Welcome back to our off-topic chat series, Lord Snow Presides! Here, we return to Frank Peretti’s 1986 nonstop cringefest novel, This Present Darkness. In this installment, the bad guy’s closest servant turns out to be a whistleblower, while angels help out way more than usual while somehow being way less helpful than they really should be, and we learn how little Frank Peretti knows about women’s fashion in the 1980s. Today, Lord Snow Presides over Christians’ illusions and mythology about prayer and angels.
(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions. Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book.)
The Glorious Recap Section.
This one’s pretty basic. Susan Jacobson travels to New York City for a big gala of some kind. The group her boss/lover works for, Universal Consciousness Society, is holding it. That’s the official name of the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). While she’s there, she slips out of her ballgown into a casual outfit, then sneaks away from the hotel bathroom to make a phone call to her ex-boyfriend Kevin Weed.
Angels help her escape the hotel by distracting the demons meant to ensure she stays there. They also help her get through the hotel’s bathroom window. Once she’s made her call, they physically help her get back through the window.
The demons don’t seem to notice Susan’s escape or her return. Nor do her human bodyguards.
Once she’s back inside the hotel, she changes back into her gala gown, then attends the function like nothing happened.
She’s still a prisoner in a gilded cage at the chapter’s end.
But now, Kevin Weed’s got marching orders to contact Bernice — who wanted to talk to Susan anyway. And we now know that Ashton will be the site of “the real battle” between the angels and the demons.
Top Secret Information.
I had to laugh about the way Frank Peretti describes New York City — and this hotel in particular. It’s beyond obvious he’s never been to NYC. I haven’t either, but I know enough to know this ain’t it, chief.
The resources that existed way back then were paltry compared to the ones we have today. With one whisk of a headset and a button click or two, I can be walking down Fifth Avenue in Google Earth. I can gawk at the scenery and the grandeur of its skyscrapers from street level, or soar like a movie monster along its streets and parks. I can stand eye-to-eye with the Statue of Liberty or I can walk through the buildings of Ellis Island.
And, too, the internet provides more information than any one human could ever absorb about the city that never sleeps. If nothing else, I can get the phone number for a hotel’s front desk and just ask them for a schedule of events. It shouldn’t be too hard at all to figure out who’s meeting where, if I know they’re meeting in NYC in a big huge gala event at some hotel. Most groups have websites nowadays, and they’re quite proud of holding meetings at these fancy hotels — like this group, meeting this October at the Roosevelt Hotel. (It even sounds in fact like Peretti’s describing this particular hotel, given what the book says about its neighborhood and its interior. The Roosevelt even has a “Grand Ballroom.”)
Things are sure a lot different now.
But the angels in This Present Darkness act like their “general” got ahold of some top-secret intel because he totally found out that the CSWWSW is holding its gala right here at “the Gibson Hotel” tonight.
ZOMG! HOW DOES HE DO IT?!?
First, the angels check out the ballroom itself where the gala will be held. They soon find it in the vast hotel. They also find, among the name cards on the head table, one for “Kaseph, Omni Corporation.” Alexander Kaseph is the weirdo that Susan works for and sleeps with.
Having figured out where the event will be, the angels move to a ladies’ room nearby. They walk invisibly through the room, passing “a few women primping at the mirrors” who surely won’t mind their privacy being violated. Guilo sneaks into the last stall, which isn’t occupied (thank goodness — don’t you wonder what Peretti would have done with that scenario?), where he finds a window to the outside. Guilo breaks the lock on the window. Meanwhile, Tal heads to the nearest phone booth and makes sure it’s working.
The angels finish these tasks just in time, because gala attendees begin to arrive right then to the Gibson Hotel (p. 174):
“Here they come!” Guilo warned, and they leaped through the wall of a department store and peered out a window just as a long, black limousine and then another and then another began an ominous parade down the street toward the hotel. Inside the limousines sat dignitaries and other VIPs from many different nations and races, and within and on top were demons, large, black, warty, and fierce, their yellow eyes darting warily in every direction.
