By ROGER ELWOOD (Crossway Books; 1988)
This novel, written by a veteran science fiction anthologist, seems benign enough from a distance (that cover illustration is far from provocative). It’s all the more surprising, then, that the book is so extreme, a wallow in lunatic fringe Christianity that far outdoes more recent Christian lit (like the LEFT BEHIND series) in fire-and-brimstone sermonizing.
The introduction and back cover blurbs make ANGELWALK out to be a modern-day answer to C.S. Lewis’ Christian classic SCREWTAPE LETTERS, which I’d say is an entirely undeserved comparison. SCREWTAPE is a witty and compassionate novel containing much pertinent wisdom even for nonbelievers. Roger Elwood’s ANGELWALK, by contrast, is bitter and mean-spirited, and brings up far more questions than it answers.
The novel is told from the point of view of the angel Darien, who begins doubting whether God was correct in booting Lucifer out of Heaven. In response, God sends Darien on an Earthbound “Angelwalk” so he can experience firsthand all the nastiness of the modern world. Among other horrors, Darien witnesses a gay pride march (“A revelation…is how homosexuals can seriously use the word “Pride” when in reality what they practice is intrinsically an abomination”) and an abortion clinic bombing.
Keep in mind that said bombers are good guys, as God sees to it that the babies in the clinic aren’t hurt in the explosion, and that only the evil abortionists get burned. Darien/Elwood makes it clear that to stop the “national scandal” of abortion, this “morally and spiritually bankrupt populace” must fight through the courts and “yes, as shocking as it may seem, any other means, including civil disobedience.”
The book’s real villains, of course, are those who don’t subscribe to the author’s achingly simplistic black-and-white worldview, in which “Whoever is not in Heaven is in Hell. It is one or the other for every human being ever to have lived in the past and any in the future.” Purgatory apparently doesn’t exist in Elwood’s universe.
Elwood is nothing if not ambitious: he seemingly tries to cram every sin he can think of into this slim book, making for an extremely scattershot account. He admittedly makes some pertinent points every now and again: a rant about the evils of animal experimentation is sadly dead-on (sad because it’s one of the book’s most unpleasant passages) about both the suffering experienced by the experimenters’ animal subjects and the assholish corporate think that finances it, while an admonition about celebrities who use Christianity to prolong their star wattage neatly forecasts the career trajectory of Stephen Baldwin.
The best part comes toward the end, when Darien takes a tour of Hell. Unsurprisingly, Elwood’s inferno, scented by “the pungent odor of burning Jews,” is far more vividly and passionately described than the other place (about which the most interesting thing we learn is that formerly crippled people are able to walk upright on the Heavenly plain).
As for the novel overall, it failed to convert me to Elwood’s doctrine of puritanical evangelism, as, among other things, it falls prey to the core fallacy of modern religion: ANGELWALK falsely promotes love and harmony while imparting intolerance, morbidity (I haven’t even gone into Darien’s travel back in time to visit Holocaust-era Dachau!) and outright hate.