[Note: This is neither a book review nor a book summary, but rather an overview of some of the elements and themes found in Shadowmancer that may be of interest to those visiting this site and to those who are wondering about this book being called the “Christian Harry Potter.” The edition read and used for this article is a paperback published in London by Faber and Faber Limited, 2003, ISBN 0-571-22046-0.]
“Firstly Shadowmancer is NOT a Christian book.” G. P. Taylor
“It’s not a Christian book, I refuse to have it called that.” G. P. Taylor
“I didn’t set out to write a Christian book, and it’s not a Christian book, it’s a book that deals with eternal images of faith.” G. P. Taylor
“With an initial U.S. printing of 250,000, reorders for 65,000 and movie rights already sold for nearly $6 million, Penguin hopes Shadowmancer will be its first blockbuster crossover.” Quote from Daily Record, 4/27/04, http://www.dailyrecord.com/morrislife/morrislife11-shadow.htm
Shadowmancer, called the “Christian Harry Potter” in numerous media reports, was written by a vicar in Yorkshire, England, G. P. Taylor. Taylor, who describes himself as an “orthodox Anglo Catholic” (interview with Daily Record, July 3, 2003 at http://www.surefish.co.uk/culture/features/030703_gp_taylor_interview.htm ), adamantly claims that his book is not Christian (see Addendum to this article at the end). Three children, Raphah (a mysterious figure who appears in the story without a clear explanation of who he is), Kate, and Thomas, along with an adult smuggler, Jacob Crane, seek to stop Vicar Obadiah Demurral from his attempts through sorcery to control the world with powers he is summoning in various ways. There is an object called a Keruvim (which seems to be the cherubim figure of the Tabernacle from Exodus 25) that Demurral has stolen for its power, an object Raphah’s family has guarded (pages 76, 208). A God/Christ figure named Riathamus and an evil Satan figure named Pyratheon are woven into the story, which is set in the 18th century.
Though criss-crossed with Christian references, many of them rather ambiguous, the book presents a vague Christianity more as part of superstition and animism rather than as something set apart from occult magick and powers. Rather than the world of an omnipotent God, this book provides several incidents that evoke dualism, and a belief that God can be defeated by evil. Additionally, there is a very subjective spirituality present in the books with no clear-cut message about who Jesus is or what He did on the cross, though there are hazy and confusing references to it.
The Cross And An Unnamed Jesus
In chapter five, Thomas, one of the main characters, dreams of finding himself inside a stone chamber before a golden altar. He hears what seem to be angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and a voice in his head urges him to “wake up” (50-51). Raphah also uses this phrase, “wake up” later in the book to a woman reading cards for divination, telling her to “rise from the dead,” though Christ is never mentioned to her (116). Though Jesus urged people to believe on Him, it is clear from the Bible that salvation is done through faith, and the term “wake up,” especially apart from any mention of Christ, is not an equivalent to having faith.
ThThomas encounters a man in this dream who tells him not to fear and that he can be forgiven. When Thomas looks into this man’s eyes, he sees they are “the eyes of the cross” (52). This is the only specific mention of the cross in the book, aside from a reference at the end by Pyratheon, the Satan figure, to “the victory on the tree” (297). When Thomas asks the man in the dream who he is, the man replies, “I am a king. Have you not heard of me? Don’t you know my voice?” The man continues, “All you have to do is believe in me. Thomas, I can be your king,” and later he tells him that he has known Thomas since he was “knitted together in his mother’s womb” (52-53).
A Christian will likely conclude that this figure is Jesus (because of the phrase “the eyes of the cross”), and many will recognize the words about being “knitted together” in the womb as coming from Psalm 139, but anyone else who is either not familiar with the Bible or who has little or no Christian background is not necessarily going to understand who this man is or why he is saying these words. Why believe in this man? Why is he a king? Why should Thomas know his voice? Why is this man able to forgive? What is the uniqueness of this man?
Nevertheless, Thomas decides to believe the man; he can feel the man’s “majesty and authority,” and the man’s face “radiates pure white light” (53). The man refers to this light by saying, “It is the light of the world” rather than “I am the light of the world.” This appears to be a direct revelation of Christ to the boy Thomas, but crucial parts of who Christ is are missing. Also, since it is clear that Christianity is already in the world, why the mysterious message with no references to the atonement and resurrection? The possible answer to this is provided by the author, who has said that this is not a Christian book, but a book primarily for Christian, Judaic, and Islamic monotheists (please see Addendum). And despite this encounter, Thomas later thinks, as he views a public hanging, that it is “a cruel God” who can give and then take life (103). If Thomas had had such a glorious encounter with Christ, why would he later think God is cruel? At the very least, this is confusing, especially considering the book is for children.
