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Has 'Harry Potter' Met His Match?

By Belinda Ayers Producer Move over Harry Potter. A new series of books has found a large following in the U.K. and is now making its way to America.

Shadowmancer, the first book in the fantasy series by English vicar G.P. Taylor, was released in the United States last month. The novel has a broad appeal for both children and adults -- especially those who love to hate Harry Potter. Its Christian nuances and references to Scripture have many Christians singing its praise.

Set in 18th century England, the novel is a suspenseful tale of good versus evil. Vicar Obadiah Demurral uses demons, dark magic and sorcery in an effort to control the world -- and he has only one more task to accomplish before he succeeds. His quest for more supernatural power must be stopped by teens Kate and Thomas. They are aided by Raphah, a mysterious young man from Africa who befriends them after being shipwrecked near their town.

The novel was published in the U.K. on the same day that the fifth installment of Harry Potter was released, and it instantly soared to the top of the bestseller list. When it was released in Argentina, the book sold out in two days.

It has been touted by Newsweek as "hotter than Potter," but the jury is still out as to whether or not secular fantasy fans will flock to this series as abundantly as they did to the Potter books by J.K. Rowling. One thing is relatively certain; Potter will soon be forced to share the big screen with the vicar's characters. Taylor recently sold the film rights to Shadowmancer for $6 million.

The author, Reverend Graham Taylor, will be the first to tell you that the popularity of his book came as a surprise. Upon receiving a negative critique of the manuscript from an online editor, he decided to self-publish the novel and sold his beloved motorcycle to finance the project. After several local bookstores reported a high demand for the book, the novel eventually found its way into the hands of an agent, and Taylor was signed with the publisher Faber and Faber in the U.K. and Putnam Publishing Group in the U.S.

G.P. Taylor is not your average English vicar. He has worked in the music industry, promoting artists such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Adam Ant and Bob Dylan for CBS Records; rubbed shoulders with musicians Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, and the Sex Pistols in the punk rock scene; and worked as a police officer. He currently serves as the vicar of Ravenscar in Yorkshire, U.K., where he lives with his wife and three daughters. Producer Belinda Ayers had the opportunity to talk with G.P. Taylor recently about Shadowmancer, vampires, the occult and his ministry.

BELINDA AYERS: I read in my research about Shadowmancer that it was actually something on The 700 Club that inspired you to write the book. Is that true?

G.P. TAYLOR: It certainly was. It was an article they did with a guest talking about Harry Potter. And something witnessed in my spirit. You know when something just stirs inside you? And I just kind of got this sort of "ughhh". And I'd had this feeling a couple of times before when I'd thought about writing a children's book. And I just felt this was a real confirmation from the Lord to say, "Look, Graham, this is what's happening. Write something."

G.P. TaylorAnd you know, you have those moments in your life where you can actually remember the feature, and you can see the people talking and hear the words. It's always stuck with me that show. And we watch The 700 Club show twice a week over here. And that one always stuck with me. I think it was the Lord prodding me and saying, "Graham, you know, this is for you. You've got to do it."

I lecture on occult and the New Age. And a couple days later, I went to a church in another town quite a ways away and I was talking about the dangers of Harry Potter and all that sort of stuff and at the end of the service a woman came up to me and said, "Why don't you write a book?" And so when God speaks to you through 700 Club and then He speaks to you at the end of a service … I thought, "Okay, Lord, I'll write this book."

AYERS: You mentioned Harry Potter. Some people have called this book an answer to Harry Potter -- perhaps a "Christian" version of those books. Do you see the book like that, was that your goal?

TAYLOR: It wasn't my goal. I set out to write a piece of literature for children. And I set out to write a secular book because too many times Christian books get marginalized in secular stores in the UK. So I set out to write a story which had at its foundation the relationship between good and evil.

I got so fed up of going into bookstores and seeing shelf upon shelf of books for children which focused on witchcraft and magic and told them how to write spells and told them how to invoke spirits and contact the dead. I was getting sick of this, and I thought at the core of my story I have to have some truths. I have to set out that witchcraft and magic is not from God. And that it will take you to a place of destruction. I had to set out that tarot cards were evil, and that all this spiritualism was wrong and that God said it was wrong.

And I had to have a figure and a hero who instead of being Harry Potter with a scar on his face using magic and casting spells, he actually beseeched God in every situation and that God's miracles were shown as being valid and real and spectacular. So in Shadowmancer, there is the healing of a deaf boy. A young deaf boy is healed by this guy, the main hero who is called Raphah. Raphah is Hebrew for "healer". So he heals him miraculously and it changes the whole village because they all witness this healing. And then there is a guy who is delivered of an evil spirit. It just shows that God can and will answer prayer.

