Friday, May 06, 2005

The Significance of Pacing in Left Behind

Warning: This entry contains SPOILERS for the novel Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. If you have yet to read Left Behind and think you might, I suggest coming back to this after you have done so. Also note that while this write up does concentrate heavily on my disappointments, ultimately I found the novel inspirational, suspenseful, and intriguing. I highly recommend it!

Over the last few days, I read the first in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The strength of the novel is its engaging characters and fascinating situations. However, I did encounter moments of disappointment in this novel related to pacing. Particularly the last quarter of Left Behind suffers from forced plotting at high velocity. Things happen so fast that the author’s controlling hand is exposed and suspension of disbelief is broken.

The speed at which the Antichrist rises to power is too quick. The problem isn’t the lack of means on the part of the Antichrist, since there are supernatural forces and fulfillment of prophecy at work here. The difficulty is in the duration of time as portrayed in the novel. We are asked to believe that all the events, personalities, logistics, and apparatus involved in his rise to power would fall into place in lockstep and at the pace of a manufacturing die cutter. Within a matter of days after the disappearances, Carpathia, the Antichrist, has gone from being a nobody to the leader of the U.N.. He has also maneuvered the world-wide media, the governments of the world, and the infrastructure of the U.N exactly where he wants it. Given the climatic scene where he demonstrates his hypnotic powers and reveals his ruthless bent for evil, we can see how he accomplished it, but it just happens too fast. The supporting sub-structure of power would not coalesce that quickly. There’s not enough time for the cause and effect reactions to pan out.

Additionally, there is the immediate domino effect of what happens to Buck‘s career in news reporting. Since Carpathia effectively makes it appear that Buck was not present at an important meeting and press conference, Buck’s boss comes down hard on the reporter, removing him from the managing editor position and trumping him back down to a staff writer role. Not only that but the boss is so outraged and distrustful of Buck, he insists that Buck be moved to Chicago. The boss seems to have gotten amnesia about Buck’s previous skills and performance. Up to this point, we haven’t seen anything to suggest that Carpathia has a direct influence over Buck’s boss, so we can only guess that his outrage and distrust is based on his own reaction to Buck being apparently absent from the media coverage. This about face of the character from high admiration and trust of Buck to complete condemnation strikes me a contrived device of the authors to maneuver Buck where they want him, in Chicago, near the other Christian heroes who are plotting their resistance against Carpathia. And come to think of it, I’m left to wonder why Carpathia would stop at having Buck discredited if he suspects Buck might oppose him or even be ambivalent. A number of people, including a fellow reporter, have already been murdered to protect Carpathia’s unquestioned rise to power. Why not Buck too?

On the flipside, the authors were controlled and steady in their depiction of both Chole’s and Buck’s process of coming to a decision to about Christ. Neither character’s acceptance of the gift of salvation seemed rushed or forced. Both characters are shown to be intellectual and skeptical about the situation and Rayford’s offered explanation/solution. Neither wants to jump into a life of faith without having thought about it awhile. The overall message that comes across due to the pacing of these scenes is that Christians should never jump to conclusions that their witness is not having an effect on those they witness to. This is illustrated in Rayford’s internal thoughts about how Buck is responding his witness. Rayford jumps to the conclusion that Buck is offended and/or bored, when in fact, he is stirred. Often it does take time for people to sort through their biases and assumptions, their intellectual criteria and pride. Don’t expect an immediate response. And don’t jump to the conclusion that you are not getting through.

I’m guessing that the authors of Left Behind had to make an artistic choice about where they could slow down and speed up the pace. The novel is after all 468 pages long (granted with very wide margins). More pages and a slower pace at the end probably wouldn't have improved it over all. Perhaps it makes complete sense for them to have stretched things out during the exploration phase for Chole and Buck, emphasizing the realism of their conversions. The maneuverings in the last 25-50 pages are less significant because they are simply setting up the stage for the next phase of the series. I’d much rather have them rush the aspects they did rather than rush the dramatization of the conversions. The realism of the conversion process has much more significance for Christian readers and may in fact help encourage us all to be more persistent and patient in our witness for Christ.

No comments: