TF: Springtime for Nicolae

TF: Springtime for Nicolae October 25, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 426-428

Nicolae Carpathia seemed thrilled about Rayford’s marriage and insisted upon meeting his new wife.

Note that “seemed.” Nicolae seems thrilled. He acts like he’s thrilled. He does everything one would expect that someone who was thrilled would do:

He took both her hands in greeting and welcomed her and Rayford. … After pleasantries, Nicolae immediately approved Rayford’s request that Amanda accompany them on the next trip to the U.S.

But since we know he’s the Antichrist and he’s evil, we know it’s only seeming. Deep-down, we know he isn’t really thrilled.

Likewise, with our protagonists. They may seem like cowardly, self-serving toadies, constantly ingratiating themselves to the powerful in exchange for wealth, luxury and privilege, then pretending that being ungrateful for that wealth, luxury and privilege makes them heroic. But since we know that they’re real, true Christians and they’re virtuous, we know it’s only seeming.

The ellipsis in the quote above skips past the description of the “opulent offices” to which Nicolae welcomes Rayford and Amanda. Once again Jerry Jenkins tells us that Rayford is unimpressed by this opulence, and Rayford goes out of his way to convey that refusal to be impressed to Nicolae. But once again Jenkins himself is far too impressed with and excited by his own description of this splendor to make this convincing:

He took both her hands in greeting and welcomed her and Rayford to his opulent offices, which covered the entire top floor of the Global Community headquarters in New Babylon. The suite also included conference rooms, private living quarters, and an elevator to the helipad. From there, one of Rayford’s crew could ferry the potentate to the new airstrip.

That “airstrip” not only has to accommodate the ginormous 757 Rayford pilots, it also has to accommodate 90 percent of the world’s military aircraft.

Rayford could tell that Amanda’s heart was in her throat. Her speech was constricted and her smile pasted on. Meeting the most evil man on the face of the earth was clearly out of her sphere of experience, though she had told Rayford she knew a few garment wholesalers who might have fit the bill.

The superlative evil of the Antichrist creates a real problem for the authors. Nicolae cannot simply be portrayed as evil, or even as just eeeevil. He must be not just “the most evil man on the face of the earth” but the most evil man ever on the face of the earth.

That unavoidably Godwins the thread, in a sense. It invites, and requires, a Hitler comparison. The Antichrist of Tim LaHaye’s End Times mythology must be, by definition, worse than Hitler — or Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Nero, Caligula, Idi Amin or anyone else you might think of as a candidate for the most monstrously evil person who ever lived. Every reminder of the Antichrist’s surpassing, superlative evil thus becomes an invitation to the reader to compare him to those monsters of history. And that creates two big problems for the authors.

First, it’s difficult for the authors — or for any other author, even a good one — to convince readers that their character’s evil really exceeds that of every such possible comparison. Nero, for example, seems to have the edge over Nicolae in the matricide department. And so far, Nicolae’s body count isn’t even close to being in the same league as the murderous tyrants we all think of whenever the subject turns to “the most evil man on the face of the earth.”

The larger problem is that by leading us to think of all those other monstrously evil people from history, the authors tempt us to remember that the word “antichrist” in the Bible is usually plural. The epistles of John warn early Christians to guard against “antichrists,” and the context makes it clear that actual historical figures like Nero or Domitian (or Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, etc.) fit the bill. That’s not something that Tim LaHaye wants to remind his readers of.

So far, Nicolae doesn’t seem even remotely as malevolent as the real-life examples who come to mind when we think of history’s greatest monsters. Amanda may be nervous about meeting him, but she has no reason to feel in mortal terror about the encounter. When the Antichrist congratulates Rayford on his marriage and insists on meeting his new bride, there’s none of the menace that such an insistence would have conveyed coming from someone like Nero or Caligula or Uday Hussein. If he were convincingly the “most evil man on the face of the earth,” then his “insisting” on meeting Rayford’s wife would be their cue to go into hiding, changing their names and appearance and never looking back.

Nicolae has been shown to be evil, but his worst acts so far — ending democratic rule, freedom of conscience and freedom of the press all over the world — have barely registered as actual events in the story. They seem more theoretical than like anything readers are supposed to imagine has actually happened. The supposed one-world religion, for instance, doesn’t seem to require Rayford to abandon his Christian faith, nor is it apparently incompatible with the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I guess the whole treaty-signing business might be meant to suggest that Jews are uniquely exempt from the religious repression of the Enigma Babylon One-World Faith, but that’s an arbitrary reversal of everything history shows us about religious persecution.

