Hi and welcome back to our weekly off-topic chat series, Lord Snow Presides! As usual, we return to our long-running review of Frank Peretti’s cringeworthy 1986 bestselling book, This Present Darkness. In this installment, we find more characters who aren’t nearly as smart as their creator believes, and more dumb demons. Today, Lord Snow Presides over demons who can’t find their butts with both hands, and the Christians who need them to be that way.
(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions. Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book.)
A Quick Whisk For Form’s Sake.
Me: Let me read you this scene.
Mr. Captain: No. It’ll be dumb.
Me: Yes, but I need another human being to see what I just saw.
MrC: It’ll be dumb. I can already tell you that. That whole book is dumb. If you saw something so incredibly dumb that you needed me to hear about it, it’s going to be really dumb.
MrC: Okay, but please understand that this’ll be a ‘here, smell this’ situation.
Narrator: It was, as predicted, really dumb. And we’re just not talking about it.
Before we get into the meat of chapter 15, let me whisk through the first bits. They’re absolutely inconsequential in terms of plot advancement, and it shows in the lackluster writing. Even Frank Peretti just wanted to dot his “i”s and cross his “t”s here to move on to what really interested him.
Marshall Hogan Calls Home.
Marshall Hogan is running late and won’t be home in time for dinner. So he calls to let his wife Kate know. She is super-upset because she cooked a nice dinner and he won’t be home. But really, she wants to talk to him about their daughter Sandy. That new guy she met, Shawn Ormsby, seems to be changing her in ways that her mom doesn’t like. Kate wants to chat with her husband about the situation and formulate a response to it. However, Sandy’s right there with Shawn at present–he’s an omnipresent feature at dinnertime lately–so she can’t just say what she wants over the phone.
Hogan refuses to drop his work to return home for dinner and Kate gets even more upset.
C’est la vie, right? That’s the life of a ruff-n-tuff NOO YAWK TAHMS JOURNAMALIST like him. Surely Kate knew about that from back when he was working for the actual New York Times, right? Besides, if Shawn’s their guest for dinner, it’s not like they’ll be able to talk freely until he leaves anyway.
Ah well. I guess Peretti just needed to amp the stakes up for his hero. (We saw a similar tactic in the first God’s Not Dead from 2014. In it, the hero’s girlfriend was a constant source of unnecessary drama and artificially-crammed-in conflict for him. After she dumped him, she vanished. We never saw her again.)
Marshall Hogan Calls Juleen Langstrat.
So next, Hogan tries to call Juleen Langstrat again. Last time, the phone was off the hook cuz Langstrat was conducting lesbomancy with Sandy. (That will be the name of my Learning Annex course one day.) This time, he reaches her. She doesn’t really want to talk to him, though. When he asks about her throwing him out of her classroom a couple of weeks ago, she denies remembering any such incident and hangs up on him.
This was the scene I simply had to read to Mr. Captain.
No reason in the world exists for why Langstrat would deny tossing Hogan out of her classroom. He didn’t deserve to be there. He wasn’t paying for her time, while everyone else there most certainly was. She should have been quite proud of tossing him out on his ear. Really, she was protecting her legitimate students’ investment by refusing to let some rando tie up their valuable time. Not a single rule in existence frowns upon what she did.
Bernice, who works beside Hogan that evening, notes that it’s quite weird that so few of their targeted people-of-interest remember having anything to do with them. They playfully toss wads of paper at each other while Hogan works out what to do next. Hogan decides to call Dean Strachan later on, while Bernice works out who might be newly-fired/newly-quit in various positions of influence around Ashton.
(Mr. Captain interpreted this business as flirtatious. I think I agree. The way Peretti presents it, it’s a disarmingly playful yet intimate interaction–but coming so quickly after the intimate hug the two shared, it might represent that “slippery slope” that fundagelicals always panic about. Really, that bit represents the only decent writing in the chapter. We’ll see where he goes with this angle.)
Now we plunge into the meat of this chapter: dumb demons and worried angels who need humans to do the Jesus stuff for them.
Rafar still fumes after his lost engagement with Triskal earlier that day. His demons tried super-hard to get Mary Busche raped and murdered, but she escaped. They couldn’t even force Triskal to tell them where his captain, Tal, is hiding!
One of his subordinates, Lucius, sees an opportunity in Rafar’s raging. He realizes that Rafar’s meeting with the Strongman (He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, apparently) must have gone poorly. He taunts and screams at Rafar by turns. When Rafar freaks out–a predictable outcome that a smart demon might have seen coming a mile away–Lucius appeases him by groveling.
This scene reminded me mightily of how fundagelicals act when their leaders mess up or make mistakes. Either one amounts to an admission of vulnerability and weakness–and rare indeed are the fundagelicals who don’t leap upon such a glorious opportunity to cut that person down to advance themselves at another’s expense. Even the groveling sounds exactly like what happens when such leaders re-assert their dominance.
Whatever the case, Rafar sets his subordinates to finding Tal. He thinks if he can find, fight, and defeat Tal in single combat, that’ll pretty much finish the angels.
(We saw a similar wackadoodle tactic in 2013’s I’m in Love With a Church Girl, where the narcs think if they can find and defeat the area’s drug-dealing kingpin, they’ll end all illegal drug trade forever in their area. Hooray Team Jesus!)
