LBCF, No. 171: ‘Chekhov’s GIRAT’

LBCF, No. 171: ‘Chekhov’s GIRAT’ February 2, 2018

Originally posted July 4, 2008.

Read this entire series, for free, via the convenient Left Behind Index. This post is also part of the ebook collection The Anti-Christ Handbook: Volume 1, available on Amazon for just $2.99. Thank you for your support. Volume 2 of The Anti-Christ Handbook, completing all the posts on the first Left Behind book, is also now available.

Left Behind, pp. 454-456

The next few pages are disappointing.

That probably seems like an odd thing to say at this point, about this book. We’ve spent more than four years so far marveling at the unrelenting awfulness of this wretched excuse for a novel — a book that starts out by failing on every level yet somehow manages to get progressively worse as we go.

This utter failure is, I have contended all along, instructive. For anyone interested in writing, Left Behind is like one of those grisly films they show in driver’s education classes — offering a graphic illustration of the disasters that can occur from carelessness behind the wheel. On another level the book also illustrates, on nearly every page, the unreality, monstrousness and impossibility of the very ideas it seeks to promote. LB is a work of theological, ethical and political propaganda that becomes its own reductio ad absurdum. It propagandizes against itself, disproving the very ideas it sets out to prove.

After watching this train wreck unfold for more than 450 pages, it might not seem possible that our expectations could rise to a point from which they might be disappointed. But despite everything we’ve seen so far, we find ourselves here on page 454 with what would seem to be the ingredients of a can’t-miss scene. We are in a room. In this room there’s a gun and there’s a villain who can control the thoughts and perceptions of others. Our hero has, unbeknownst to the villain, figured out a way to shield himself from the villain’s mind control. You know what happens next. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with comic books or American movies and television knows what happens next.

Except that’s not what happens next. What happens next is that Nicolae Carpathia seems to forget that he’s the Antichrist, about to seize global power, and instead starts acting like a cheesy birthday-party magician.

For his next trick, the Great Carpathio will require a volunteer from the audience:

“I would like to present to you all just a bit of an object lesson in leadership, followership, and may I say, chain of command. Mr. Scott M. Otterness, would you approach me, please?” The guard in the corner jerked in surprise and hurried to Carpathia. “One of my leadership techniques is my power of observation, combined with a prodigious memory,” Carpathia said.

Here’s another lesson in leadership and, er, followership: Talking about your “leadership techniques” isn’t a very good leadership technique. Particular when the skills you’re patting yourself on the back for don’t have much of anything to do with leadership and in any case aren’t really techniques. The only way I can imagine an actual human saying that last sentence above without being immediately deposed and mocked by his former followers would be if it were said ironically, in self mockery. A campaign-weary politician praising the “great city of Cleveland,” while speaking in Cincinnati, might get away with saying something like that as a joking apology. But just as he never uses contractions, Nicolae never employs irony.

If Chekhov is right, the third act of this play is going to be AWESOME.

“One of my leadership techniques is my power of observation,” Nicolae says, “combined with a prodigious memory.” And somehow, here in LB, the people who hear him say this are as impressed by him and he seems to be. This goes on for quite a bit.

“Mr. Otterness here was surprised because we had not been introduced, had we, sir?”

“No, sir, Mr. Carpathia, sir, we had not.”

“And yet I knew your name.”

The aging guard smiled and nodded.

One half-expects Carpathia to raise one hand with a flourish, like Jon Lovitz’s Master Thespian, crying “Leadership!” (followed by this). The impression I get is of That Guy who thinks that reading the waitress’ name off her name tag gives him license to send his steak back and tip a lousy 10 percent.

The description here of Otterness raises questions about another of Carpathia’s leadership techniques: his utter disregard for security. The man is the president of Romania, newly elevated to the status of supreme leader of the One World Government. He should have an entourage. At the very least, he should be surrounded by a phalanx of dark-suited Romanian secret service agents. Yet all he seems to have by way of personal security is a gullible Jewish botanist.

While we’re on the subject, where’s Jonathan Stonagal’s entourage? Shouldn’t the grand imperial wizard of international finance and head of a global conspiracy of evil have some henchmen? Even a guy like Todd-Cothran shouldn’t be traveling solo. He’s the head of a corrupt London syndicate that’s infiltrated the stock exchange and Scotland Yard, you’d think he’d at least have a driver/bodyguard, somebody like Martin Landau in North by Northwest.

Yet all of these alleged members of the jet set seem to travel alone, apparently arriving in New York on commercial flights, then renting cars to drive themselves to the United Nations (although I’m sure they all flew first-class and rented really nice cars). The hallway outside the conference room should be filled with dozens of bodyguards personal, corporate and diplomatic, but instead as the new OWG convenes for the first time, the only security present is one old guy with a hand gun.

“I can also tell you the make and model and caliber of the weapon you carry on your hip. I will not look as you remove it and display it to this group.”

Buck watched in horror as Mr. Otterness unsnapped the leather strap holding the huge gun in his holster. He fumbled for it and held it with two hands so everyone but Carpathia, who had averted his eyes, could see it. Stonagal, still red-faced, appeared to be hyperventilating.

“I observed, sir, that you were issued a 38-caliber police special with a four-inch barrel, loaded with high-velocity hollow-point shells.”

“You are correct,” Otterness said gleefully.

Oooh! Such power of observation, and what a prodigious memory! The man is a born leader.

Superlative emotion is a routine part of LB, with characters almost randomly seeming to be overcome by rage, rapture, joy, depression, etc., but having so many of them in one room paints quite a picture. Buck is in “horror,” Stonagal is “red-faced” and “hyperventilating,” Otterness is “gleefully” holding a gun and everyone else is smiling “beatifically.” A stranger walking into this room would likely think it was a drama class working on some bizarre exercise.

“I observed, sir, that you were issued a 38-caliber police special with a four-inch barrel, loaded with high-velocity hollow-point shells.”

“You are correct,” Otterness said gleefully.

“May I hold it, please?”

“Certainly, sir.”

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