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reading Left Behind

Unfortunately not everything about Left Behind works; most of what doesn’t work is a matter of editorial choices Jerry Jenkins made given that this was a 16-book series of interlocked fictional books based on Dispensationalist eschatology. I think there are ten items that I noticed; I’ll split these up into two posts.

  1. I don’t think this is a 16-book, 6400-page story. I might gently suggest that Jenkins could have profited from using the Harry Potter model, and could have reduced the main series to seven books, one per year, more or less. Given how much Dispensationalist owes to charts and graphs, and how linear its timeline is, etc. I think the clarity and unity of the overall series would have benefited from a timeline showing where the action in the book at a particular moment fit into various biblical narratives. This might have exposed a weakness, particularly in the latter books, where only one thing happens and only takes a few pages, but is presented in a 350-400 page book where literally nothing else happens. Finally, there are subplots (the Greek believers, for example) that could have been cut altogether, and characters (Kenny Williams) who show up across several books and are dead weight most of the time, where Jenkins could have had more limited characters, local to a given book, carry the same narrative burden.
  2. Jenkins occasionally claims things that beggar belief: a website serves up a billion page views a day but a world government can’t find it; a totalitarian surveillance state can’t find eavesdropping equipment on its own planes; a computer hacker who leaves magical back doors in huge computer systems that are never found; untrackable encrypting satellite phones; etc.
  3. Characters with personal workloads that don’t make much sense. Buck Williams runs an often-updated, heavily-read online magazine, yet for most of the series spends no time editing it while keeping a busy travel schedule; Chloe Williams runs a vast underground commodity exchange while raising a child. Oddly enough through most of the series most of the main characters have two jobs except for the preachers, but the preachers alone are portrayed as being overcommitted and overworked.
  4. Fuel. Jenkins mostly ignores the problem of fuel supply and availability, especially as the world he describes breaks down, but he has characters jet all over the world, sometimes in planes that would burn tens of thousands of dollars of fuel per hour.
  5. Most of his characters are two-dimensional; Rayford Steele and Buck Williams being two possible exceptions. Jenkins doesn’t hew close to “show; don’t tell” and rarely gives a sense of understanding his characters, much less caring about them. They mostly exist to do things, have things done to them, and move the action along. I really do believe it’s possible to write a good series based on Dispensationalist eschatology; Jenkins didn’t do it.

Next post: less about craft; more about Scripture.

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  1. August 17, 2010 at 8:03 pm

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