And anyway none of that seems to be what the authors have in mind when they refer to Nicolae as the MEMOTFOTE. His evil, like the protagonists’ virtue, seems to be a free-floating abstraction unrelated to actual deeds.

Before the end of this chapter, Nicolae will begin racking up an impressively evil body count, cracking down on freedom-loving rebels and indiscriminately slaughtering civilians. Over the remaining years of the Great Tribulation, the death toll of his lethal oppression really adds up and by that point he might make a strong claim to being the second-most EMOTFOTE. But only second. Because if we use indiscriminate lethal violence as our criterion, then the Killer Robo-Jesus of the Glorious Appearing outdoes Nicolae and every other candidate for the top-ranking of superlative evil.

Rayford asks for, and receives, permission for Amanda to:

… accompany them on the next trip to the U.S. to see his daughter and new son-in-law. Rayford did not say who that son-in-law was, not even mentioning that the young newlyweds lived in New York City. He said, truthfully, that he and Amanda would visit the couple in Chicago.

I still don’t understand why Rayford and Buck think it’s necessary and/or wise to try to keep their friendship, and kinship, hidden from Nicolae. I also don’t understand why they think they’ll be able to do so. It ought to be obvious to him — even without the whole mind-reading thing.

“And now I have some news for you and your bride.” Carpathia pulled a tiny remote control from his pocket and pointed it at the intercom on his desk across the room. “Darling, would you join us a moment, please?”

Darling? Rayford thought. No pretense anymore.

Hattie Durham knocked and entered. “Yes, sweetie?” she said. Rayford thought he would gag.

He ought to be gagging. Not, as Jenkins suggests, because of their syrupy terms of affection, but for two other, much more significant reasons.

First, he just finished being elaborately evasive about the identity of his new son-in-law, believing it vitally important for some reason to prevent Nicolae from learning that Buck Williams is married to his daughter. Two seconds later, in walks Hattie Durham, Nicolae’s closest and most intimate confidant — and also the matchmaker who got Buck and Chloe together in the first place. Hattie knows. Therefore Nicolae knows. And even worse, Nicolae knows that Rayford didn’t want him to know and tried to keep him from knowing. Gag.

Possibly even worse: Rayford is newly married and is standing there next to the new Mrs. Steele when who should walk into the room but the pseudo-mistress he strung along for years while still married to the first Mrs. Steele. Nicolae may be the MEMOTFOTE, but at this point Rayford probably isn’t as frightened by the Antichrist as he is by the prospect of these two women having a long conversation. Gag.

Hattie turned to Rayford. “I’m so happy for you and Amelia,” she said.

“Amanda,” Rayford corrected, noticing his wife stiffen. He had told Amanda all about Hattie Durham.

No, no he hadn’t. In order for him to have told Amanda “all about” Hattie, he would first have had to admit to himself what his sick control games and self-indulgent emotional manipulation of Hattie had been “all about.” And he’s never done that.

“We have an announcement too,” Carpathia said. “Hattie will be leaving the employ of Global Community to prepare for our new arrival.”

Carpathia was beaming, as if expecting a joyous reaction. Rayford did what he could not to betray his disgust and loathing. “A new arrival?” he said. “When’s the big day?”

“We just found out.” Nicolae gave him a broad wink.

I invite you to consider that gesture, which seems so strangely corny that there’s almost something innocent about it. Think again of whoever it is that you regard as this Antichrist’s chief rival for the title of the most monstrously evil person ever to walk the face of the earth. Now picture that person giving “a broad wink.” Tell me you haven’t just envisioned a scene from a Mel Brooks movie.

“Well, isn’t that something?” Rayford said.

“I didn’t realize you were married,” Amanda said sweetly, and Rayford fought to keep his composure. She knew full well they were not.

Saw that coming. If Rayford is written as Tim LaHaye’s Mary-Sue surrogate, then it only makes sense that his wife should start acting like Bev LaHaye, smugly sneering at the one thing even worse than the most evil man on the face of the earth: an unmarried woman who has had sex.


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