck couldn’t God have started with the boulder? It could have held the door shut so that Jay could have climbed up it and locked the door without any of this bullshit. Heck, while we’re at it, God could’ve just put boulders against the Door in the first place. Or he could have opened a crevasse in the desert and swallowed the limousine with the president and the key in it before they got there (I mean, he died anyway).

Speaking of the key…

“What happened to the key?”

Dr. Cooper answered, “Lost, I suppose. Gone without a trace. But when the time its right for God’s Word to be fulfilled … when the Lord wants it to happen, no doubt old Satan will get his chance at last. He’ll bring the key, and he’ll open the door.”

Then why all this subterfuge in the first palace? Why entrust the key to a series of desert shamans? I mean, really, what was that about? Since clearly, we’ve now established it’s not necessary! If the key is disappeared into some crevasse now, but Satan can get it back when he needs it, why not put it there in the first place?

Or … have the Coopers have made the Bible impossible to fulfill?

Here’s what Revelation 9 says:

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss.

Without the shaman serving as keeper of the key, who is supposed to give the key to Satan when the fifth angel blows his trumpet? Can this Bible prophesy come true, now? The passage may need to be updated: “The star found the key to the shaft of the Abyss.” That doesn’t seem to bother Dr. Cooper, though!

“But don’t worry. If I understand the Bible correctly, we won’t be around to see it. The Lord will get us out of there before then.”

Peretti is a premillennial dispensationalist.

Lila, for her part, says she wants to get out of there now.

They limped and walked out of the big room and at length emerged, torn, tattered, but triumphant, from the Dragon’s Throat, leaving it behind forever.

The end.

Oh ho wait except for this:

Someday the end of history will come. Someday Satan will have his very short time of unleashed evil and destruction upon mankind. But now, then, and always, there is only one great power truly in charge: Jesus, the Victor, the Lamb, the Son of the Living God.

Wait wait wait, if Jesus, the Victor, the Lamb, the Son of the Living God is the only “great power truly in charge,” how the heck did things go so haywire in this book for a hot moment there?

That really is the end. We don’t learn if the shaman is okay up there. We don’t get to see Jeff, Bill, and Tom come back. We don’t get to see how Gozan or the people of Nepur react to the president’s disappearance. We don’t learn what is done to the Dragon’s Throat site. Nope. It’s just … the end. Book done, game over.

It’s honestly one of the most abrupt endings I’ve ever seen in a book like this. I’m not really skipping any material here—the last two pages consist of Jay waking up from being knocked out, Dr. Cooper explaining that the Lord had perfect timing, their discussion of the whereabouts of the key, Dr. Cooper’s mention that the Door will be opened someday and his reassurance that they’ll be gone first, Lila’s statement that she’d like to be gone now, them walking out of the cavern, and finally, that bit about God always being in charge. All of that in two pages.

And then … nothing. Book over.

I’m kind of sad, to be honest. I really enjoyed going back through this awful, ridiculous book! And I enjoyed reading all of your horrified comments. It makes me think of the You’re Wrong About podcast’s current review series of Michelle Remembers: half the fun is listening to Michael Hobbs gasp in disbelieving horror as Sarah Marshall walks him through the book. Same here. Did that really just happen? Yes. Yes it did.

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