The Midpoint Slog in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #137, Ch. 21)

The Midpoint Slog in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #137, Ch. 21) April 13, 2020

Hi and welcome back! It’s time for Lord Snow Presides! Let’s turn our attention once again to Frank Peretti’s most famous anti-apologetics tool, his 1986 fantasy novel This Present Darkness (TPD). In this installment, we trudge through the midpoint plots one by one, without regard for good storytelling of any kind. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the midpoint slog in This Present Darkness.

signposts in Südtirol, Italy
(Sandra Grünewald.) Südtirol, Italy.

(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. All quoted material — in block quotes or in the post itself — come from actual sources.)

Slogging Through Plot Points, One by One.

We have now passed through the dead middle of this book.

Hooray Team FinishingThisBook!

So much of this novel reminds me of setpieces like those we unfortunately encounter in terrible movies like Transformers: Dark of the Moon. They represent the big important scenes that thrilled the storyteller to relate.

Alas, to get to them the storyteller must create a (sorta) cohesive narrative to string them together. So here, our storyteller slogs through those boring plot bits to get to the setpieces that excite him. He must show us how the heroes got from Point A to Point Thrilling Scene, and this book’s non-setpieces reveal how he chose to do it.

The story itself in This Present Darkness wasn’t really the big emphasis for him. It’s not why he chose to write this book and not some other.

No, Frank Peretti just wanted to show us awesomesauce scenes of angels putting swords through car hoods and pulling young women through expensive hotels’ bathroom windows, of counter-agents photocopying nefarious documents their bosses’ Day-Timers, of a big huge tense church vote that somehow works to the heroes’ favor. I’m sure I’ll run across the ultimate setpiece at this novel’s climax: the vision that established that yes, Peretti had well and truly found his novel. And I’ll recognize it instantly when I see it — of that point, I have no doubt at all.

How these character got to these scenes doesn’t matter in the slightest, only that the scenes occur.

So let’s get to it! Allez cuisine! Allez livre!

Bernice Tells a Porkie Pie.

In general, you can almost never trust a liar. Specifically, you can never trust an organization whose first choice is to lie.

— Politico, regarding Project Veritas (but easily applied to Christians)

In the very first scene, we already saw Bernice lying her way into yet another real-estate agent’s office. She succeeds grandly this time, gaining access to the office’s microfiche files. (Back in the 1980s, that wasn’t frowned upon much, though it’s become more unacceptable in recent years — perhaps because lied-to sources can more easily uncover the truth nowadays.)

In the files, Bernice finds nothing listed under Alexander Kaseph, who is Susan Jacobson’s boss and the local leader of the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). However, she does run into an unfamiliar name: “Omni Corporation.”

We haven’t seen this name before now either [ETA: Actually, we did. It’s on Kaseph’s name card at the gala. Thanks, Azel!] However, it does sound very similar to “Universal Consciousness Society,” which we’ve already encountered as the name of Alexander Kaseph’s fancy New Age club — the Cabal itself. They popped up in Chapter 18 as the group holding a gala at that aforementioned expensive hotel. Frank Peretti clearly operates under Star Wars rules: in his book, two New Age-y groups can’t possibly be completely unrelated.

Omni Corporation seems to be buying up a lot of real estate, too! However, “the girl at the front” of the office realizes Bernice lied to her to gain access to those files.

Bernice gets bustled out of there before she can finish her undercover work. Oh noes!

The Remnant Hold a Meeting.

Hank Busche, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ pastor, holds a meeting at the home of Andy and June Forsythe. He has invited all the church members whose loyalties he can completely trust.

It functions exactly as one would expect, meaning that things get completely out of hand. The conversation quickly turns to Satanic Panicking. A pair of new members, Dan and Jean Corsi, get the panic ball rolling. Their son, Bobby, has begun behaving very strangely. They think the local college, which he just began attending, had something to do with it!

Ron Forsythe, the Forsythe’s son and the exorcism guy from earlier, confirms that something about that college turns kids into Satanists. Things start getting completely out of hand, with members beginning to openly show signs of hysteria. Jean Corsi even starts wailing about Bobby being possessed! But then Hank steps in. He turns his flock’s energies toward prayer. Prayer won’t accomplish a single thing and won’t actually help the situations these parents find themselves in with their wayward kids, but at least it gets them out of panic mode.

They pray and sing, and the angels groove all over it cuz TRUE CHRISTIAN™ devotions (not their master, Yahweh) give them the power to meddle in earthly matters. Hooray!

Kate Marshall’s Unhappiness.

Kate Marshall, Hogan’s wife, is very upset with her husband. 

He’s missed a whole lot of dinners lately. She feels neglected, as one easily might in this situation. Worse, he’s absented himself from the growing problem with Sandy, their daughter. Sandy’s been absorbed into Shawn Ormsby’s life, and Marshall could hardly act like he’s less interested in the whole topic.

