There’s a book I’d like to read, but as far as I know, it hasn’t been written yet. I would like to read a dystheistic Rapture novel.
Let me explain. There are lots of books — Left Behind, nudge nudge? — about the Rapture, that part of some Christian theologies that involves the faithful disappearing bodily up into Heaven, and the rest of us suffering all kinds of interesting disasters before the final trump blows. Those books are all written by devout Christians, or at least in a very devoutly Christian way. Because the writer is so close to his subject, and often believes in it, the result is easily both filled with plodding dogma and stripped of all playfulness. If you have to constantly consult a spiritual advisor for the correctness of your plot points, you’re liable to run into storytelling trouble.
If you took an atheist and gave him a computer and some months, you could get something much more entertaining: the Greatest Catastrophe Story Ever Told.
Water turning into blood! Monstrous angels descending from the skies, blowing earth-shattering trumpets! Seals and terrible silences and figures with swords hanging from their mouths, and a harlot astride a lion — well, you could take that symbolically. And blood! Destruction! Havoc! Futile heroism! A mile-high Son of Man sweeping billions into undying flames! The Moon falling from the skies, stars going out, and beasts with many heads, horns and crowns prancing around! Terror and misery! Fun stuff!
You could take a few mortal characters that’d try to cope in the changing world of Raptures, Tribulations, Anti-Christs and Final Judgments. Maybe a seemingly good believer left down here, a naturalistic atheist (“It’s my worst and most improbable nightmare come true”, he groaned.), and a confused Lutheran minister? It could be a very tragic tale full of black humor, a tale of small men caught in the machinations of immense Powers. There could be demons and angels as more or less independent and more or less inscrutable actors, and there could be uncertainty and surprises, constant glimpses into a world chewed apart by the jaws of Heaven and Hell, and finally it would all end with a giant bang, and a new world order.
“And in the glare of the Lord, without lamps or candles, they would be forever. Amen, and the End.”
You could even take as one character the Anti-Christ himself (herself?), easily played as a pawn of powers beyond his knowledge, a sort of second Judas, foredoomed to villainy. I can’t think of the tale as a simple bash of light versus dark: it seems to me it would work better as a shimmering, falling chaotic curtain of twilight, shadows and penumbras, before a glaring light erases all else forever — its first half similar to the first half of Stephen King’s The Stand.
One could use all available Christian and Jewish texts on angels to build up a fearsome Host of the Lord: Some silent figures with a thousand wings and eyes of flame, some like smiling men clad in white, some bloodthirsty, some caring, some indifferent, all utterly alien. The same with the folks of the Fire: you could have Milton’s Satan coming up for one more hurrah, and a scheming court of devils trying to reach their petty goals before the End comes.
You could take the Book of Revelation and use only the good parts — good for a novel about apocalypse, that is. All the plagues and disasters afflicting the world, and credible modern reactions for it. None of this “Uh, half of mankind vanished — what’s for dinner?” stuff, but worldwide panic, horror and insanity. Cults rising up like mushrooms, uncertainty and doubt, nuclear missiles flying, volcanoes erupting, sunken kingdoms rising from the seas, a skeletal Moses striding out of the desert of Sinai, Catholic women agonising over birth or abortion in a world unfit for a child — dramatic things like that.
It would be, or could be, a really interesting and entertaining book. Such a shame that I don’t have the patience and skill to write it.
Well, not right now anyway.
Whatever your culture, you have legends and tales, and they are always good fodder for new tales and works. I think this particular End-of-the-World scenario has great promise.
Another idea that pops up in my notebook (paper, not pixels) now and then is that of a tale about Jesus. Not a tale that means to disrespect or ridicule, but a tale that takes a nonstandard view and spins a fantasy, possibly an entertaining one, by producing a new interpretation of old legends. The same thing’s been done with Arthurian legends again and again — Arthur as a late-Medieval knight, Arthur as a Roman, Arthur as a man in the world of women, Arthur in space, Arthur and the postnuclear mutant menace, and so on.
This Jesus-idea of mine is like this: portray him as an affable mystic that has no supernatural powers and never intends to set up a major religion — a former Essene that’s traveled a lot, picking up a big mixed bag of tricks and teachings, and now tramps around Judea with his best friend Judas Iscariot, amusing people, telling tall tales, living by doing clever conjuring tricks, and trying to be nice. Then, of course, some would take him too seriously, Messianic paranoia would set in, and soon the two would be in Jerusalem with a small group of fanatic followers, too scared of their zeal to confess. It would be a counterpart of the Apocalypse tale I described above — men caught in a net of their own making instead of people caught in a web of greater powers. Maybe, after a heated argument over running or staying, Judas would somehow earn his thirty pieces of silver — and maybe, seeing a plan going terribly wrong, act just in time to save his friend from the cross? It would fade out with two (or only one?) men running west to escape a religion set up atop their improvised acts. It wouldn’t be just a cheap farce of “Hur hur, and they thought my fart a miracle!”, but an honest and quite non-farcical piece of fiction about the rise and downfall of a duo in a time and a place where the people were waiting for a Messiah, and ready to believe.
Ah well, I am so lacking in time, skill and background knowledge.
It could be a good book, and I wouldn’t write it as an insult, or as a blasphemy: simply as a yarn, as fiction, as a retelling of an old tale. Still, knowing how the Da Vinci Code was received, I guess my intentions wouldn’t matter — if I ever wrote such a thing and somehow got it published, I would receive cross fatwas for the rest of my life.