The Left Behind Series

I don't care if this article was published in 1999. Little has changed. Read through it carefully as it talks about sales figures and what not. Then look for this little gem buried in a paragraph near the bottom of the page.

"Like many bestsellers -- the sales are not due to the books' literary merits. The writing is no more than adequate and the characters are as flat as the pages on which they are written."

Oh my goodness! They're inferring that MANY bestsellers, outside their NICHE market, are best sellers because of something other than the books literary merits!!! It's a wonder Christian HORROR has such a bad stigma!!! These authors write for Tyndale. They write within the context of what the CBA will and won't allow. They have a conservative evangelical worldview and write for a conservative evangelical niche market. Sure. A lot of best sellers aren't quite up to the standards of say, some other best seller, but rest assured, the literary merit of these books had A LOT to do with where they're at.

The Left Behind Series doesn't represent Christain Horror. It represents Christian Horror from a conservative evangelical worldview which means it isn't designed to appeal to the broader market. I think it should be aptly marketed as CBA Christian Horror. I think there's an identity crisis going on! Yikes! LOL


Deb said...

I'm sure I'm not the only Christian who couldn't get through these books. I think I bailed on book three. The characters were simply not interesting enough to go the distance. For a romance reader/writer, the authors welshed on the contract: "Make Me Care."

Of course they've been phenomenally successful, but one does wonder how much of the pub's attention & effort they skarfed up while worthier pieces could've used a share of the promo/marketing action.

Sue Dent said...

I used the word decieved in my original post but don't like to infer deception when speaking of "Christian" publishing houses. It is hard for me to come up with another word however, when houses like Tyndale market their books as though they're written to appeal to anything other than the niche market they serve. Sure. Everyone can do it but really, how Christian is it. I suspect they would have sold just as many if they'd simply said, this is CBA Christian Fiction. We write for a specific audience that those in the broader Christian market and general market as a whole won't find interesting.

The alternative is to get scathing reveiws from those who don't understand why the literary merit is lesser than what they'd like to read and Christian fiction written for the broader market takes a direct hit! :o

All because a niche market wants to appeal to a broader market but doesn't want to write for it.

Terri said...

I don't know about the Left Behind series personally. I tend to avoid reading or watching anything that is too heavily hyped. Makes me wonder why it needs all that hype.

However, I think the point is well made. There are many factors that contribute to a book (or movie, TV show, whatever) a success whether Christian or Secular, and literary value isn't always part of it.

Using the Left Behind series as an example. The author who's name is in the biggest letters is Tim LaHaye. Okay, we know Jerry Jenkins wrote the book, but LaHaye is "The Star." His books on family and politics and all sorts of other things have been a big hit for years. So, just having his name on the book ensured best seller status at the time.

A second factor may just be a type of zeitgeist. The reading public may be ready for something like this. Evangelical Christianity had turned a corner from the Love fest of the 70's to the materialism of the 80's to a harsher exclusive club attitude of the 90's and beyond. The left Behind series meshes well with that attitude. Please understand, that I don't believe that LaHaye or Jenkins believes that way or intended to tie in with that. I do believe that they see these books as Evangelical warnings to unbelievers, but, let's face it, the books are marketed to believers more than the world. The times, for good or for ill, were ripe for them.

And the dystopic vision had taken over even secular media. Gone was the Star Trek universe where humans had learned to work together with other species and conquer poverty and most disease and were moving into the big wide galaxy to explore strange new worlds, etc. By the 80's-90's the future was much more grim looking. Overcrowded cities, people using electronics for a high, totalitarianism, etc. And this series fit well into that less than optimistic trend.

And the books were hyped big time by the publisher. With a "name" author like LaHaye hitting all the big talkshows, radio stations, big displays in bookstores, everybody who was anybody just HAD to read the books.

It's like Star Wars. Is it a better movie in terms of literary quality than say "Dune" (the David Lynch Version)? Probably not. But Star Wars happened to hit a chord for one reason and became a phenomenon. Dune is a "classic" shown on late night cable movie channels when they don't have anything else to play.

