L.B.: Meet the GIRAT

L.B.: Meet the GIRAT October 21, 2003

Left Behind, pp. 6&7

It's a dangerous thing for a writer to introduce a fictional character who is, the reader is told, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time. The pitfall here is the same as if you introduce a character by telling readers he is "the absolute funniest person who ever lived."

You can get away with this, somewhat, if you're writing about a great painter or musician. There you can get away with simply piling on the superlatives, perhaps describing the reaction of others to the artist's work. Readers do not expect you to actually show them a painting or play for them a symphony.

But if you introduce a character, as L&J do with Buck Williams, as a great writer and reporter, the reader has a right to expect that you will provide more than overheated adjectives. Readers want to read what the GIRAT has written.

L&J provide only the briefest snippets of their master journalist's handiwork, and these fall far short of the buildup that Buck is the greatest writer in the world, or even a good or competent journalist.

This is particularly glaring since Buck has been an eyewitness to some astonishing events. In the next few pages, we read of his firsthand involvement in two pieces of unprecedented, world-changing, revolutionary actions, all of which is mere setup for what happens next — a third, overwhelmingly illusion-shattering incident that forms the premise for all that follows in the book.

Any one of these events should serve, on its own, to invert everything everyone thought they knew. All preconceptions should be altered, the world and world-view of everyone on earth should be irreversibly shaken to its foundation and tentatively rebuilt.

But that doesn't happen. The characters who occupy L&J's fictional world are as oblivious, self-absorbed and incurious as L&J rely on their readers to be.

Take the second incident Williams witnesses: Russia launches a massive undeclared first strike against Israel. Why? That is never explained, and it doesn't occur to the authors or to their master investigative reporter to ask such a simple question.

We are simply told that Russia, unprovoked, launches every missile, every warhead, every plane it has against Israel. That alone should be sufficient to reset everyone's mental calendar. Every person's internal and external frame of reference would be altered to think of the world in terms of Before and After. Think September 11 magnified by several factors of ten.

Yet this event registers as only a flicker in the mind of the GIRAT, even though he was in Israel at the time of the attack.

(The other characters we've met so far — a pilot and flight attendant whose daily routine consists of international travel, and an End Times-obsessed housewife who would likely watch news about the Middle East more closely than news about her own school district — don't even seem to have noticed that this all-out nuclear assault happened. We read nothing about any disruptions in international flights following this war. We read nothing about Irene Steele's citing this apocalyptic conflict to her husband in their many arguments about her own interpretation of the Last Days. In coming chapters, the novel becomes preoccupied with the United Nations. Yet scarcely any mention is made of how the unilateral launching of a nuclear war by a permanent member of the Security Council might alter the dynamics of that body.)

Anyway, here's how the GIRAT reported, firsthand, from the scene of an all-out nuclear surprise attack:

To say the Israelis were caught off guard, Cameron Williams had written, was like saying the Great Wall of China was long.

Just remember, when L&J discuss good writing, this is what they mean.

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  • Deana Holmes

    It gets worse. First there’s the Rapture, which requires an incredible suspension of belief, and then there are all these other supernatural events. And nobody is *curious* as to *why*. There’ll be a point a few books on where those who aren’t sealed with this Christian “mark” (which, by the way, can be faked rather successfully) are afflicted by weird stinging insects. This goes on for a few *months*. Is there any discussion of the impact this single event would have had on the world economy or governance? What about science, going out to capture the insects? Where’s the CDC? It’s as if simple human curiosity was taken away in the Rapture.
    One of the doctrines of (some of) the pre-tribulationists is the belief that when the Rapture comes, the influence of God will be removed from the earth so that evil can totally reign. It was described to me, in more than one sermon I heard when I was quite a bit younger the Holy Spirit himself would be removed from the earth. Perhaps that’s the case with the LB books, they seem to be so lacking in the graciousness of God.