Worse still, Kate’s starting to suspect that her husband might be crushing on his favorite reporter, Bernice (p. 199):

He was married to that newspaper, maybe enamored by that young, attractive reporter.

And that, literally, is all the time she devotes to the topic of her husband of decades maybe cheating on her with a woman half her own age.

Kate ends her scene with grim resolve (p. 199):

Kate shoved her plate away and tried to keep from crying. She couldn’t start fussing and shedding tears now, not when she had to think clearly. Undoubtedly there would be decisions to make, and she would have to make them alone.

It sure sounds like she might be considering a separation or divorce at this point. Yikes!

Tal Is Perfectly Willing to Sacrifice Some Humans.

In the next scene, the angels confer worriedly. They’ve noticed Marshall Hogan’s growing interest in Bernice, his reporter! ZOMG what if he FALLS to his lusts?!?

Tal, their leader, isn’t worried. He’s totally okay with the humans on their side destroying their lives. In fact, they kinda must risk Hell and damnation as well as uncounted losses in all real-world matters. Their falls must happen for his big plan to succeed (p. 199):

“Captain,” Guilo said, “what if Hogan falls?”

Tal leaned back against the dank metal wall and said, “We can’t be concerned with the question of ‘if.’ The question we must deal with is ‘when.’ Both Hogan and Busche are now laying the foundation we need for this battle. Once that’s done, Hogan as well as Busche must fall. Only their clear defeat will coax the Strongman out of hiding.”

Guilo and Nathan both looked at Tal with consternation.

“You–you would sacrifice these men?” Nathan asked.

“Only for a season,” Tal answered.

There you go. Yuck!

Marshall and Bernice.

Marshall and Bernice are indeed growing too close for fundagelical comfort.

The scene begins innocently enough, with them poring over their notes together. In doing so, they discover just how much real estate “Omni Corporation” holds in Ashton.

In fact, not only that, but it seems like all of the people they’ve identified as the ring of villains in town, the so-called “Network” — composed of the college’s regents, most of the New Age cult Juleen Langstrat operates, and many others — live in residences owned by Omni. And the former owners of Omni’s real-estate portfolio all seem to be people who once opposed the villains.

Alarmingly, everything Omni’s doing seems “perfectly legal,” Hogan says. Also alarmingly, these two reporters know nothing about this company, and their takeover of Ashton happened without them noticing anything at all.

At the end of the scene, they hold hands in journalistic camaraderie and declare their loyalty to each other. Uh oh!

Developing the Plot, Sort Of.

There’s something incredibly boring about how Peretti reveals all of these plot points, like each represents one plodding footstep after the next.

We don’t see Bernice lying her way into the real-estate office. She just does it, and then she  miraculously lucks into the exact information she needed all along.

We don’t even see a bit of resistance to Jean Corsi’s insistence that her son is possessed by demons. The group and the story itself all assume she’s totally correct. Nobody actually says why this big meeting of the Remnant occurs, for that matter. It just does. (Though as we’ll see in a future LSP, this meeting represents one of the most believable parts of the entire chapter.)

Heck, Peretti doesn’t even bother offering any reasons behind why Marshall Hogan instantly concludes that Alexander Kaseph’s involvement with Omni Corporation is “obvious,” as he himself puts it.

The romance between Marshall and Bernice comes similarly completely out of nowhere, and is there only because the plot (the literal plot in the story, and not only the book’s plot) requires it.

The Worst Possible Chapter in the Worst Possible Story.

This chapter’s supposed to represent Frank Peretti’s plot being developed. We get a clearer picture of the plans of the heroes, a clearer sense of the stakes involved, and a much clearer sense of exactly how important this plot is to the grand scheme of things — and a better sense of just how seriously the angels take that plot.

It’s just such a childish way to dot one’s tees and cross one’s ayes [sic]. It’s like Frank Peretti himself wasn’t invested at all in his own story, so he just chose to dump all of his plot points right here in this chapter so he could start getting to the big setpieces that undoubtedly dot the landscape of the second half of his book.

And as such, doesn’t this chapter represent, in a very real way, exactly why fundagelical media is so god-awfully bad?

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the sad disdain that Frank Peretti and his tribe have for the many compelling stories contained within the human experience, all in favor of childish setpieces that backfire anyway by revealing how banal and evil their imaginary god really is.

NEXT UP: An especially-sleazy multi-level marketing scam suddenly gains nationwide attention — amid yet more troubles for another MLM whose huns recently got caught in an embarrassing lie. Join me tomorrow for some well-earned schadenfreude!


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Final note: It took me a while to remember just how important Day-Timers were to fundagelicals back in the 1980s. EVERYONE had one, especially if they were involved in Amway or some other MLM.

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. And she still can't carry a note in a bucket. You can read more about the author here.
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