The angels seek Susan Jacobson amid the crowd of finely-dressed gala attendees arriving for the gala. As they do, they exposition dump at each other.
The Final Battle.
It’s almost funny to see angels exposition dump like this. Tal declares that it’s “as written in the Scriptures, the kings of the earth . . . being made drunk on the wine of the great harlot’s immorality.” Guilo adds, “Babylon the Great. . . The Great Harlot arising at last.”
Now we learn that this Universal Consciousness Society is literally “the world religion, the doctrine of demons spreading among all the nations. Babylon revived right before the end of the age.”
In fact, this gathering isn’t anything special at all. It’s just, in Tal’s words, “only a party before the real battle, and the real battle is slated for the town of Ashton.”
Wow! That tiny lil town has turned out to be hugely important to these ancient, vastly powerful supernatural beings! Who’d’a thunk?
Everyone, Meet Susan’s Caftan.
Finally, they find Susan.
She wears “a very loose-fitting evening gown that draped her body stunningly and cascaded to her feet.” It’s hard to imagine what he’s talking about, and even harder once we see what she has on under the dress (jeans and a shirt).
Bodices fit pretty tightly in the 1980s — we were all obsessed with Princess Diana, so our formalwear tended to have fitted bodices, poofy sleeves, and skirts that were veritable explosions of lace or satin, just like her iconic 1981 wedding gown.
VERY occasionally you saw draped gowns, like this one:
Susan must have looked downright bizarre in her huge ol’ caftan. She must have looked like she was in a high school graduation gown, maybe in something like this caftan pattern:
I know, I know. Like I’m surprised that Frank Peretti didn’t take the time to educate himself on women’s fashion trends of his day. Right? Obviously, he didn’t. He just needed Susan to be able to do something that he (mistakenly) thought was clever. So, he decided to dress her for the scene in a way that’d accomplish his goal.
Angels At Half Power.
Susan heads into the bathroom while the angels fret about their “prayer cover.” As she reaches for the latch that Guilo rigged earlier, Guilo heads off to start trouble with the demons watching the windows of the hotel. Tal helps her get out.
Now, I have to admit, this part’s funny. It’s the first time I genuinely smiled while reading this book (p. 178):
A woman’s hand reached for the latch.
Tal touched Guilo on the shoulder, and Guilo instantly dropped into the ground. Only a fraction of a second passed.
“YAHAAAAA!” came the sudden, deafening war cry from Guilo’s powerful lungs, and the whole alley instantly exploded in a blinding flash of white light as Guilo shot up out of the ground, his sword flashing and shimmering, tracing brilliant arcs in the air.
Guilo totally startles the demons, who recover quickly and draw swords to fight. But Guilo leaps up into the air while he taunts them. Enraged, all of the demons chase after him. That leaves the coast totally clear for Susan.
In that last bathroom stall, she slips off the gown to reveal a normal street outfit with jeans on underneath it. She steps into a pair of “slippers” she had in her purse. Then, she shimmies through the window, sneaking down the street to the phone booth Tal staked out earlier. Once there, she puts a load of change into the phone and calls Kevin Weed, her ex-boyfriend from college.
(It’d make a lot more sense for her to pull a tiny pair of jogging shorts and a tank top out of her purse than to wear a whole outfit under a dress. One very silly early-80s trend involved wearing bright red Reeboks under formal gowns. But whatever.)
A Very Dramatic Phone Call.
In her phone call to Kevin Weed, Susan asks him to contact Bernice and tell him absolutely everything he knows about Kaseph and about how she got mixed up with that weirdo. She wants Kevin to tell Bernice she has information about her sister’s death that might help her.
Lastly, Susan tells Kevin that she’s in a whole lot of trouble and in great danger.
While the angels run interference, Susan rushes back to the hotel window she’d just shimmied through. With
Guilo’s Tal’s direct help, she gets through the window gracefully and in time to avoid detection by the returning demons. Then, Guilo Tal closes the window behind her. (ETA: I checked this twice because the narrative made no sense. Still got it wrong. Fixed!)
