Last week, G.P. Taylor's Shadowmancer is #1 title on the New York Timeslist of bestselling children's books. This week, it is #5.
Before you were the author of this wildly popular book, you were a vicar in the Church of England. But that wasn't where you started out. Everybody is picking up on the fact that you had a varied career, including early your teens a stint in the music industry. What was that all about?
That was all about being a rebellious teenager and running away from home and going to London, where the streets are definitely not paved with gold. I couldn't sing. I couldn't play an instrument, so I had to work for a record company. I did a couple of gigs with a band called The Stranglers, and the Sex Pistols, and Elvis Costello, and Adam and the Ants. And you name it, I was involved with them, lugging their gear up and down the stairs of various nightclubs in the land.
But not long after that you changed your occupation and you actually did social work.
God stepped into my life. He turned up big style. I was involved in the occult as a teenager, and into all sorts of weird and wonderful things. One night I woke up, looked in the mirror, and said, "Oh God, there's got to be more to life than this." And that was the first time I ever felt God speak to me. And he said there was.
How did you get involved in the occult?
I simply wanted to know what happened when you died. There's millions of kids out there who are very hungry to know the big questions of life. The church was portraying a God who had gone off and wasn't involved anymore. There was no power, no majesty, no authority, no miracles anymore. And I thought, well, I don't really want to get involved in that. They were all arguing amongst themselves all the time, and it's not the place for me to be.
What finally made you turn to Christianity?
I came back home to the north of England when I felt this word inside me say, Go home, and I'll find you a job and I'll find you a wife. And it was such a powerful feeling that I thought, I've got to obey this, whatever it is. I now know it was God speaking to me. I went straight back home to my parents' house and got involved in being a volunteer in a day center for retired people.
The strange thing was, all these people on staff used to huddle up together and pray. They had something about their life which I wanted. There was something about them that was completely different. Through their witness, they answered the questions I was asking. They had a God who was powerful, who wanted to come into our lives, who wanted to transform me, and who loved me. That was it. I just couldn't get over this fact that I was loved. Very gently they'd invite me to church. And like a lamb I just followed on.
And finally you became a vicar.
That was the last thing I wanted to be. I didn't want to wear a dress, and I didn't think I wanted my faith put in a box. The more the years went on, the more it became obvious that that's what God's plan was for my life. I even ran away to the police force thinking, I've never read one thing in the Bible about a policeman being called. This is a safe place to be. Anywhere, knowing God, is not a safe place to be because he's going to get you wherever you are.
Your first church, St. Mary's of Whitby, has a connection to the occult.
Bram Stoker wrote a book called Dracula when he was on holiday in Whitby in the late Victorian period. He sets this story in Whitby, and pictured Dracula being buried in the churchyard on the top of the cliff at Whitby. Sure enough, my first church was St. Mary's in Whitby, with Dracula's grave there in the middle of the churchyard.
Every year we got about 3,000 people on Halloween parading through the channel dressed in black with vampire teeth. These are people aged from 15 to 75. And we would get all these people coming to the churchyard and coming to the church. I would stand there at midnight on Halloween and welcome them into the churchyard in the name of Jesus. I'd say, "Come on in, this is holy ground."
You were also involved in some exorcisms.
The thing is that if you get involved in the occult, then you are going to invite all sorts of very negative spiritual forces into your house and sometimes into yourself, or to attach themselves to you. I firmly believe there's no other way of getting rid of these things other than by the name of Jesus. In my ministry over the last 20 years, I've seen that happen so many times. It always comes down to Christian prayer. Every time it happens astounds me when you can see people and places transformed by the love of God.
In your talk about themes in popular culture, did you talk about HarryPotter?
I've got to admit, I'm one of these Philistines who has never been motivated to read Harry Potter. I've seen the movie. From what I've seen of the movie, there's not a lot of witchcraft in it. I'm an authority on Wicca and paganism. What she does is more party-time magic. There are some vague references to things that are taking place, but there are no spells in it.
But if it doesn't attract people into the occult, why has the Pagan Federation of Britain appointed a youth officer to deal with all the inquiries from young people who've read Harry Potter and all these other books and now want to become witches?
Why is it that young people are so fascinated with witchcraft, and how can that be used as a bridge to gospel?
We've got understand that kids want to come into a relationship with a God. They want to come and find out why they're here on this planet. That is why they're reading all these books. And we as a church, should be saying, We have got the answers for you. We have a God who's powerful, majestic, and all-loving. The reason why they're reading these books is because there's a desire within us all to worship God. It's quite a natural thing that they want to know about these things.
Shadowmancer is not a Christian book per se. It is a book where good wins out over evil. And the way good wins out is because three kids come together under the guidance of a guy called Raphah, and they start praying. And Riathamus, whose name means king of kings, he turns up and he helps the kids through. And there's also an angel. So it has a Christian underpinning, whereas all these others don't. It's a book that is a secular book for secular people, and yet has the moral code of J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, and it really ends there.
What was it that made you decide to write? Were you writing all along?