  • BrettK

    From the bookflaps of LaHaye’s new merchandise, “Babylon Rising”–
    “…Now Tim LaHaye has created a new series that begins with Babylon Rising. The novels in this new series are even faster-paced thrillers based on prophecies that are not covered in the Left Behind books and that have great relevance to the events of today.
    “Babylon Rising introduces a terrific new hero for our time. Michael Murphy is a scholar of Biblical prophecy, but not the sedate and tweedy kind. Murphy is a field archaeologist who defies danger to fearlessly hunt down and authenticate ancient artifacts from Biblical times. His latest discovery is his most amazing–but it will send him hurtling from a life of excavation and revelations to a confrontation with the forces of the greatest evil. For the latest secret uncovered by Michael Murphy accelerates the countdown to the time of the end for all mankind.”
    Defies *danger* to authenticate artifacts! My kinda man!!

  • zenjohn

    “…a scholar…but not the sedate and tweedy kind.” Yeah, so neener neener you effete intellectual snobs. It’s Indiana Jones meets Bob Jones.

  • Deana Holmes

    Gosh, the Christian Indiana Jones. Is it even possible that Evangelical Christians can come up with something original, rather than stealing ideas from popular culture and editing them for their own audiences?

  • TR

    Wait…Let me guess…The Christian Indiana Jones will go out and find The Lost Ark of Noah!
    Maybe I should start writing end-times novels. I hope there’s still time to cash in on this craze before the End comes.

  • Jorge

    It’s as if simple human curiosity was taken away in the Rapture.
    Curiosity? Isn’t that one of those evil, satanic, intelectual traits? Curiosity implies a willingness to question and as Timmy and Jerry will tell you, True Xtians don’t question, they just BELIEVE! Hence why a series so full of plot holes is so popular. The audience just obsorbs what they read without thinking critically about th eplot. This explenation also covers why the Bible is so popular as it too is so chock full of holes and inconsistances, one wonders if it comes from Switzerland instead of Isreal.

  • Deana Holmes

    Probably the most unbelievable aspect of the book was how everyone who remained (with the exception of some Jews) was going to join the great One World Religion under the Antichrist and the False Prophet. Jerry and Tim don’t live in the real world. People aren’t going to join a new religion and (at the very least) lose the authority that they have in their old faiths–at least not willingly (and Tim & Jerry think this will be very willingly).
    The whole series is a fundievangelical wet dream.

  • Patann

    … scarcely any mention is made of how the unilateral launching of a nuclear war by a permanent member of the Security Council might alter the dynamics of that body.)
    This makes one wonder if there really is such a gap in consciousness in this country, I mean look at our own behavior. We’ve hardly batted an eyelash to what bush has wrought, and is talking about, at least some of us haven’t.
    It’s as if simple human curiosity was taken away in the Rapture … or before?
    Has everyone here actually read these books? I’ve just discovered this blog, and I love it, I love theology, even crazy stuff, but not this end times crap. I read some years ago (Late, Great Planet …). Not sure I could stomach more of it.

  • James R MacLean

    What Patann said. My God, this is fantastic! Thanks, Slacktivist!

  • Deana Holmes

    I confess, I read the first 8 volumes of LB. But I skipped all the sermons! The publishers helpfully indented them in the books, so it was easy to skip 10 or 20 pages and take up the narrative after the necessary Come to Jesus sermons. (I rather thought of them as commercials breaking up some schlocky fare on the USA Network.)
    But I really have read vast quantities of this dreck and they’re all pretty bad. Probably the worst of the lot were two books by Salem Kirban: 666 and 1000. I have several memories of these books:
    1) The cheesy pictures! It was illustrated with really bad pictures that rather remind me of old versions of the Scientology work What Is Scientology?
    2) The cheesy analogies! Someone had a plaque on their wall that said, “Things Change Prayer”. Of course, the real slogan is “Prayer Changes Things” and you were supposed to recognize that “Things Change Prayer” was wrong because it had six letters in each word- 6 6 6 – of course it was from the antichrist.
    3) The fake Mark designed to dupe the antichrist and his minions! That’s been one of the hardest problems for writers of antichrist fiction…the Bible says that anyone who takes the mark of the Beast can’t be saved. But if they don’t, well, they’ll die, and martyrdom is messy and you don’t get to hang around for the Grand Finale (the Second Coming of Jesus). So of course there are these usual schemes to keep people around, duping the antichrist, through the use of the fake Marks. Of course they can’t be real; having Jesus kill off characters because they took the Mark would be very bad form. Of course, in LB, Buck doesn’t get asked “Where’s your Mark?” as he’s rummaging through a prison looking for a particular person to rescue, while people are about to be killed for refusing to take that Mark.
    I’m sure I could think of more, but I’ve got mental fatigue trying to remember back 20 years and more.