Susan frantically re-dresses in her giant caftan gown and puts on her fancy shoes, then rearranges her hair and makeup and rejoins her anxious bodyguards. They escort her to her chair at the gala.
The Strange Inefficiency of Angels.
Here, then, we learn that angels possess lungs. That really confuses me. That’d imply they’re a race of biological beings. But these biological beings can do Kitty Pryde-like phasing: they go through walls and into the ground like it’s nothing at all. Don’t forget: they can also fly. Despite this enormous power, however, they need Christian prayer to power their batteries and perform their various stunts.
(Incidentally, Kitty Pryde first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #129, which came out in January 1980. I own it; it’s one of my favorite issues of this title. Her addition to the team was a big stinkin’ deal for anybody who read Marvel comics. Thus, it’s quite likely that Frank Peretti knew about her when he created his angels.)
So here, angels have NYC Christians praying for some reason. Who told them to pray? How’d that message get sent? We don’t know. Back in Ashton, they communicated with Christians by influencing them. When they talked to humans in invisible mode, the humans would pick up the words and act on them without realizing they’d heard words at all.
But here, the NYC Christians are simply too few to pray enough to give the angels more than a little “prayer cover.” And they use it to help Susan get to a phone booth and back again without supernatural detection. (Apparently no humans were watching, so that means she got in and out without detection at all.)
But No Rescue.
So here’s my question:
Why couldn’t the angels have rescued Susan?
I don’t get it. Why couldn’t they tip her off about a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ in the vicinity who’d shelter her and get her to real help? Why would they leave her in such a dangerous position?
For that matter, she’s resourceful enough to call Kevin Weed, but not resourceful enough just to yeet outta there?
And also for that matter, why can’t the angels draw on prayers from anywhere in the world? If they all got TRUE CHRISTIANS™ praying, then that surely would create a whole lot of prayer cover. But they must use local Christians?
(Mr. Captain: “You have clearly overthought the shit out of this.”}
Another Wish Fulfilment Fantasy.
Evangelicals in the 80s and 90s found great hope in This Present Darkness. It gave them a way to visualize how prayer worked and what effects it should have in the real world.
I just marvel that none of us seem to have realized that this book actually invalidated everything we ever thought about prayer. By showing us a way for prayer to operate in its fictional world-setting, it showed us that prayer did nothing in the actual real world.
For that matter, it amazes me that Christians point to fictional stories as PROOF YES PROOF that their claims are real. They point to their various Rapture-fetishist movies as PROOF YES PROOF that a Rapture will totally come any day now. They point to Fireproof as PROOF YES PROOF that their marriage rules totally work for real couples facing problems. And back then, Christians pointed to fantasies like This Present Darkness as PROOF YES PROOF that the Satanic Panic was based on reality and that prayer did real-world stuff for anyone.
Next LSP, we’ll be focusing more closely on the Cabal itself — because there’s a lot of stuff I want to talk about regarding projection there. But for now, let’s end here:
Today, Lord Snow Presides over the way Christian fiction destroys Christian folklore about prayer and angels by acting like it’s real — while revealing how poorly reality lines up with their beliefs.
NEXT UP: Sorry, gotta push The Secret back a bit. But I think you’ll like what stopped our presses. This news about the creepy way that fundagelical conjobs seek to make a profit from coronavirus has gotten my attention lately. Were you wondering if Jim Bakker’s got his greedy, grifting, probably-unwashed hands in that pot? He does! And we’ll check it out next time. Thursday, look for a Super Special — just in time for Easter! And then, we might have a Semi-Drunk Review of The Secret movie version. Either way, that week we’ll be focusing on its ideas.
(Oh man, what am I getting myself into? Yr. Loyal &Etc. Corr. might not be coherent by the end of this one. I’m laying in some Godiva liqueur, I think.)
See you soon!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow presides over a suggested topic for the day, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.