Everywhere the faithful are gathering in churches, in meadows, and on hilltops. Preparations have been underway for a long time, and many have given away their possessions and renounced all worldly pursuits in anticipation of a truly momentous and altogether historic event. All the signs and portents are in full agreement; there can be no mistake. Jesus is returning to Earth today!
… Except then, Jesus fails to show.
Disillusioned and heartbroken, the believers are left to face an all-too-familiar world of pain and sorrow – which will include widespread derision on the part of unbelievers who Just Don’t Get It. The year is 1844, and followers of influential Baptist preacher William Miller have just endured what will soon come to be called “The Great Disappointment,” yet another failed prediction of the end of the world.
The Great Disappointment was neither the first nor (by a long shot) the last prediction of the End Times. In fact, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, followers of the Old Norse Gods, the Shakers, the Mormons, and mainstream Christians of every stripe have all produced, at one time or another, detailed End-Times narratives. The earliest Christians firmly believed that Christ would return to Earth quickly – probably within their lifetimes; and certain Roman Catholic thought-leaders variously believed that the End would occur 666 years after the founding of Islam and/or that the son of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther and his wife was probably the Antichrist. Possibly anticipating such upbeat cinematic fare as Armageddon and Deep Impact, eighteenth century theologian William Whiston predicted a catastrophic collision between the Earth and a comet. By the time Hal Lindsey published his runaway bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth (which outlined in loving detail what humanity could expect and when, Apocalypse-wise) in 1970, literally dozens of Earthly expiration dates had come and gone… with plenty more still ahead.
For example, you’re probably aware of the prognostications of Nostradamus (“In the year 1999 and seven months/from the sky will come a great King of Terror…”); evangelist Harold Camping (May 2011, later rescheduled for October 2011, both incorrect); the ancient Mayans (December 2012); and most recently, some scaremonger on YouTube who was undoubtedly deeply disappointed when a “polar flip” did not, in fact, cause a “megaquake” to wipe out life as we know it here on Earth back at the end of July, 2016. Looking ahead, you may wish to mark your calendar for 2020, when psychic Jeane Dixon predicts Armageddon will occur (although Dixon had previously predicted the end of the world would take place in 1962, so she’s maybe not such a reliable source in these matters); 2026, when members of the Messiah Foundation International think that Earth’s old nemesis, the Rogue Asteroid, will take us out; or 2060, which was apparently Sir Isaac Newton’s favored date for the beginning of the End Times.
While you’re waiting for the Trumpet of Doom to sound, you should know that many authors have adopted “the end of the world” as a theme, and many of the resulting books are among the classics of science fiction. (Others are… not among the classics. You’ll see.) Some detail the efforts of a plucky band of survivors, trying to rebuild after an apocalyptic event; war, disease, environmental catastrophe, and overwhelming vampire/zombie infestation are popular catalysts for the events of these novels.
Others end in a more uncompromising fashion, particularly those that deal with the End Times as anticipated by some evangelical Christians – Matthew 24:36 (“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”) notwithstanding. In these novels, of course, the focus is less on who will be saved than on who will be Saved. (Bare-bones version: Believers are gathered up bodily into Heaven in the Rapture; there follows a period of Tribulation, during which the Antichrist rises to prominence, leading to a massive war that culminates in a decisive battle at Mount Megiddo – hence, “Armageddon” – whereupon Christ returns, some go to Heaven, and some… don’t. There’s more, but that’s basically it in a nutshell.)
For your entertainment – whenever you’re in the mood for a little light reading – we here at Geek Speak will thenceforth bring you a Literary Apocalypse a Week for… well, until the end of time, probably, given how many accounts we have been, and will be, given of the end of the world.
A word to the wise: Even the most cheerful among these end ambiguously – which is to be expected, given the subject matter – and some are outright depressing. However, a few books in the “plucky band of survivors” subgenre are included. (Note: The focus here is on reading material; otherwise, you would see a lot more about the nightmare-inducing 1983 miniseries The Day After, the Terminator movies, and that weird John Cusack 2012 thing.) Come back next month for the first instalment in this feel-good thrill-ride, and to see whether your favorite author envisions the world ending with a bang, a whimper… or a vampire invasion.
NEXT TIME: The Apocalypse, Old School…