  • Karmakin

    Is this just REALLY bad Alternative History/Sci Fi type fiction? that’s what it sounds like. It has all these huge changes that are happening in a vacumn.
    To “clense the pallette”, so to speak. I would suggest Harry Turtledove’s Second Civil War Series, start with Guns of the South, about how the Civil war was fought to a draw…to How Few Remain, through the Great War series, and now up to American Empire, about a socialisst North vs. a Fascist South.
    Largely entertaining reading…and completely believable.

  • Jeff Scott

    Another nice Sci-Fi/Armageddon series is John Shirley’s 80’a cyberpunk classic Eclipse trilogy.
    Thanks for reading “Left Behind” for us slacktivist. Your posts, and the dialog in this forum are fascinating and great fun (though a tad scary considering that there are ppl in power in the world’s last superpower that appear to take this crap seriously).

  • Adam Kotsko

    I’m still a little bit skeptical as to whether Bush and Rumsfeld personally believe this kind of crap and explicitly apply it to their foreign policies — but in any event, they’re obviously willing for others to do that for them. I think that the lack of detail about the consequences of, say, Russia bombing the hell out of Israel or the way the UN actually works are products of the Manichean mindset of these authors. The Bible is good, so we need to at least pretend we know what’s in it. Since the UN and nations (other than the US) that start wars are evil, it’s probably better not to know about them. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the general tendency of people to claim pride in their ignorance (I don’t waste my time learning about that!), and I’m sure it’s only intensified when the topic at hand is considered morally out of bounds.

  • Jeff Keezel

    I like your comments on the need for a writer to provide examples of the abilities of their characters. I always thought that a major failing of Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full” was his refusing to provide an example of the sermons his main character was supposed to be delivering at the end of the book.
    Here you have the novel climaxing with this Updikian Rabbit-like character who chucks his whole upper-middle class lifestyle to become a traveling evangelist preaching the virtues of stoicism. But Wolfe never creates that sermon for us to read.
    The other day you pointed out the “fear of death” evident in so much rapture-mania. I think that is exactly what is playing out in this situation with Terri Schiavo in Florida…thekeez

  • Lisa

    The authors are laughingly out of touch with basic reality. For one thing, Israel is tiny – Russia wouldn’t even have to launch a massive nuclear attack to demolish it. One or two nukes would do it, guys – save them weapons for Armageddon or something. And the idea of Israel becoming rich through super-productive agriculture is a hoot. Have these two paid any attention to the big fight going on between the industrialized and developing countries over agriculture subsidies? The world produces TOO MUCH food already and at TOO LOW a price. Rather than become wealthy through exports, Israel would most likely become the target of angry calls to restrict its production for the sake of the world economy.
    I guess they figure their readers are more clueless than they are.

  • Revelations.

    Slacktivist is blogging about the mega-bestselling “Left Behind” novels, so far here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here….

  • none

    I think everything would be dead, period. That sort of nukular party time would not stay localised. Fallout anyone?

