Monthly Archives: February 2016
This chapter is another deviation from formula, as Murphy talks to Stephanie after class, rather than getting all hot and sweaty with Levi Abrams.
Bizarrely, Stephanie begins the conversation with an apology, for “coming on too strong” (how unwomanly of her!!), and expositions her own character:
“As an investigative reporter, I’ve always approached any story with skepticism. I use my aggression, hoping that it will make the other person nervous and reveal something that would incriminate them.”
She then says aloud what she was thinking the last time they spoke, which is that Murphy isn’t a religious nut.
Right. He went on a mid-school-year expedition to Ararat and claims to have found the Ark but has no proof whatsoever, and he proselytizes during both of the classes she has seen him teach. No religious nut here, no sirree!
Murphy laughed. “Maybe a little strange…but not crazy.”
The humor eased the tension a little.
Wait…that was supposed to be humor??? Yeah, who says RTCs don’t know how to laugh, amirite?
Stephanie immediately brings back up the subject of happiness, and Murphy drones on about happiness for half a page, with such platitudes as “I know some people who have very little when it comes to earthly goods and yet they are content” and “I think happiness is the end result of having a positive attitude toward life.”
Surely Stephanie could never gain such insight from anybody but a Bible-believing genius like Michael Murphy!
Hilariously for one so addicted to Wikipedia, Phillips then has Murphy attribute to “someone” the idea of happiness being a butterfly that sits on you.
Nathaniel Hawthorne said it. And although Murphy claims the butterfly lands “when we busy ourselves with our responsibilities,” Hawthorne said it lands when we “sit down quietly.” Then again, being quiet isn’t Murphy’s strong suit.
Stephanie then reveals that she is the typical “atheist” who just hates God. See, she went to church as a kid, then her father was killed by a drub driver, and “I guess I got angry at God.” Go figure.
Murphy is actually relatively understanding about this, at least for him, but nonetheless immediately posits that “God may be trying to talk to you.” To illustrate how God talks, Murphy makes a convoluted analogy about kite strings, Q-and-A-ing Stephanie about what happens when a kite goes super-duper high:
“When the kite was out of sight, how could you tell that it was still there?”
Kovacs looked a little puzzled for a moment. Then she said slowly, “I guess by the pull of the string. It meant the wind was still blowing the kite.”
“Right. That’s sort of how it is when God speaks to you,” Murphy explained with a smile. “You can’t see Him. He is out of sight. And you can’t audibly hear His voice because He is too far away. But you can feel His loving tug on the strings of your heart.”
Nope. Instead, his analogy just makes Stephanie cry. So “he knew he had given her food for thought.”
As we noted in Ararat, so many of these conversations are laid out as templates for converting people. So apparently making someone cry is a good thing. Keep emotionally manipulating her, Murph…she’ll become a good little Christian non-mistress in no time!
Oh, Bob Phillips, why do you play me this way? Here I was all set to see each chapter in Europa matched in the same chapter in Ararat, as proof of the paint-by-number nature of these books, and now you go and switch things up on me!
See, Chapter 10 in Ararat is another ark lecture, and Chapter 11 catches us up with Talon. It’s the reverse in Europa.
And Europa’s Chapter 10 is utterly useless, as Talon makes his way back to the Seven (they’ll stop at nothing!). There’s a bit of the typical Big Bad “we don’t tolerate failures!” posturing, but they actually kinda do tolerate failures, as they keep Talon on the job.
And what is this job, exactly? Well, it’s to eliminate Murphy. (They refer to Talon’s failure to kill Murphy in the avalanche a “mistake.”)
But why the hell is Murphy so impossible to kill? They could literally just shoot him any day of the week, coming out of his house.
But this isn’t even the hot issue, as far as the Seven are concerned. Instead, they now want Talon’s top priority to be the murder of the senile old man from the newspaper article, who talked about the End Times. Because that’s the best possible use of the world’s greatest assassin.