I'd lecture on the occult and the New Age, but because of my background it's my natural interest. I think it's one of the biggest threats to Christianity. Witchcraft is the fastest growing faith system among 14 to 17-year-olds in the U.K. I was out there talking to a church group about the threads, the dark and sinister threads through children's literature. At the end of one of these nights, this woman came up to me and said, I think you should write a children's book, but have the main theme of a God who's triumphant. On the way home this stuck with me.
Had you ever been interested in writing prior to that?
Not at all. But you get to know when God's involved in something. I thought, oh heck. If this is true, I'd better think about it. And then my spirit started to race. I started to get excited. I drove back home over the Moors. It was raining and pouring and thunder and lightning. And it was very, very dark. It got so dark that the headlights on the car were just being taken into the darkness. About 20 miles away there was a lighthouse, which was beaming out light.
The gospel of John just came [to me]. The light came into the world and the darkness could not quench it. [I thought of] a book about smuggling and witchcraft and magic and angels and this young boy called Raphah who comes to England in a very dark night in a storm and brings with him this wonderful truth of Riathamus, the king of kings. It literally just came like that. The next day I sat down and started writing.
You have said, "The problem with the villains in children's books is that they aren't scary enough." And you definitely came up with some scary ones in this. Tell us about Obadiah.
Obadiah Demurral is an Anglican priest. He's the vicar of the Parish of Ravenscar, and was once an itinerant preacher. He went round preaching on haystacks. He just wanted to speak out the word of God. And yet, he fell from grace. His own greed and his own lusts took him over, and it took him to a very, very dark place. He knew that if he would get hold of a thing called a Keruvim, which was an artifact from the Ark, he thought he could get power over God.
Obadiah is also a shadowmancer. What is a shadowmancer?
It is from the word necromancer, which is somebody who conjures with the dead. So he was a man who conjures shadows and the shadows of these dark spiritual creatures that he tries to control.
What is the Keruvim?
If you read in the Old Testament, there's an awful lot written about the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant had peculiar supernatural powers. If you went near the Ark of the Covenant you could be electrocuted, as if this force came out from it. I wanted to go with that sort of imagery.
A lot of people treat God as if he's a wimp. God isn't a wimp. God is creator of the universe and he's not somebody to be blasphemed against or treated lightly. I wanted to give some muscle back to God, some power back to God. And the idea was is that this Keruvim has been stolen from a village in Ethiopia, and it's been taken to England. And Raphah is sent from Ethiopia to recover it. In Demurral's warped imagination he believes that if he can get hold of this, then he can do something supernatural with it against its creator.
What is the Seruvim?
It's cherubim. It's a transliteration of the Hebrew. We're talking about angels here, big 8-foot tall angels. Every time I read about angels in kids' books, they're always these little babies with wings. Angels aren't like that. If you read the scriptures you'll see that angels are huge. I wanted to put angels back on the map as being powerful, supernatural creatures.
Without mentioning Jesus, people are coming to the recognition that this is about God.
If you read some of the people who are putting these things on Amazon, you'll notice that they all believe in one thing, and it's not Christianity. They've read this book and something has witnessed in their spirit and told them that this book is not from their god.
This is a great thing. In fact, a lot of people who read the book are being very challenged if they're in the occult or in the New Age movement. They're getting very, very challenged. And they're quite angry. They're as angry as anything.
Will there be a film?
We signed a film deal. It's being done by Fortitude Films. When it went to number one on the New York Times best-seller list they thought they had a hot property. I've even been told that it's going to rival Left Behind. I'm not sure what Left Behind is, but whatever Left Behind is, apparently we're going to rival it.
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Shadowmancer is available from Christianbook.com and other book retailers.
Other reviews include:
'Shadowmancer' Touted as 'Hotter than Potter' | Shadowmancer, an allegorical novel for teens about the battle between good and evil, has become a British bestseller, been translated into 20 languages and optioned for the movies. In the United States, the book's publisher is declaring it 'hotter than Potter,' but some critics say first-time author G.P. Taylor's writing is no match for J.K. Rowling. Jeff Lunden reports. (Morning Edition, NPR)
British fantasy author not wild about Harry | Taylor says 'Shadowmancer' isn't a 'Christian' book (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Vicar copes with literary blessing | Life has taken a surreal turn for Taylor, 44, the vicar of Ravenscar, a small parish on England's Yorkshire coast. Two years ago, he sold his beloved motorcycle to self-publish the book he wrote on his days off. He expected to sell a few hundred copies. (Miami Herald)
Potter rival is US best seller | A Yorkshire vicar who was challenged by a parishioner to write an alternative to Harry Potter now has seen his book reach the top of the best seller list in America. (The Church of England)
Fantasy novel catches attention of 'Potter,' Tolkien fans | Action-packed fantasy, "Shadowmancer," by G.P. Taylor, set in the 1700s Yorkshire coast, is a best seller in the U.K. and poised to capture the imaginations of America's youth. (MSNBC)
Dick Staub is president of the Center for Faith and Culture, which examines intersections between popular culture and religious belief. Complete transcripts and audio versions of Dick Staub Interviews can be found at dickstaub.com. Recent Dick Staub Interviews for Christianity Today include:
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