  • Grimgrin

    I was curious about just how big an error this actually was, is it possible to be in isreal during this event and live through it, let alone not notice it for example?
    So let’s look at the information on Russias nuclear aresenal at the Center for Defence Information website. ( http://www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database/nukearsenals.cfm )
    180 SS-18 Satan ICBMs * 10 Warheads per * 550kt per warhead = 990 Gigatons (Gt)
    150 SS-19 Stilleto ICBMs * 6 Warheads per * 550kt per warhead = 828.3 Gt
    46 SS-24 Scalpel ICBMs * 10 Warheads per * 550kt per warhead = 25.3 Gt
    360 SS-25 Sickle ICBMs * 1 Warhead per * 550kt per warhead = 198 Gt
    176 SS-N-18 Stingray SLBNs * 3 warheads per * 200kt per warhead = 105.6 Gt
    60 SS-N-20 Sturgeon SLBNs * 10 warheads per * 100kt per warhead = 60 Gt
    112 SS-N-23 Skiff SLBNs * 4 warheads per * 100kt per warhead = 44.8 Gt
    29 Tu-95 MS6 Bear H6 aircraft * 15 ALCMs or bombs per aircraft (The bombers can also carry cruise missiles, but I’m assuming the russians are going for maximum yeild here) * 250 kt per bomb = 108.75 gt
    34 Tu-95 MS16 Bear H16 aircraft * 16 AS-15A ALCMs or bombs per * 250 kt = 136 gt

    15 Tu-160 Blackjack aircraft * 12 AS-15B ALCMs or bombs * 250 kt = 45 gt
    This gives the Russians 2541.75 Gigatons worth of explosive power to dump on Israel.
    The CIA world factbook tells us that Israel has a total area of 20,770 sq km.
    Assuming even distribution, this means that every square kilomter of Isreal will be hit with 122 Megatons worth of nuclear explosive.
    Using the info provided by the good people at
    a 122 megaton ground burst will leave a crater ~1.8km in diameter and ~350 m deep at it’s deepest point.
    All this mathstubation does have a point… If you were in Israel if the Russains decded for some reason to drop their entire stratgic nuclear arsenal on your head, you are dead. Totally, utterly, finally, irrevocably, superlative times 10 dead. You are not writing thrid rate prose about the attack. You are monoatomic vapor. Anything else this Cameron Willis guy may do you aren’t dooing it. You are fused into a glowing crater as deep as three football fields. DEAD.

  • romulus

    Perhaps their method of describing Williams’ journalistic prowess with adjectives instead of excerpts reflects their *actual* appreciation of the notion of factual reporting.
    After all, L&J and their evangelical target audience — as has been pointed out in this series of articles — aren’t sticklers for accuracy, faithful retellings, critical thinking, or, well, *facts*.
    These are people who think of Pat Robertson and his son homilizing over the current events of the day as evocative, hard-hitting journalism.
    So it’s not surprising that their mental understanding of “investigative reporting” is based more on qualitatives like style, effect, and titillation (and let’s not forget biblical insinuation), rather than on quantitatives like proximity to evidentiary and provable truth.