Meanwhile, the World’s Greatest Impossible to Kill Professor is keeping himself safe from master assassins by giving another open lecture (Stephanie is in attendance again, though without her cameraman this time) at his small-town college. Surely Talon could never invade such a stronghold as this!
Murphy actually has some facts to relay about ancient Babylon this time, about how awesome their math and stuff was. He also snidely mentions their divination practices, “superstition” which is totally different from using ancient religious texts to figure out when the world will end.
But Murphy can’t even let it go at that. He talks about God’s warnings, like when he warned Noah about the flood and “warned” Belshazzar about a judgment of God by making his grandfather go insane (???).
“Isn’t it strange that we do the same thing today? God gives us warnings. He pleads with us and confronts us. You may ask, ‘How does He do this?’ He does this through the still small voice of our conscience. Our conscience tells us what is right and what is wrong.”
Wow. Yanno, take out the God-does-our-conscience part, and this is basically atheist morality. We all have a conscience (well, okay, most humans do) and it tells us what is right and wrong. The only difference is that I don’t think, as Murphy does, that God uses our brains as a sort of antenna. Murphy is skirting dangerously close to the idea that atheists can be moral persons—careful there, bud!
Is this man at all capable of giving a lecture on archaeology without it turning into a sermon? Because it hasn’t happened once yet!
I gotta keep keeping track of the parallels between The Europa Conspiracy and The Secret on Ararat. As we’ve seen, Chapter 5 caught us up with Shane Barrington. Now, Phillips caught me off guard with the Chapter 6s: in Ararat, Michael condescends to teach an acquaintance about parenthood. But in Europa, he talks about the actual “artifact” he’ll be searching for.
But we’re back on track with the Chapter 7s, which are lecture/proselytizing chapters.
And the Chapter 8s are hilariously on target with each other. In Ararat, Murphy chats with some students after the lecture and proselytizes to them. In Europa, Murphy does the same thing, only with Stephanie Kovacs.
And so we continue now, as we spend a bit of time with Shari, sorta like in Ararat. I say sorta because in Ararat, Shari was giving lying, condescending advice to a vulnerable young teenager. In Europa, we just learn more about Shari and Paul’s latest argument.
In Ararat, the problem was that Paul was reading books written by evil atheists, compromising Shari’s plan to get him to say the Magic Words before graduation. There is no indication that the atheist-writers problem has been resolved in any way, but now they have a new topic of argument: Paul’s future.
Paul, you may remember, has a scholarship from Shane Barrington and a verbal promise of a job after graduation, conditioned on Shane approving his writings on Murphy’s class. Shari has been against this all from the beginning, because I guess she doesn’t want anything good to happen to Paul, and months later, it’s still a hot-button issue.
In fact, she’s sobbing when Murphy enters the lab, because “I know it isn’t the right thing for him.” [Emphasis hers.]
I know I’ve asked this before, but WHY ARE THESE TWO STILL TOGETHER??? All they do is make each other unhappy. Have they ever actually been happy together? They fight all the time, and on issues like religion and Their Future. These aren’t things that can be brushed aside, and they’re both frigging twenty-one or twenty-two years old only. Geez, just break up and see other people already!
And to top it all off, this silly drama is just a prelude to the really important point, which is Shari giving Murphy the message that Bob Wagoner called. When Murphy calls back, Bob has a really important thing for him—a newspaper clipping about a senile old man, wandering around Orlando and whining about the End Times. Apparently Murphy has a “collection” of such articles, and so Bob saved this one for him. Murphy’s collection must be crap, though, since this article is two very brief paragraphs with no details whatsoever. Nonetheless, Murphy declares it “a good one,” so we know it will be important later.
Just like Murphy’s collection of pictures of guys with sandwich board signs about the end of the world. SCIENCE!!!
This book reads like a very rough first draft, complete with the author’s notes-to-oneself:
“Dr. Murphy, I appreciate your taking time to meet with me. And thank you for allowing us to videotape your class,” Stephanie Kovacs said as she approached.
Murphy was waiting on the steps of the student center.
