L.B.: Rayford “Mary Sue” Steele

L.B.: Rayford “Mary Sue” Steele March 23, 2004

The realm of “fan fiction” is one of the few places one can turn to reliably find prose as awful and implausible as the writing of Timothy LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

I have discovered, googling around, that there exists a sub-subculture of fanfic set in the apocalyptic world of L&J’s “Left Behind” series.

This is not a world I choose to explore. I imagine that the writers of this fanfic are guilty of the same kinds of aesthetic, theological and political sins that L&J commit in their series of novels, and it is tempting to wade in and begin ridiculing the ridiculous there as well.

But one must keep in mind that L&J’s disciples are also their victims. The perpetrators of these fanfic horrors do not have the imperial influence of their masters, nor are they making the tons of money that L&J are reaping from the worst books ever written.

So these poor LB fanfic writers deserve pity, not condemnation. In many versions of the vampire myth, killing the head vampire will free their minions of the curse. The best thing we can do for these poor souls writing LB fanfic is to continue trying to drive a stake through the evil, unbeating heart of their masters.

The sad world of fan fiction does, however, provide some insight into the underlying meaning of the LB series. I am indebted to Teresa Nielsen-Hayden for introducing me to the concept of “Mary Sue” stories. Teresa provides a helpful definition:

MARY SUE (n.): 1. A variety of story, first identified in the fan fiction community, but quickly recognized as occurring elsewhere, in which normal story values are grossly subordinated to inadequately transformed personal wish-fulfillment fantasies, often involving heroic or romantic interactions with the cast of characters of some popular entertainment. 2. A distinctive type of character appearing in these stories who represents an idealized version of the author. 3. A cluster of tendencies and characteristics commonly found in Mary Sue-type stories. 4. A body of literary theory, originally generated by the fanfic community, which has since spread to other fields (f.i., professional SF publishing) because it’s so darn useful. The act of committing Mary Sue-ism is sometimes referred to as “self-insertion.”

This wish-fulfillment and self-insertion pervades Left Behind.

By page 32, where we left off, readers have been introduced to three of the main characters: Rayford Steele, Cameron “Buck” Williams and Hattie Durham. These three are among the surviving passengers on a jumbo jet piloted by Steele that is about to make an emergency landing in Chicago.

Buck Williams is a world-famous, universally admired and envied writer, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time. He’s the perfect fantasy stand-in for Jenkins, a veteran ghostwriter and as-told-to hack whose career up until this series consisted mainly of trying to make other people look good.

Rayford Steele, the mature, commanding presence in the cockpit — graying, but still attractive to women — stands in for LaHaye. (Since Jenkins did the vast majority of the actual at-the-keyboard writing for these books, it’s intriguing to consider whether the portrayal of Steele’s warped sexuality was LaHaye’s own idea, or if it reflects Jenkins’ insights into his more-famous partner.)

And what of Hattie Durham, the servile, “drop-dead gorgeous” flight attendant? She represents, for the authors, a kind of Everywoman. She is sexually attractive and sexually available, and therefore must be punished for arousing naughty sensations in the hearts and loins of our heroes, who alternately hit on this poor woman, then push her away as a means of asserting their virtue and their authority. For the dual sins of being female and attractive, Hattie will soon find herself enslaved by the will of the Antichrist himself.

But I’m gettting ahead of myself. Now, where were we … ?

= = = = = = = = = = = =

P.S.: From the e-mailbag:

Steve S. sent along this link to The Door interview with Jerry Jenkins (sort of).

And I forget who sent this in, but go see Apocamon: The Final Judgement.

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13 responses to “L.B.: Rayford “Mary Sue” Steele”

  1. This is brilliant! I love that you’re doing this–there’s no possible way I’d ever subject myself to the books–and it’s truly a service. Only someone who understands the theology and eschatology behind it could even begin to do it. I’ve also sent others over here for this series; glad it’s back!

  2. I can’t express how happy I am to see the return of the Left Behind reviews. Your other postings are also great, but this is truly something special. Maybe after you get thru this you can do Tom Clancy and his Mary Lou, Jack Ryan…

  3. Thanks for starting up this series again, Fred. I’m looking forward to reading more of your insights.
    And I am stunned that there is fan-fic for this trash. What does it say for these amateur authors/victims that their starting point is such ideologically awful fiction? Do people really identify with these novels so passionately? I find that scary.
    BTW, is there any evidence that the sales records for the L.B. series have been pumped up by bulk purchases by Right-wing politcal organizations–in the same manner as Coulter, Hannity, ad nauseum?

  4. Seeing Steele as an unconscious stand-in for Lahaye strikes me as highly plausible.
    Is Steele’s sexuality is best explained this way? It should be remembered, of course, that Lahaye published a Christian sex-guide in the seventies–it was, iirc, his break-through hit.
    It strikes me, however, that Steele’s sexuality is more plausibly explained in another way. At this point in the novel, Steele is still an unbeliever–a sinner. One phenomenon in N. American Christianity of the last few decades is the tendency to see extra marital sexuality as *the* sin par excellence: hence the fall of the Bakers and Swaggart (the accounting fraud would have been forgivable–that’s only bookkeeping!); the viciousness of the attacks on Clinton; the horror at gay unions; the emphasis on abstinence-only sexual education.
    From this point of view, it is not surprising that the sinner Steele must be a sexual sinner. It is a bit of Pavlov’s dog–ring the bell ‘sinner’ and many a fundamentalist salivates ‘sex’.

  5. Thank you for this public service. I try to keep up with your exposition of LB–as a librarian in the Ozarks I’ve spent way too many hours handling these books.
    If you think LB fanfic is weird, try out this concept: Biblical slash. Honest, it’s out there. Yahoo used to have a group.

  6. If I may: the “Mary-Sues” of fanficdom do have a male counterpart. This ultraperfect dude usually goes by Gary-Stu or Marty-Sue…but enough nitpicking…
    At least nobody’s started cranking out LB fancomics. Imagine going to eBay and finding doujinshi-style LB slash comics. Urgh. I’d just as soon attend a Sean Hannity singalong.

  7. Mary Sue fiction isn’t all bad; check out Robert Howard’s “Conan” :^) Okay, maybe it IS bad, and the joke does get old – but if you can keep it to two or three stories then it’s a fun guilty pleasure.

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  10. Actually, there are a few good fanfics out there, and generally fanfics based on a bad novel or movie will be better (or won’t be as bad). So you probably would enjoy some LB fanfic better than the books. I’ve heard there is a fix-fic called Right Behind which tries to correct the mistakes of the original. Well, good luck with that, it sounds like it’ll take a whole life.

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