Frank Peretti, under-appreciated pioneer of Christian literature?

Frank Peretti's "This Present Darkness."Did anybody else grow reading—and re-reading—Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness?

Ever since my college experience changed (for better or worse) my ideas about what is and isn’t Great Literature, I have looked back at my teenage obsession with Peretti’s novels of spiritual warfare with a mixture of mild embarrassment and nostalgia. The characters and stories aren’t timeless (I can’t remember any of the details of those novels these many years later) and there’s undoubtedly much to take issue with in the theological and spiritual aspects of the tales. But while reading them I felt a vague sense that I was experiencing something new and interesting in Christian fiction.

At least one other person feels the same way. Take a look at In Defense of Frank Peretti by Joi Weaver at the Evangelical Outpost blog:

The criticisms of Peretti have quite a range: to some people he’s too overtly Christian, to others he focuses too much on the occult. For some the characterization of the people in his novels in the problem, and others find his plots too cliché. His books almost always include a dramatic conversion, angelic warfare, and New Age rituals that turn out to be Satanic in origin.

Though they might not rise to the heights of literature one hopes to see from Evangelical fiction, Peretti’s early books did something very important: they opened a door. With the popularity of This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, up and coming authors were more free to branch out, to explore, to use other genres of fiction. In any Evangelical fiction catalog, one can now find detective fiction (The Danielle Ross series), comedy (The Wally McDoogle books), adventure stories (The Heirs of Cahira O’Connor series), and many more. It is even arguable that Peretti’s ground-breaking stories allowed Christians to be more engaged with the Harry Potter, Golden Compass, and Twilight series. Such books are no longer “off-limits,” but open for reading and debate.

I think Weaver’s definitely on to something. For me as a young reader, Peretti’s sometimes-clunky spiritual thrillers helped me see that C.S. Lewis, brilliant though he was, was not the only Christian allowed to blend faith and fantastic fiction. Other Christian writers like Stephen Lawhead and John White helped to push that door even further open.

I think Weaver’s final observation is particularly insightful; it may be that the most important legacy of Peretti and his peers is not the fiction they wrote so much as the way they encouraged Christians to approach the genres of fantasy and science fiction with a mind toward their spiritual aspects.

What about you? Did you, like me, spend many a childhood evening with your nose buried in a Peretti novel? What other authors might you add to the above list? And do you think these Christian fantasists have had a positive impact on Christianity’s relationship to literature?

4 Responses to “Frank Peretti, under-appreciated pioneer of Christian literature?”

  • Chris says:

    The only Peretti book I ever read was Visitation back in high school. I remember it being the first work of overtly Christian fiction that actually felt genuine. Not sure if it would stand the test of time, but his characters felt quite a bit more real than other Christian fiction. He definitely set the bar a bit higher in the contemporary Christian fiction realm.

    It’s almost cliche to bring him up in conversations like this, but C.S. Lewis did a lot for Christian fantasy and science fiction as well. His space trilogy is well written and quite compelling.

    • Andy says:

      I never read Visitation, although I remember it looking interesting. The last Peretti novel I read was “The Oath,” which was pitched as a Christian horror novel (and, I must say, one of the first novels I remember to be marketed as such). At the time I was reading a lot of Stephen King and the like and was really intrigued by the idea of a Christian take on the horror genre. However, I was disappointed — The Oath started out great, but petered out and IMO, ruined its clever moral message by getting preachy and overstating it. But still a decent novel.

      But anyway — yeah, agreed that CS Lewis has some great fantastic literature too. Well worth checking out.

  • Frank Peretti is oh, so defendable. His “This Present Darkness” taught me more about what “powers and principalities” meant than I ever learned in church. His “The Visitation” was one of the most delightful, tongue in cheek dissertations on the vagaries of Christian understanding ever! And it was impacting. We glaze over reading all those twelve steps books on building faith,but Peretti’s message we get…and keep.
    One thing more: his youth series (Hangman’s Curse comes to mind)is so relevant in our drug riddled schools it should be required reading. If it’s on video, what a great Sunday night teaching tool.

    I believe we’re in for even darker times ahead. Which is why I write Christian fiction that leans toward humor. It’s hard to be frightened when you’re laughing.

  • Myk says:

    I’ve only read This Present Darkness, Piercing the Darkness, and The Oath and I must say with the first two books I’ve fallen in love with Peretti’s writing style and grown to actually want to be mentored by him as I am an aspiring novelist. I wanted to be an intercessor while reading the first two books and I understood more about spiritual warfare through them than through other mediums of teaching. There is, without a doubt, power in his writing.