See, it’s like a note in the draft. (Scene takes place after class at the student center.) Because why should we care where Murphy and Stephanie are meeting? They could meet in the empty classroom or in his office or in a coffee shop and it means nothing to the conversation.
Why is she being so nice and polite? This isn’t her usual go-for-the-jugular attack. [thought Murphy]
For a college professor, Murphy sure isn’t a deep or nuanced thinker, is he? Why do people behave one way at one time and another way at a different time? Why aren’t people exactly the same all the time? This is so confusing!
(Hell, if nothing else, he should be worried that Stephanie is trying to sucker him in, put him at his ease, so he’ll relax and she can move in for the kill. But no, he doesn’t even consider that possibility.)
Stephanie actually just wants to ask Murphy some questions without the cameraman, though these questions seem the very type that would necessitate a cameraman. Specifically, she wants to ask about the ark:
“A few months ago you were in the midst of planning an expedition to look for Noah’s Ark. Did you in fact go to Ararat?”
Yes, he did. A few months ago. Way to keep on top of breaking news, Stephanie.
Oh, and this confirms what I suspected: that it took him several months to come clean to his pastor and “friend” Bob Wagoner about what happened.
Murphy bizarrely reveals that they did in fact find the ark, though there is absolutely no evidence, which you would think would just make him look like more of a crackpot to Stephanie. And he even tells her about all the deaths, while not mentioning Talon (!) or the brass plates. So, he’s lying to her, but even though we don’t see the usual LaJenkinsian dialogue, I’m sure he talked around the issue, saying things that were technically true without giving enough specifics that the listener could discern the actual facts.
But Stephanie doesn’t seem to notice or care:
Could there really be an ark? Murphy doesn’t seem to be one of those weirdo, right-wing Christian nuts that I’ve interviewed before.
HE DOESN’T??? Because you just now listened to him proselytize to his entire archaeology class. And say that he found Noah’s ark, though he conveniently has no evidence.
And the murders…did Shane have anything to do with them?
Um, no. They took place in Turkey, and he wasn’t even there, and Talon did it. But Stephanie remembers that Shane said that the Seven said that people like Murphy “have to be stopped” before they can persuade others that we’re gearing up to the Tribulation. From this, Stephanie bizarrely concludes that Murphy is in immediate danger, even though the Seven could certainly kill Murphy whenever they pleased. One sniper, job done, yanno? It’s not like the guy looks out for his own safety or anything.
But Murphy changes the subject again, asking Stephanie what she thought of the end of the lecture and the question of purpose in life. He also asks her if she’s happy, which did not come up in class and is a different question entirely.
Murphy had struck a nerve. She was not happy with Barrington. She didn’t want to be a mistress.
Good thing she’s not one, then.
She wanted to be loved for who she was, not what she could do in bed.
Which wasn’t presented as the reason Barrington proposed the relationship. Sure, he was attracted to Stephanie, but it seemed far more about mutual goals and his respect for her intelligence than about just a lay. After all, Barrington is incredibly rich, powerful, and handsome. Certainly he can get sex whenever he wants it.
But what this is really about is showing that a woman who has sex before marriage is a filthy lady whore. Not to mention the implication that enjoying sex is something only an evil, unsaved person would do. This isn’t really about a woman discovering she’s unhappy in her relationship. It’s about scolding her for being in it in the first place, showing that monogamous sex between two consenting adults will only lead to shame and sadness because they are unmarried unbelievers.
Because that is way more important than the discovery of Noah’s ark.
Murphy could feel his Irish temper rising.
You might wonder what’s causing this. Maybe Meth has created another pointless trap to make Murphy risk his life yet again, since we had that kind of drama at the very beginning of the book.
It had all started when he pulled up in the parking lot and saw the van with BNN on the side. The thought of Barrington Network News being on campus brought a bad taste to his mouth.
That’s it. A news van is on the campus of his college.