The unnamed man gives Thomas a “belt of truth” and a sword, telling him that his enemy is the “father of lies” and a “devouring lion” (54-55), all Biblical statements, with the belt and sword coming from the armor of God in Ephesians 6, the “father of lies” said by Jesus in John 8:44b, and the other found in 1 Peter 5:8 where Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” These are New Testament quotes (and there are others elsewhere), although Taylor has stated that he used only Old Testament quotes in the book (“Yes, I’ve quoted from the Old Testament, but the Old Testament is the book of the Jew and the Muslim as well. That’s why I did only quote from the Old Testament so that it did have an appeal for those of no faith and faith,” quote at http://www.surefish.co.uk/culture/features/030703_gp_taylor_interview.htm, accessed 4/26/04). The belt and sword in Shadowmancer are literal, and are used later by Thomas to fight the opposition.
Acts 4:12 tells us that “there is no other name by which men can be saved,” and Romans 10:9 says that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” In Acts 10:43 we read, “He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” The resurrected Christ is a very specific person: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In other words, one must know that it is Jesus who is the Christ, and that it is specifically Him whom we must believe. Since the story clearly takes place in a time and place where Christianity does exist (though represented wrongly by Demurral), the revelation of Christ and his name has explicitly been revealed. There is no reason to obscure or leave out Jesus’ name or his title of Messiah or Christ (“Christ” is the Greek translation for “Messiah,” meaning the “Anointed One”).
Raphah, Thomas, and Kate encounter a mysterious personage dressed as a shepherd who tells them that the “cattle on a thousand hills belong to me, not even Solomon in all his glory had the wealth that I possess” (238), fusing two Biblical passages together (Psalm 50:10 and Matthew 6:29) and changing the words of the Matthew verse. The stranger tells Raphah that “his people” are descended from Solomon and that it is Raphah’s task to “save the Keruvim from those who would use it for evil” (238). Raphah wonders who the man is and the stranger responds, “I AM WHO I AM. This is all you need to know” (239). He then gives instructions to them for an escape from the villains, telling them to keep trusting him. The earth beneath the man glows, his clothes change, and he says, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the time,” as golden light swirls around him (239). Raphah declares later that this was Riathamus, and when Kate asks how he knows this, he responds, “I just know, don’t ask me how. It was his voice, something in his eyes. It was the way he knew so much about us” (240). (Much is made in the book about knowing people by looking in their eyes). Was this God the Father or Jesus? Or is it supposed to be both, or either? If the book is written for Jews and Muslims as well as Christians, then it cannot be Jesus. And why the strange words about Solomon?
Later, Kate, Thomas, and Raphah encounter a mysterious stranger, Abram, who seems to have been sent to help them by a godlike “friend,” who seems to be the shepherd encountered by the children earlier. Kate asks Abram who this friend is, and Abram answers, “He has many names, some are known to the world, others are secret only to him. His name is really important; but knowing him is all that really matters” (276). How does Abram know some names are “secret?” And if the name is “important,” why is it not given? Abram also responds that he calls on “his name” every day, “since long before you were born. I AM, Riathamus, or just the longing of the heart are names for him” (277).
In the Bible, God identifies himself to Moses as “I AM THAT I AM,” but in other places is revealed as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Righteous One, the Lord, the God of Israel, the Lord God, the living God, the Shepherd, the Lord Almighty, etc. He does not hide behind esoteric puzzles about who he is. And how can “the longing of the heart” bring us to God since we are told in Jeremiah 17:9 that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Our heart does not lead us naturally toward God.
ADDENDUM: AUTHOR G. P. TAYLOR, WHAT DOES HE SAY ABOUT HIS BOOK AND BELIEFS?
In an interview dated Sept. 26, 2003 found at http://www.zanzaro.com/shadowmancer/interview.htm (accessed 4.26.04), G. P. Taylor, the author of Shadowmancer, clearly states that his book is not Christian: “Firstly Shadowmancer is NOT a Christian book. I get emails from Muslims – Hindu’s and all sorts of faith thanking me for the book.” He goes on to say, “As far as religion is concerned – I am not very religious. I am a believer but don’t care for all the religious trappings and man made traditions that go with it. I follow Riathamus.” He also is an admirer of the Harry Potter books and of J. K. Rowling, and considers it an “accolade” to be compared to her.
In another interview, Nov. 23, 2003, at http://www.theweeweb.co.uk/gp_taylor.php (accessed 4/26/04), Taylor says: “Shadowmancer is not a Christian book, it is a book about good and evil and appeals to Jews and Muslims as well as atheists. I was ordained after youthful experiments with punk rock, druidism, the occult, and transcendental meditation. I read the Qu’ran before reading the Bible and I am just as happy to talk about the Talmud. My writing is informed as much by Judaism and Islam as it the by the Christian tradition. It is the account of an eternal truth.”