And it's been amazing that it's a secular success. It's not on sale over here (in the U.K.) in Christian bookshops. It's being sold by a mainstream, secular publisher and it is just hitting people. And you know, it's had opposition. I've had threatening letters from pagans saying that I'm the biggest threat to their faith and that I'd better watch out and this sort of stuff. But my God is bigger than their god.

AYERS: Since the book does contain so many references to Scripture and Christian symbolism, do you think that readers in the secular audience realize what they are reading?

TAYLOR: I've got to admit that it is subversive because it takes the Gospel into situations and into houses and families that would never receive the Gospel willingly. And they start reading this book. And Scripture says that God's Word will never return void and that's why I laced Scripture through it because I wanted kids to imbibe, to take in Scripture. And even if they don't know it was Scripture, the Holy Word will do something to them on the inside.

My prayer was that they would read these words that come from Scripture. It would excite them and they'd start to think, "Hey, you know maybe I could follow this Riathamus". And if they type Riathamus into their Google, it's going to tell them that it means 'Lord of Lords and King of Kings'. And there is only one Lord of Lords and King of Kings. And that is Jesus. I didn't set out to make it a subversive book, but somehow as God does He just takes our stuff, our follies and He just says, "alright it's mine now Graham."

AYERS: What about the positive feedback, I know you've said you received letters from readers whose lives were influenced by the book. Could you give an example?

TAYLOR: I'm so proud that God has actually allowed me to do this. And it's summed up in this email. This was a little girl called Jane. Jane is 15 years old and she wrote to me. She didn't know I was a priest and she wrote:

Dear Mr. G.P. Taylor, you probably have like a million emails, but I just thought I'd try anyway. My family aren't religious at all and my parents don't even believe in God really. But I just finished reading Shadowmancer two nights ago and now I believe in God.

And I just thought, "Whoa! Praise God!" And Christians who have read it who have been backsliders have come back. One woman said that she read the book and it lifted her out of depression.

AYERS: You mentioned how important it was to you that this book exposed the occult as not being from God. I know that you have had some personal experience with the occult through your ministry -- vampires coming to your church, for example - could you talk a little about that?

TAYLOR: At the end of the 19th century a man called Bram Stoker wrote a book called Dracula. He just happened to be on holiday in a town where I was subsequently the minister, a town called Whitby. And while he was on holiday he decided to write this book called Dracula and set it in the church yard. And so subsequently, now that vampirism and gothic worship is very popular in the U.K., as it is in America. We get about 2,000 to 3,000 vampires coming on two weekends of the year. So they all turn up in Whitby all dressed in black with white painted faces and red lips. Some of them even have dental vampire fangs imbedded in their mouths to make them look like real vampires.

And every Friday and Saturday night at midnight, they would make their way through the village of Whitby which is situated on a cliff. It's very atmospheric. And We had 199 steps to the church up the cliff. And they would walk up these 199 steps. And I thought, "What would Jesus do if He was here in body right now, where would He be?" And I thought, "He'd be on the top of those steps." So at five till midnight one night, I really felt Jesus was saying, "Get off your bum, get in your car and go to the church." So I did.

It was Halloween and it was a full moon. I went up to the church, and it was my first ever Halloween in Whitby. I was there at midnight, and I stood on the steps and these vampires and goths came up the stairs. And as they came into the church yard I shook them all by the hands and I said, "Welcome. You are now on holy ground. This ground belongs to the Lord Jesus, it doesn't belong to Dracula."

It was just a time of getting alongside them and we had some really good experiences. One year we invited them into the church. We told them to come along have some food with us and have some drink with us. We put on orange juice and for a joke I put on tomato juice. And I said, "But before we eat, you've got to come and listen to me." And I took them into this very old church which is 1,500 years old, really ancient, and I sat them all down and I said, "Right, you believe that Dracula was a man who was killed and is now undead. I want to tell you about a man who was the Son of God who was killed and isn't undead because He rose from the dead." And it was an opportunity to preach to them about the saving knowledge of Jesus. And one guy actually said in the end, "Why haven't I been told that Jesus was like this?"

AYERS: That's really a great testimony. You mentioned that the occult is really popular now. Why do think that is? And the books like Harry Potter, why do you think that they have risen to the top of the charts the way they have?