Mike, you know that van could be there for any number of reasons, right? Some sports event or famous person visiting campus, or an art exhibit or student play, or maybe they’re just getting some footage for a puff piece. “Here at Preston University, the students are certainly enjoying this beautiful spring, Janet!”
Murphy bitterly remembers how BNN was on the scene of the church bombing a year and a half ago, because there should be absolutely no news coverage of acts of terrorism that kill people. He lays it out for the slower readers:
All the reporters wanted was a big story. They didn’t care about people’s feelings.
Intellectual Christian adventurer Michael Murphy sure is into stereotyping entire professions, isn’t he?
He also flashes back to Hank Baines’ funeral, which, I get that was annoying to Murphy and all, but it should logically prejudice him against just Stephanie Kovacs, not everyone involved in the news profession.
And, of course, Stephanie is once again interested only in what Murphy has to say. She has staked out the lecture hall, and since she and her news crew just so happened to be in the area, would it be okay if they sat in on his lecture?
Why, sure! “Anyone is free to come in, Miss Kovacs.”
Now, granted that Michael Murphy is a media whore, but that still seems like a terribly liberal policy for a lecturing professor. Anyone is welcome? You’d think that would lead to plenty of distractions, but I guess as long as Murph gets himself filmed, to hell with it.
The lecture is on Babylon, and Murphy spends half a page on the most boring aspect of the Bible: the endless genealogies. He lays out the baby-having that led to the Tower of Babel, upon which Clayton, the class clown who was also the class clown back in Ararat and apparently just takes every course Murphy offers, makes a GREAT joke:
“I thought the Tower of Babel was where King Solomon kept all his wives.”
But Murphy takes note of levity in his classroom, and gets his own back a minute later, when talking about the bricks of Babylon, which were inscribed with Nebuchadnezzar’s name, “King of Babylon“:
“I know you’re disappointed they didn’t have your name on them, Clayton. They would have said King of Jokes.”
Everyone laughed and whistled.
…because they knew that was how to get an ‘A’ in Murphy’s class.
Murphy really doesn’t have control of this room, does he? Can’t work around even one smart-ass. But no, Murph has to be the “funny,” “cool” professor.
And the professor who sucks at PowerPoint slides since all he puts on them are lists of numbers and names (the dimensions of the steps of the Babylonian ziggurat and the same of Babylonian gods, respectively). And I feel compelled to point out that this is going to be the worst news story ever. (“And now, folks, we’re going to cut LIVE to Preston University, where a random professor showed some PowerPoint slides to his bored students! After that, we’ll get around to other news like national politics and the crisis in the Middle East.”)
And of course, Murphy follows his usual course of not talking about archaeology in his archaeology class, and instead expounding (again!) on creationism.
“Throughout human history, men have talked about various gods. Part of the reason for this is the fact that we can look about us and see the grandeur of creation. We ask, Where did this all come from? Could it have just happened? Did it just pop up from nothing?”
Yanno, Murphy, you kinda got humiliated in that whole failed-to-bring-back-evidence-of-Noah’s-Ark-debacle not too long ago. Maybe lay off the creationism schtick for a little while, eh?
And then he segues into the Meaning of Life:
“Whoever this designer was, they must certainly be smarter than me.”
Oh nobody doubts that, Murph.
“Is there a purpose to life? And can I come to know what this purpose is?”
And…that’s the end of Professor Murphy’s ARCHAEOLOGY class. The students who are actually interested in the subject must be so pissed right now.
“Okay, can it, everybody—plot’s back.”
-Joel, MST3K, Catalina Caper
Now that we’ve reset everything and put the characters where they belong, it’s time to talk about the MacGuffin. Meth’s envelope actually contained nothing but plaster. The plaster, now only pieces and dust, might have once been something, but Meth’s stupidly-dangerous and complicated plan made Murphy crumple the envelope, possibly destroying what was inside.
But it basically doesn’t matter to Murphy, who has been thinking about the scale and words back in Colorado.
