Why are End-of-the-World Stories so Popular?

Novels about the last days have been around for a long time. I suspect that most people are not aware of this fact just like they are not aware that prophetic speculation has been going on for centuries with less than accurate results.

The Left Behind series was a publishing phenomenon in the 1990s. The series sold tens of millions of copies, and yet we’re still here and prophecy prognosticators are still prognosticating.

Many people are surprised to learn that left-behind-type novels have been around for more than a century.1 Sydney Watson’s Scarlet and Purple (1913), The Mark of the Beast (1915), In the Twinkling of an Eye (1916), which had gone through 25 printings by 1933, and The New Europe (1915) are early examples of the serialization of fictional prophetic themes seen through the lens of current events, the moral state of the nation, anti-Catholic fervor, and destabilized world politics.

In the Twinkling of an Eye anticipated the LaHaye-Jenkins Left Behind theme with these lines: “Think of what that will mean, unsaved friend, if you are here to-day. Left! Left behind!”2

In 1937, Forrest Loman Oilar’s end-time novel Be Thou Prepared For Jesus is Coming appeared. Oilar includes the entire left-behind premise in one volume, including the millennial reign and the subsequent Great White Throne Judgment. Like LaHaye, Oilar wrote his novel as an evangelistic tract “to bring to the unbeliever, ‘the Jew first, and also to the Gentile’ a warning against false doctrines and to show the hope that is yet in store for him if he accepts the true gospel.”  ((Forrest Loman Oilar, Be Thou Prepared For Jesus is Coming (Boston: Meador Publishing Co., 1937), 7.))Dayton A. Manker’s 1941 novel

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Dayton A. Manker’s 1941 novel They That Remain, that is, those left behind, followed the Watson and Oilar models with “Fascism, Nazi-ism and Communism” as new end-time bad guys that Manker described as “triplets of one blood.”3 Ernest Angley followed a similar script with his 1950 book Raptured: A Novel.

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Probably one of the most interesting left behind genre novels is Salem Kirban’s 666, first published in 1970. By 1976, it had gone through fourteen printings with more than 500,000 copies sold. There are a number of striking similarities to Left Behind. The rapture takes place when the main characters are on an airplane; their wives are believers who were taken in the “rapture”; the “rapture” is explained away by those who are left behind; those who do not bow down to worship the beast are martyred by having their heads cut off by a guillotine.4

To counter what I have described as “last days madness,” a number of books have been written to counter this type of end-time speculation, but there have been few attempts at good fiction until Brian Godawa’ series of books. Brian holds the position that most of the prophetic material in the New Testament deals with events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This makes his works historical fiction.


Read the Rest of the story at GaryDeMar.com

  1. Amy Johnson Frykholm, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), 205-207. []
  2. Sydney Watson, In the Twinkling of an Eye (New York: Fleming H. Revell, [1916] 1933), 134. []
  3. Dayton A. Manker, They That Remain: A Story of the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, [1941] 1946), 4. []
  4. Salem Kirban, 666 (Huntingdon, PA: Salem Kirban, Inc., 1970). []
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