reading Left Behind
Over the weekend I sat down and finished reading Kingdom Come, the 16th and final book in the Left Behind Series. I started back in mid-May with The Rising and read all the books in narrative order (not release order), starting with the prequel trilogy, then the main series of twelve books, then the sequel. I don’t read an awful lot of fiction, almost no contemporary Christian fiction, so this was a big change for me. These books average about 400 pages apiece, and while they are mostly written for about a low high-school reading level (on par with say Danielle Steele, I’d guess), they’re not always easy to read: the jargon of Dispensationalism and the terms borrowed from biblical passages can be a bit difficult to understand if you’re not familiar with them. However, most of the books moved fairly slowly and the characters had names that were different enough from one another that they were relatively easy to tell apart, and they were introduced fairly slowly. These are books that reward skimming.
I’m going to devote one post (today) to positive things about the series, and another to negative things.
First of all I’m impressed that Jerry Jenkins was able to pull this off at all. I suspect he plotted out the twelve books in the main series before sitting down to write the first book. It can’t have been easy working within the Dispensationalist framework, given how much detail was specified in advance, how many events that will already be well-known to a well-schooled reader, etc. It can’t have been easy putting together a story consisting of nothing but minor characters. I kept being reminded of the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil, which also features as its hero a minor player in a never-explained story about a resistance movement. All the events in the Left Behind series only make sense within a story knitted together from an interpretation of the biblical books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Revelation, and have to stand on their own as a story while still making sense relative to that biblical interpretation.
Jenkins also had to make some tough editorial choices in deciding how much continuity to try to preserve between the present day and the dystopian world of the Left Behind story: how much infrastructure to keep or change, how much technology to introduce or keep, etc. He also had to make tough choices about how to treat his minor characters, and how to steer clear of stock images that could cripple any apocalyptic story and turn it into a biblical zombie novel.
I think Jenkins did well enough; he managed to knock out 16 books without total creative control, and they sold some 65 million copies all told. And he managed to work with Tim LaHaye for twelve-plus years, which couldn’t have been entirely easy.