Taylor answers the question of who is Jesus by saying, “Jesus was the Son of God. He was a radical theologian of the time who came to liberate women, the poor, everyone who had been oppressed. A man, fully human and divine, his miracle and power and wonder transformed the lives of those he came into contact with” (http://www.rejesus.co.uk/encounters/interview/04_gp_taylor/text_interview.html, 2003 interview, accessed 4/26/04). However, he says nothing about Jesus coming to atone for sins. When asked if Jesus can “survive” the Church, he responds: “Of course he can survive the Church, I think he is better off without the Church.” He may be talking about a church that is just organized religion and not the true church, but the true church is the body of believers, and Jesus said that he loved the Church. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” and “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:25, 29).
More Comments from G. P. Taylor on Shadowmancer:
From http://www.bbc.co.uk/northyorkshire/faith/2003/shadowmancer/index.shtml (BBC, December, 2003, accessed 4/26/04):
I didn’t set out to write a Christian book, and it’s not a Christian book, it’s a book that deals with eternal images of faith. A lot of my readers are Muslims, and a number are Jews. Three Muslim guys turned up at the door asking me to sign their books. It appeals to them because the main character is black, he’s from Ethiopia and they said to me ‘He’s a Muslim, we know he’s a Muslim Mr Taylor’. So they look at the book from a Muslim perspective. The Christians read it and think ‘It’s a book about God’, the Jews read it and think ‘It’s a book about Yahweh,’ really it’s a monotheistic book with themes of good and evil that are familiar to all the major religions.
I wanted to make God really positive and reflect how he really is in my belief, and the belief of thousands of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
It should be pointed out that Taylor believes the Muslim God is the same as the Jewish and Christian God (see comment at same website).
From a July 3, 2003, interview at http://www.surefish.co.uk/culture/features/030703_gp_taylor_interview.htm (accessed 4/26/04): It’s not a Christian book, I refuse to have it called that. Yes I’ve quoted from the Old Testament, but the Old Testament is the book of the Jew and the Muslim as well. That’s why I did only quote from the Old Testament so that it did have an appeal for those of no faith and faith.
“I think many people today find their spirituality in literature, instead of in organized religion, and I’m trying to show the choices.” G. P. Taylor, The Daily Record, 4/27/04 at http://www.dailyrecord.com/morrislife/morrislife11-shadow.htm (accessed 5/10/94).
http://www.rejesus.co.uk/encounters/interview/04_gp_taylor/text_interview.html (2003 interview, accessed 5/9/04): “I wanted to make my villains scary, frightening, horrible and realistic – something that would really frighten the crap of out the kids! If you read the Bible, especially the Old Testament in Hebrew or Greek, you will find it is quite a scary book, with very dark themes, but, like Shadowmancer, the Bible also has themes of light, hope, goodness, purity and resurrection. Always there is this great overcoming, there is redemption, light, hope, peace and, ultimately, there is the victory of good over evil. Children like to be frightened and need to learn to deal with fear. Fear also brings an excitement which then brings them on to learn and read and keep turning the pages. That’s all that I wanted to do, write a book where kids turned the pages. Shadowmancer is aimed at older children. Yes it is frightening, but it’s also a feel-good story
. . . .I get emails from Muslims who are convinced it is a Muslim book, from Jews who are convinced it is a book about Judaism, and from pagans who are convinced it is a book about paganism. I think the story resonates at a deep level, but my character Raphah is never named as Jesus, so to Jews he could be the coming Yeshua, to Christians he could be Jesus, to Muslims he could be the Prophet and to pagans he is in some ways an avenging angel. Shadowmancer is not a Christian book, it is a book about good and evil.
I was ordained after youthful experiments with punk rock, druidism, the occult and transcendental meditation. I read the Qu’ran before reading the Bible and I am just as happy to talk about the Talmud. My writing is informed as much by Judaism and Islam as by the Christian tradition. It is the account of an eternal truth.
I wanted to appeal to as many different people as possible, to different faith groups and people of no faith. It’s a story which deals with issues of life, death, faith and hope in a “non-Goddy” way… and then people can draw their own conclusions.
. . . We have to get our heads around who Jesus really was. He was the black guy from the north of the country who didn’t fit in. He was the outcast who came with these radical ideas. It was revolutionary what he had to say and if the Church could get to grips with it, it would be a completely different institution.
We have paganised Jesus, we have taken the Christian Jesus and made him into the pagan Thor, like we have taken the goddess Diana and converted her into the Blessed Virgin.
With Roman influence, Jesus became very much like Caesar, which made Christianity the legitimate religion for empire ? they couldn’t have coped with Jesus the illegitimate black Jew being the key to eternal life. We have taken the established pagan religions of Rome and converted them into the liturgy and ritual of church. We are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
We can have Jesus representing our particular ethnic or religious group, but let’s not forget what he was really saying. We have to get back to who Jesus, the disciples and Paul really were and what they were really saying.
Jesus was the Son of God. He was a radical theologian of the time who came to liberate women, the poor, everyone who had been oppressed. A man, fully human and divine, his miracle and power and wonder transformed the lives of those he came into contact with. He is a mindblowing God. We don’t do him justice, we underplay him all the time.