  • pc93

    Please join/participate in the Terri Schindler Life Ribbon Campaign:
    Please continue to help to spread the word.
    Happy Holidays!
    Also consider taking the following actions:
    Say Folks—
    I will say we need to do this until I am Blue in the face!
    You really want to press an issue for Terri?
    Send this statute to Bernie McCabe (727-464-6221) and demand a RESPONSE in writing why he blantantly disregards this statute?
    Pound his office with a copy of the statute and ask ONE question….WHY does he NOT oblige the LAW?
    Then send the statute to every news media you can think of and ask them to find out for us WHY Bernie McCabe supports Michael Schiavo’s actions in the NEGLECT and ABUSE of the disabled in accordance to Florida’s own statute. Is he an accomplice to this felony?? Are they discriminationg against the disabled?
    When you receive your responses, please mail them to
    Pat at:
    Patricia Fields Anderson, P.A. Attorney at Law
    447 Third Avenue North * Suite 405 *
    St. Petersburg, FL 33701
    Florida criminalizes abuse, neglect and exploitation of a disabled adult.
    In the criminal statutes, “neglect” is defined as
    1. A caregiver’s failure or omission to provide an elderly person or disabled adult with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the elderly person’s or disabled adult’s physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well- being of the elderly person or disabled adult; or
    2. A caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect an elderly person or disabled adult from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.
    Fla. Stat. § 825.102(3)(a).
    If the neglect results in “great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement” to the disabled adult, it’s a second degree felony. If there is no such harm, it’s a third degree felony.
    Fla. Stat. § 825.102(3)(b), (3)(b)
    In the Schiavo case, Judge Greer has authorized the removal of her feeding tube, pursuant to the mandate from the Second DCA.
    Judge Greer also denied the parents’ Petition for Immediate Therapy, requesting an attempt to help Terri learn to eat by mouth again.
    Judge Greer HAS NOT entered an order forbidding provision of food and water by mouth after the removal of the tube.
    In addition, Fla. Stat. § 744.3215 lists certain rights retained even after a person is adjudicated to be incapacitated. If one takes the rather broad language in 1.1 above, Schiavo’s systematic violation of those rights can also be the subject of criminal charges, as his violations have NEVER been adjudicated by the guardianship court.

  • Skyknight

    TR: Well, it looks like book two of “Indiana Jones Writ Dispensationalist” is indeed about what you claimed. Ready to go into the fortune-telling business?
    Maybe, while Slacktivist is raining needles on the Left Behind series, someone should go after the Babylon Rising series…

  • Realiness

    This came up in the aftermath to the Strange Horizons Tea Party, and it looks like Hannahs now using it as a critical term of art, so: Realiness is to realism what truthiness is to truth. Only realiness is a good thing. Realiness is what makes A…

  • Realiness

    This came up in the aftermath to the Strange Horizons Tea Party, and it looks like Hannahs now using it as a critical term of art, so: Realiness is to realism what truthiness is to truth. Only realiness is a good thing. Realiness is whats…

  • Realiness

    This came up in the aftermath to the Strange Horizons Tea Party, and it looks like Hannahs now using it as a critical term of art, so: Realiness is to realism what truthiness is to truth. Only realiness is a good thing. Realiness is whats…

  • Stentor

    Take the second incident Williams witnesses: Russia launches a massive undeclared first strike against Israel. Why? That is never explained, and it doesn’t occur to the authors or to their master investigative reporter to ask such a simple question.
    Because L&J are hacks? I’ve always equated the Left Behind series in the same vein that I regard the pornographic books I used to read in junior high, bad prose, badly written, that seeks to hammer home the point of the mosquito, with the literary force of a sledgehammer.

  • Ken

    “Salem Kirban: 666 and 1000. I have several memories of these books…”
    So do I. And none of them are good. Not enough alcohol in the world to get Brother Bartholemew and his magic laser finger-ring out of my head, and it’s been over 30 years.
    I describe 666 as “Christian fiction’s ‘Eye of Argon'” — so awful, it makes Left Behind look like Lord of the Rings in comparison.
    The scary part is it’s still in print and selling.

  • Steve

    Grimgrin: You slipped a decimal place in your calculations, or more accurately, three decimal places. Your answers are 1000 times too large. The total yields for each weapon type are accurate in *megatons*, not gigatons. (Example: 1800 SS-18 warheads at about half a megaton each = 900 *megatons*, not gigatons.
    Thus, each square kilometer of Israel gets hit with 122 *kilotons*. Still not a very healthy place to be! (Yield of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs about 15 and 20 kt respectively.)
    But, to be fair to Messrs. LaHaye and Jenkins, remember that when the attack comes, Israel has “swoll up” to perhaps 10 times its present size? That reduces the yield per square km to “only” 12 kilotons. This means that the entire inflated country would have been subjected to a Hiroshima-scale nuclear bombing.
    Of course, the ultimate escape for L&J is that God’s omnipotence means that His direct intervention can protect Bloato-Israel perfectly, even if your original numbers were right. So physics and math (and rationality) can’t win! Just like the Russkies.