And I will add here that I find it more than a little bit creepy that Shari has apparently begun referring to Michael Murphy as “Murphy,” not “Professor Murphy” as in the past books. Because his dead wife, Laura, called him “Murphy.” More and more, Murphy (and, it seems, LaHaye and Phillips) are blurring the lines between dead wife and alive research assistant.
Murphy (after the fact, now that he won’t get in trouble) tells Shari about the adventure in Colorado, and hypothesizes that the words are “referring to the head of the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar built. The same one that was taken to the Parchments of Freedom Foundation.”
“You remember, Shari, when you were smacking around your wounded ‘boyfriend?'”
“Methuselah was giving me directions to another find. It must be located 375 meters directly northeast of where we found the golden head.”
…”Hold on to your pigtails. I think you’re going to like this. I think it might be the Handwriting on the Wall that was mentioned in Daniel, Chapter Five.“
Man, imagine if Murphy had to do his own research and searching. Good thing he has this atheist around to point him to locations that actually have Biblical finds!
So Murphy clues in the clueless readers (through the clueless Shari) on what the handwriting on the wall actually says:
“It said, ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.'”
Geez, no need to yell about it, Murphy!
Murphy explains what it all means, and I’ll just cite one of Phillips’ favorite sources, Wikipedia.
And he explains that the plaster is probably from the very wall on which God wrote the words. Which means Methuselah already found the gorram wall with the writing, so this entire expedition of Murphy’s is just for show.
The chapter ends with Murphy calling Isis in D.C. He asks her to meet him in New York for the weekend.
Nope, it’s not for sexy fun times, but just for more Biblical stuff. Yet Phillips tells us that Isis has just been literally waiting by the phone for Murphy, and that “hearing his voice had sent a thrill through her.” Which is pretty impressive seeing as how Murphy has put her life on the line multiple times, while hiding his true feelings and not giving her any of the credit. But it’s important for us to know that Isis is just sitting there looking pretty, waiting. As a woman should.
Bet you guys can’t guess what Chapter 5 in The Secret on Ararat was about!
Yup, it was about Shane meeting with the Seven (who will, as always, Stop at Nothing) to discuss their plans about Michael Murphy.
This time, Bob Phillips throws us a curve ball by having Shane and Stephanie discuss their plans for Michael Murphy.
First, though, we need to be clear on the fact that women who have sex are filthy whores:
[Stephanie] could see the emptiness in her eyes as she looked in the mirror to put on her lipstick.
Do you like being a mistress? Is it worth the price?
Sorry, Bob Phillips, but Stephanie is still nobody’s mistress. She is single and Shane is divorced. They can both sleep with whomever they want.
Stephanie is upset because she “had sold her own pride and self-image for an extravagant lifestyle, for power and influence, and to further her career as a news journalist.”
Um, okay. The power part I get–they established that in Babylon. And the extravagant lifestyle I get, as Shane has plenty of money and also is happy to spoil her. But sell g her own pride and self-image? She’s dating somebody! What is so wrong?
And as for furthering her career, well…maybe. But Stephanie was already a household name long before she started dating Shane, so he can’t have helped her in that way too awfully much.
Stephanie is on a date with Shane in his penthouse, and it appears that Phillips has pushed the reset button on the series. See, last we left Shane and Stephanie, he had laid all his cards on the table for her, telling her about the Seven and how they owned his ass, and how they were obsessed with Michael Murphy because he sees the End Times coming.
Yet now, Shane inexplicably plays cat-and-mouse with Stephanie, sending her off to visit Murphy and sit in on his classes, simply because “we haven’t had a good news story in a couple of weeks” (really???). So Stephanie also plays dumb, like “okay, if that’s what you want” casual. So even though they’ve been together for over a year and he’s told her his secrets, Phillips still tells us that their relationship is “empty.”
The chapter ends with Stephanie giving Shane a hug, which he (correctly) interprets as an invitation for sex. But we can’t say “sex”… when the monogamous couple is going to have sex. Instead, Barrington coyly tells himself that “I’ll have a good evening tonight.” Right on, dude.