Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about Frank Peretti’s terrible Christian fantasy novel This Present Darkness (TPD). Here, we cover chapter 4 and a bit of chapter 5. We meet an honest-to-goodness demon, learn about the dangers of higher education, see fundagelical parenting in action, and encounter another weirdly-persuasive evil character. Today, Lord Snow Presides over a crash course in more right-wing Christian prejudices in This Present Darkness.
(Previous LSP reviews of TPD: Marking an Era, the Stereotypes, the Persecution Fantasies, Magical Christian Jesus Powers. All quoted material comes straight from sources; I don’t scare quote Christians.)
Culture Warriors Need (Stupid) Demons.
Chapter 4 begins with a description of a demon. However, this little fella ain’t just any demon. Peretti describes “him” as a sort of aerially-mobile gargoyle with giant yellow cat-eyes. This demon flies with “swirling wings” and breathes “a glowing yellow vapor” that reeks of sulfur. The black hide covering his “thin and spiderlike” body looks “slimy” and yet also “reptilian [and] warted.”
As demons go, this one looks exactly like fundagelicals would imagine him to look. Peretti wants his audience to feel disgust and contempt for this critter–and yet also to be afraid of him cuz, yanno, demon.
We see the exact same weird doublethink around how this same crowd characterizes Satan, their religion’s Big Bad (TVTropes Walkabout Warning!). They need him to be the ultimate evil force in the universe–the scariest thing imaginable. But they also need him to be so stupid that literally anybody in their tribe can defeat him with ease.
This characterization of their imaginary friend’s equally-imaginary enemy allows Christians to view themselves as vastly superior to their enemies. This self-image flatters them, makes them feel powerful, and also makes them think twice about leaving the tribe.
If they ever left, see, they’d suddenly become completely vulnerable to demons’ machinations.
Writer Demon Who Can’t Visualize His Plot.
So this demon floats/flies/whirs through the air. At first, Peretti makes it sound like the demon seeks something–or someone. But the demon actually follows Marshall Hogan. Hogan is the big ruff-and-tuff New York Times–sorry, the Noo Yawk Tahms newspaperman who’s relocated to small-town Ashton. Nowadays, he runs Ashton’s little newspaper.
Hogan drives to the local college in Ashton, Whitmore College. It’s unlikely that Whitmore would exist in such a tiny town. Moscow, Idaho, for example, boasts a population of about 25k people. There, we find the University of Idaho, which enrolls about 10k students a year. In contrast to Ashton’s two churches, in Moscow we find these:
This comparison tells me that Whitmore College should be no more than a tiny little private college (Moscow has one of those too, enrolling some 150 full-time equivalent students total), or a community college (Coffeyville Community College, in southeastern Kansas, enrolls about 1700 students in a town of 10k and has about the same number of churches as Moscow).
Frank Peretti is such a bad writer. I just can’t get over how objectively awful this book is.
Only Heretics Get the (Parenting) Blues.
Peretti lavishes Whitmore College with an Ivy League appearance, declaring that it’s a “privately-endowed” institution. Yes, and it still totally has so many students that it needs dormitories and can literally turn Ashton into a drug-fueled orgy once a year.
Hogan’s at Whitmore to find his freshman daughter, Sandy, who attends summer classes there. He’s bringing her home for the… weekend? The day? I guess she doesn’t have her own car and must therefore rely on her parents for rides to and from class?
As he drives, he agonizes over his poor relationship with his only child. He and Sandy fight all the time. He loves her, but he can’t seem to show it to her. Every time they interact, it seems to end poorly.
If you hadn’t already guessed, this entire scene exists to allow Frank Peretti to clumsily build and then set fire to a bunch of strawmen.
Poor Daddy. Poor, Poor Daddy.
Dazed and confused by all this unfamiliar edumacashun shtuff, Hogan eventually locates the building where his daughter sits in her last class of the day–somewhere. Gosh, he’s just so so so confused. The ruff-and-tuff Noo Yawk Tahms newspaper editor just can’t figure out where to go.
When I read this scene, it seriously reminded me of the way that so many fundagelical men I’ve known have acted strategically incompetent. Peretti wants his readers to sympathize with poor widdle Hogan, out of his element in the big bad halls of secular education.
That impression solidifies as he finds Sandy’s classroom. She’s a freshman taking summer classes to make up for time lost in her family’s move to Ashton. Somehow, she’s ended up in a class called “Psychology of Self,” where her teacher is spewing pure upperclassman academia gibberish. He enters the classroom.
And Peretti takes an opportunity here to build a bunch more strawmen.
The Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane.
Remember when Calvin & Hobbes joked about academics’ sometimes unnecessarily high-flown language? That’s Sandy’s teacher. Hogan “smirks” about how useless he thinks the teacher’s words are:
Yeah, here was more of that college stuff, that funny conglomeration of sixty-four-dollar words which impress people with your academic prowess but can’t get you a paying job.