Away in a Basement.
All day long, Rafar flies above Ashton while brandishing his sword. It sounds a lot like the bottle-clinking scene from the 1979 movie The Warriors where the bad guy taunts the heroes to “come out and play.”
The scene in question. This actor still provokes a kneejerk hate response from me. I can’t help it. He might be a lovely man who loves puppies and does volunteer charity work. It wouldn’t matter in the least. He was just such an incredible villain here and in his other early to mid-career movies that it’s colored my perception of him forevermore.
Since The Warriors came out well before This Present Darkness (1986), I’m going to lay real odds on this scene having been an influence on the author.
But the angels do not come out to play.
Instead, most of them are busy hiding in “an obscure store basement” in town. Scion watches Rafar’s taunting display through the window. They know perfectly well that Rafar super-wants to know where Tal is–so he can fight the angels’ leader. He’s already sent his demons to go check out Hank Busche’s TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church, which reminds me of a saying popular when I was Pentecostal, even demons go to church and read the Bible. Tal’s placed a few angels there for show, to throw them off. So far, it’s working.
When Scion–who is, remember, our red-headed and freckle-faced angel from the Emerald Isle–comments that he’d “have trouble bein’ taunted by such as him,” Tal replies with “the truth, without shame” (p. 149):
“If I were to meet him now I would most certainly lose, and he knows it. Our prayer cover is insufficient–while he has all the backing he needs. . . We will all have to be very, very careful.”
Only in Bizarro Fundagelical-Land could a scene depicting cowering heroes give readers a thrill of agency and purpose. Because I promise you: that is what just happened here for fundagelicals.
Dumb Demons + Weak Angels In Need of Jesus Power.
Christians need their enemies to be utter dunderheads. That way, literally any Christian can–at least in theory–defeat a demon with Jesus Power. Yes, this belief implies as a corollary that if a Christian loses to a demon, they weren’t powered up enough with Jesus Power.
But this time, the angels–normally regarded as their creator’s messengers and warriors–are the weak ones. They can’t win a fight against Rafar without “prayer cover.” And the only way to get prayer cover is to get humans to, well, pray.
Ah, but wait! Not all prayer does the trick. Only TRUE CHRISTIAN™ prayers work to increase prayer cover. (During the church meeting scene, we saw a lot of awful fake Christians praying, which the angels specifically called out as not providing prayer cover to them.)
They just don’t have enough prayer cover yet to risk a direct confrontation with their enemy. Their turf contains too few TRUE CHRISTIANS™ farming prayers yet.
By contrast, their enemies have “all the backing” they could possibly want, thanks to the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (Or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). The Cabal has gained so much control of Ashton that the demons aren’t worried about their power levels.
I wonder if Frank Peretti was thinking here about the scene from Peter Pan (which opened as a stage production in 1954 right after becoming a smash Disney animated hit in 1953) where Pan gets the audience to clap if they believe in fairies so their faith can heal Tinker Bell?
The scene in question. “Do you believe? Oh please, please believe! If you believe, wherever you are, clap your hands and Jesus will hear you!”
A Scary New Street-Legal Way For Fundagelicals to Express Their Aggression and Power-Lust.
There’s no way this dynamic of “prayer cover” didn’t influence generations of young Christians. Along with the other doctrines they were buying into around then, fundagelicals were fast becoming the dangerous powderkeg of politicization and aggression that they are today–and the transformation isn’t even finished yet.
In his book, Frank Peretti offered fundagelicals a way to visualize themselves as super-important to the mission of fighting and defeating demons–and then he told them that joining this fight would allow them to take over their real-world communities and cities, maybe even their entire world. They could see themselves as working hand-in-hand to create the heaven-on-earth that they now believed their god wanted for them
(For more info, see this very excitable pastor’s essay. Obviously, he’s wrong about a lot of what he asserts, but he seems to get it right when he talks about why his tribe seems so gaga over this ideology he saw as corrupting his Original Christianity, and where he saw those influences as deriving. As a bonus, it’s roughly contemporaneous with the Toronto Blessing itself. So if you check it out, you’ll be ready for tomorrow’s post too!)
And as we’re seeing lately with our examination of the Toronto Blessing, this goal proved to be one that fundagelicals could very solidly get behind.
Instead of looking to the Rapture and Heaven as their spiritual home and ultimate goal, they now wanted the Earth–and all that it contained. As silly as it is to behold such dumb demons and powerless angels, both fit into a new worldview for fundagelicals–one that plagues us even today.
So today, Lord Snow Prevails over the Christians who need feel powerful and necessary to their imaginary wizard friend in the sky.
NEXT UP: How the Toronto Blessing took the UK by storm. See you tomorrow! <3
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow presides over a suggested topic for the day, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.
Closing note: In our next LSP, we get to the other red meat of this chapter: Hank Busche uses Jesus Power on a stoned kid in a video arcade–and it works, because in their dreams, Christians are free indeed. I don’t normally spoil stuff like that. But dang, it’s just so incredibly, awesomely laughable all the way around that–as Mr. Captain discovered earlier–I can’t hold it bad to myself for long. So here we are. Now you know! Guard this knowledge well.