TAYLOR: Well, do you want the controversial reason? The reason that I believe is that the church in England has let people down spiritually. We've become so liberal and so wishy-washy that we don't preach a God of power, and a God of might, and a God of majesty, and a God of love anymore. And people are searching to fill that God-shaped hole in their life. And so they will find something like Harry Potter or Philip Pullman or any of those type of books, and they will actually try to take the theology from them because they are desperately searching for this theology. And nobody is telling them about the power and the love of God….It's because the church is really letting people down and we are not proclaiming the Gospel in the streets anymore. We are expecting people to come to us. When really we should be doing what they did when they first came to England, getting out on the streets and going to them.

AYERS: I also noticed in the book you have a strong message about racism too. Could you talk about that a little bit?

TAYLOR: Under God, I believe that male, female, black, white, pink yellow, we are all created equal. And yet, the Church of England in the 18th century didn't think that. And I wanted to bring out the flavor that we are all equal under God and we're no different, and racism is wrong.

AYERS: Shifting gears a little bit, I wanted to talk about your past. I know that you were in the rock scene for a little while and then worked as a police officer. Would you tell me a little bit about that and how God called you into the ministry?

TAYLOR: Well I grew up as a non-Christian. There was no mention of God in my family in my early life. And I got involved in some pretty scary things as a teenager. I was involved in tarot cards and ouija boards, séances and all of that because I was searching for something. And the local church just didn't seem to fit.

It was only when I was 21 that I was actually saved and I gave my life to the Lord. And it was upon that change and that real acceptance of Jesus that I began to feel over the weeks and months and years that followed that God was calling me into a different kind of ministry for Him. Not just being a Christian ministering as he went through his life, but calling me into a leadership role within the church.

I was quite frightened about this. I thought I couldn't do it. So I joined the police force thinking that I would escape God. And I thought, "He will never call me in the police force." But actually, joining the police force made it so easy for God to take me into ministry. There was a course designed -- it was a theological college --for people who were working and wanted to continue working once they were ministers. The church said, "Why you don't come on this course?" I went on the course. I was ordained. I was accredited into ministry and served as a policeman and a minister together at the same time. Then I was badly beaten up and due to my injuries had to leave the police force and I continued full time as a minister.

AYERS: Now, you actually have a second book coming out?

TAYLOR: Wormwood. Yes, Wormwood will be out in America in the fall.

AYERS: Could you tell our audience a little about that book?

TAYLOR: In the Old Testament it mentions Wormwood and gaul. Wormwood was a drink. Then in the book of Revelation is actually says Wormwood shall fall from the sky, and many shall die from its bitterness. It's about Wormwood the comet which is actually predicted in the book of the Revelation of Saint John. And it (Wormwood) is about comets coming to earth in the 18th century. It's about how people relate to this sign in the sky. And it's another subversive book, so I've been told.

You know, Christians in America may think that J.K. Rowling is a threat. But there is a guy called Philip Pullman. He is an even bigger threat. He says that God is a liar, that God is senile, and that God is dying and that is his premise. A very wicked author. And in Wormwood, the book puts right everything that Philip Pullman has said is wrong with God.

AYERS: And he writes children's books?

TAYLOR: No, he writes cross-over books same as me. My books are read by more adults than they are children -- 60 percent adults, 40 percent children. I get emails from children saying, "My mother bought me the book for Christmas, it's now Feb. 14 and she won't let me have it. Please, can you email her and tell her to give me my book?" As soon as adults start reading it, it's amazing.

AYERS: How many books do you plan in the series?

TAYLOR: There are going to be six books in the series. And I'm doing another series after that which is another sort of era. I'm into this thing now where my books are secular books which have a very strong theme. And the great thing is a non-Christian can read them and they think, "Wow, what is it about this? There is something different about this book." But then a Christian can read them and they get all the nuances and they understand where it is all coming from. And then you get some people who read them who are non-Christians and they know exactly where they are coming from, and they make it very clear that they don't like it.

AYERS: And I hear that we can look forward to Shadowmancer the movie?

TAYLOR: A couple of months ago I sold the film rights to a film company in Hollywood…they are full steam ahead. Because it turns out that the woman who has bought the rights is a Christian. She just picked the book up by chance and she is a film producer in Hollywood. She read it and it really moved her.

AYERS: So how does it feel to be used by God like that and to know that this book is having such an impact?

TAYLOR: You don't take it in. You literally don't take it in. You just sit back and it just goes on ahead of you. It's incredible.

AYERS: Well, I look forward to reading the future books. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

TAYLOR: It's a great pleasure.

G.P. Putnam Publishers contributed to this story.

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