L.B.: A routine flight

L.B.: A routine flight November 17, 2006

Left Behind, pp. 233-234

It's Monday and Rayford Steele is back at work (pilots get weekends off?). He has a pretty busy day ahead: flying to Atlanta and back, converting his daughter and explaining to her about his years of toying with Hattie's emotions.

The flight to Atlanta was full and busy, and Rayford had to change altitudes continually to avoid choppy air. He got to see Chloe for only a few seconds while his first officer was in the cockpit and the plane was on autopilot. Rayford made a hurried walk-through but had no time to chat.

That's a bland, normal-seeming paragraph, unless you consider the context. In context, the bland normalcy here is stark raving mad.

It's like that time at Starbucks when you were getting the lid for your coffee and found yourself talking to a very polite, well-dressed, normal-seeming woman pouring cream, and she was so blandly polite, matter-of-fact and normal-seeming, her speech so closely imitating the rhythms and intonations of normal small talk, that it took you several seconds to realize that she wasn't just commenting on the weather, but was, rather, explaining that she was in a hurry to get home so she could cook more pancakes for the basement, and that it was her basement full of pancakes that had ordered her to kill the dog.

In context, this paragraph makes the Pancake Lady seem sane.

The last time Rayford flew a plane, about a week ago, he had to turn around because dozens of his passengers had disappeared without a trace. Dozens of other airliners crashed that day and he had been forced to land between piles of smoldering wreckage, only to learn that the disappearances were a global phenomenon, reducing the world's population by 2 billion. There are no more children. Anywhere.

"Rayford had to change altitudes continually to avoid choppy air," Jenkins writes, and yet no one panics. The passengers, like Rayford, apparently just think to themselves, "Hmm, that's a bit choppy. Hope the pilot changes altitude." No one looks around the cabin after every bump, wild-eyed with fear, to see if anyone else has disappeared. No one breathes a sigh of relief when Rayford walks through the cabin, reassured that the pilot hasn't vanished. No one recalls the dozens and dozens of plane wrecks they've seen on the news for the past week and thinks to themselves, "My God, this is insane! What was I thinking getting back on an airplane?"

Rayford himself has no qualms about leaving the plane in the hands of his new first officer, the guy who replaced Chris Smith. Chris couldn't be on this flight because he took his own life after learning his wife and kids had been killed in one of the uncountable crashes that accompanied the disappearances. The last time Rayford saw him, his last glimpse of the first officer the last time he flew a plane, all he saw was a bloodied wrist sticking out from under the coroner's sheet.

That was a week ago.

I realize this isn't the first time I've pointed out this weird disconnect, this absence of consequences, this apathy and incuriosity toward the victims of the story. By this point it's clear we should expect nothing else from Left Behind. But once more let me say again that there's more to this than just Bad Writing.

It also is Bad Writing, of course, a failure of imagination, craft and work ethic that destroys any sense of reality in the story. And part of the reason for that, as we've seen, is that the authors don't have time for such work. They don't have time to research the correct details (even to glance at a map) or to re-read what they've written to see if it makes sense, or if they're repeating phrases and descriptions from earlier chapters.

They don't have time because they have too much ground to cover. The Great Tribulation is unfolding, a seven-year period crammed full of bowls of wrath, seals, judgments and horrors. All of these events, they believe, must occur in their proper order to fulfill their detailed scheme of End Times prophecies. So they can't afford to linger on the effects of Event No. 1, the Rapture. Any physical or emotional consequences from that must be swept away as quickly as possible so they can move on to event No. 2: The Rise of the Antichrist. This is the only way they know to approach the story of the Great Tribulation.

This is also the only way they know to approach real life, now, in this time and place. Just as the Great Tribulation consists of a long checklist of prophecies, so too now there is a checklist of prophecies they believe must occur before the Rapture occurs and all the fun starts. That checklist is a bit more vague: wars, rumors of war, earthquakes, floods, famine, plague, Bad Stuff in general.

Preoccupation with this checklist in real life can lead to real people, people like LaHaye and Jenkins and some of their tens of millions of readers, behaving with the same blindness toward, and sociopathic disregard for, the suffering of others that Rayford displays in the novel. Dec. 26 tsunami? Check. Katrina? Check. Pandora's box opened in Iraq? Check, check, check!

When this is your primary response to such tragedies, there's a lot more wrong than just Bad Writing.

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