It’s weird that Hogan doesn’t realize that teaching a college class is indeed “a paying job.” But Peretti’s channeling pure culture-war vitriol here. When he wrote TPD, a frothing hatred of higher education was only beginning to come together in his tribe.
Then he insults psychology as a field of study. Mainly, he blames this field for giving his daughter weird ideas:
First Sandy blamed her snotty attitude on a violent birth experience, and then what was it? Poor potty training? Her new thing was self-knowledge, self-esteem, identity; she already knew how to be hung up on herself–now they were teaching it to her in college.
I think we’ve got a good lead on exactly why Hogan has so much trouble relating to his daughter. But I doubt Peretti realizes what a dynamic he’s drawn. No way, no how is he a good enough writer to know that.
To him, Hogan can indeed love his daughter very much–and yet feel withering contempt for her at the same time and also be totally okay with embarrassing her in front of her peers.
He Was BEING NICE.
To Hogan’s shock, Sandy’s teacher–a beautiful blonde woman with dark eyes that “twitched a bit”–kicks him out of the classroom.
Oh, he tries to fight about it. When she asks why he’s in the classroom, he replies that he’s waiting for Sandy. Peretti makes sure to tell us that “his tone was courteous,” because Christians like him literally think that if they’re being “courteous,” they should be allowed to say and do anything they want.
AND THEN THAT MEAN OLE MEANIEPIE TEACHER THROWS HIM OUT.
Sorry for the caps, but Peretti definitely makes clear that this is an all-caps situation. Look at him! He was being “courteous!” She still threw him out anyway! How dare she!
But it’s how she threw him out that’s weird.
Remember Hogan’s recent chat with Alf Brummel, and how Brummel mind-controlled him into basically capitulating about something he already wasn’t all that freaked out about? The teacher here does the same thing. Literally, she already had the power to demand he leave the classroom. She didn’t need to do anything magical to him to get him to leave.
But she gives him the Evil Demonic Googly Stare, just like Alf Brummel did.
Under the Stare’s awesome power, Hogan completely capitulates again. And again, it’s about something he already would have had to capitulate about in the first place.
When class lets out, Sandy walks right past her own father in the crowd. The gargoyle-demon clings to Hogan’s leg like a dog humping it, briefly preventing him from catching up to her.
Remember, Hogan’s here in the first place to take Sandy home. She isn’t going to not go home. So the demon’s work is not only ineffectual, but also pointless–just like the Evil Demonic Googly Stares were.
When they finally catch up to each other, Hogan starts a bad argument with her.
JFC, Not The Arguers-in-Public.
Basically, Hogan thinks he owns his daughter–you know, like fundagelicals think they do. Sandy disagrees with this claim. They fight about where his control ends and her rights to autonomy begin. The Noo Yawk Tahms ruff-and-tuff editor sure has a lot of very fundagelical conceptualizations of family. And he sure doesn’t mind getting into a knock-down, drag-out argument in public, just like pretty much every fundagelical couple I ever knew.
The demon elevates their conflict until Sandy runs off. Hogan’s parting shot involves a question about exactly how she’ll get home without a ride from him (another attempt to exert control). Then, the demon makes him feel even more upset and desolate–not that he needed to do that. The little guy even reaches “his talons” out to squeeze Hogan’s heart. Seriously. This just gives Hogan more of a sad.
Remember, kids, only heathens fall victim to demonic influence and have terrible family dynamics.
Then some angels show up (at the beginning of Chapter 5) and scare the demon away just by their presence.
What’d We Learn in This Chapter?
- Demons expend supernatural power for the absolutely stupidest reasons and for the most unnecessary of displays.
- If they didn’t waste mana like that, they probably wouldn’t be so skittish.
- People who have been granted demonic power expend that power in similarly stupid ways for similarly unnecessary reasons.
- Sandy’s teacher is probably the “blond woman” Bernice saw at the secret meeting at the Festival.
- The demon actually sounds kinda cute in a Fizzgig kinda way.
What Else Did We Learn?
- Higher education is bad.
- Liberalism is bad.
- Psychology is bad.
- Kids growing up into adults is bad.
- Only heathens get in dumb arguments with their kids, treat them with contempt, or try their best to control and humiliate them.
- Arguing in public however is fine.
- I don’t think Frank Peretti holds any degree past a high school diploma. (Wikipedia says he “studied” at UCLA, but not that he ever graduated.)
This book could easily have been written in 2019, with just a few changes (cell phones, notably). In all those years, fundagelicals have only deteriorated as a group. They sure haven’t changed much at all.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over early signs of the battle-lines drawn by today’s culture warriors.
NEXT UP: Speaking of which, the Southern Baptist Convention has decided to handle its ongoing sex-abuse scandal in its usual fashion. See you next time!
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