I guess the thing is that literary quality rarely has anything to do with success. It may even be a detriment.

Anonymous said...

They're not even "Christian (TM) Horror". They're CHRISTIAN APOCALYPTIC, using the Evangelical-standard Darbyite Pre-Trib Secret Rapture end-of-the-world choreography. Following in the footsteps of Hal Lindsay and Salem Kirban (who messed up my head back in the Seventies), L&J present what's effectively a wish-fulfillment "Ultimate Escape Fantasy followed by Ultimate Revenge Fantasy".

The first volume has been blog-dissected at length and in detail by "Slacktivist" and his army of commenters. There's even a connected fanfic-parody site, Right Behind, that is consistently better than the original.

What really burns me is the 22 volumes of LB (12 in the actual series, a prequel trilogy, a sequel, and two licensed shared-universe trilogies, not counting the 40+volume LB: the Kids, the comics adaptations, the movies, the computer game...) are truly awful hack writing, yet they have sold 70 MILLION copies (grossing well over a Billion) to a target demographic of "Born-Again Bored Housewives".

The runaway success of LB is now my type example of what's wrong with Officially-Christian (TM) fiction.

Anonymous said...


I have also noticed the general Apocalyptic Zeitgeist of today. Whether expressed as Left Behind or Global Warming, there seems to be a gleeful Grinning Apocalyptism run amok today, just manifesting itself in various ways.

In literary SF, I noticed that from WW2 until around 1968, optimistic "bright futures" seemed to predominate. (Perhaps the last mass-market version of this was "Old Testament Star Trek" and the Carousel of Progress song at Disneyland -- "That Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, Just a Dream Away!")

Around 1968 ("when Sauron got The Ring"), a lot of stuff just went south all at once, and SF followed. At this point, various pessimistic "dark future" dystopias started to predominate -- Nuclear War Dystopia, Race War Dystopia, Nixon-as-Fuehrer Dystopia, Eco-Catastrophe Dystopia, Christian Theocracy Dystopia, Cyberpunk Dystopia, Y2K Dystopia, Bush-as-Fuehrer Dystopia, Christian Theocracy Dystopia (again), and Global Warming Dystopia.

Then, shortly after Y2K, another shift. Alternate-History and "Forward Into the Past" time-travel ramped up, fleeing the future into alternate pasts.

From Bright Future to Dark Future to No Future.

Exactly the same progression as in Conventional Christian Apocalyptic Fiction -- Seven Years of Antichrist Dystopia followed by The End, starting Twenty Minutes Into the Future (if that). Bright Future, then Dark Future, then No Future.

Anonymous said...

About a month ago, in a Christian Genre Writer's list I'm on, someone posted that the main audience of Left Behind is female, married, fortysomething, stay-at-home mom, and active Evangelical Christian in church attendance. Except for the "Evangelical Christian" part, it sounds a lot like the "bored housewife" who make up Harlequin's target demographic.

So I wondered. Harlequin's target market is "Bored Housewives" looking for a little vicarious adultery with the Fabio-clone on the cover. This holds somewhat for "Just like Harlequin, except CHRISTIAN!" "Born-Again Bodice-Rippers", except here the Fabio-clone gets Saved by the Reader-insert's Witnessing and there's no onstage sex. But what is the appeal of bad Christian Apocalyptic hackwork to a Born-Again Bored Housewife?

Two days ago, I had an epiphany and it all fell into place. When you mix in a little "Bridal Mysticism" and "Jesus is My REAL Husband/Boyfriend", it all makes sense:

Delta Dawn?
What's that flower you've got on?
Could it be a faded rose
From days gone by?
And did I hear you say
He'll be meeting you here today
To take you to His mansion in the skyyyyyyy?

-- "Delta Dawn", 1972

(When "Delta Dawn" was in the Top Ten and I was in Junior College, I actually ran across a flaky Christian meme going around that claimed "Delta Dawn" WAS a Stealth Christian song about the Bride of Christ and The Rapture. I wish I wasn't a weirdness magnet...)