When it was published in 1986, Frank Peretti’s novel about spiritual battles was a sleeper even on Christian bookstore shelves. “This Present Darkness” now is so popular that general-trade bookstores are ordering it by the thousands.
Peretti’s sequel, “Piercing The Darkness” had 400,000 pre-print orders before its release last month, far more advance interest than better-known Christian authors such as Chuck Swindoll and James Dobson receive.
A Gripping Read
A breezy writing style, lots of dialogue and battles between golden-haired, winged-sword-wielding angels and slimy, sulfur-breathing, taloned demons make “This Present Darkness” a gripping read.
Written from a theologically conservative viewpoint, the battle for human souls takes place against the backdrop of the attempted takeover of a small college town by occult forces.
The book sold 4,200 copies in its first year of release. Then someone sent a copy to Christian singer Amy Grant, who enjoys popularity among non-Christians in the pop music genre.
At her sold-out concerts, Grant told audiences the book’s message of the power of prayer had a profound influence on her. Sales began to take off.
By this month, “This Present Darkness” had sold 725,000 copies and was in its 20th printing. It has been the No. 1-selling paperback in Bookstore Journal, the trade publication of the 3,000-member Christian Bookstores of America, for 10 of the last 12 months, coming in second for the other two months.
The sequel, “Piercing The Darkness,” released Aug. 11, had sold 710,000 copies by early this week.
The word about the first book still is spreading to general-trade bookstores. At The Tattered Cover in Denver, religious and philosophy book buyer Matt Cowles said the store has been selling 15 to 20 copies a month. The store stocks about 125,000 titles and is among the largest independent bookstores in the country.
“It certainly caught us off guard,” Cowles said. “We kept thinking it was going to slow down. But it’s done very well for us, and I’d say it appeals to the general market.”
Retail book chains B. Dalton and Waldenbooks have ordered several thousand copies of “This Present Darkness,” Crossway Books publicist Kathy Jacobs said. Crossway, which published both books, is a division of Good News Publishers in Westchester, Ill.
Jan Dennis, editor in chief at Crossway, said he thinks Peretti struck a chord among Christian fundamentalists whose beliefs clash with such New Age ideas as channeling and spirit guides.
“He has written a book for the so-called Moral Majority. They can hold this up and say, ‘This is how I see the world,’ ” Dennis said. “It operates out of a traditional Christian mythos, and that makes it appealing to the traditional Christian reader.
“There are 35 or 40 million people in this country who are really upset with the way things are. For once, their side is not beaten down. They win,” Dennis said.
The 38-year-old author, who had previously published Christian children’s fiction, worked on “This Present Darkness” from 1978 to 1983. He and his wife, Barb, lived in a 25-foot travel trailer in Vashton, Wash., while he labored at the project. It was the latest stop in a career that included work in a bluegrass band, service as a licensed Assemblies of God minister and a brief stint on a ski assembly line.
Peretti took the 376-page manuscript to 14 publishers who rejected it before it was accepted by Crossway Books.
Angels Versus Demons
While the follow-up book, “Piercing the Darkness” deals with battles between angels and demons, New Age movements and quarrels in a small-town church, it explores other issues such as curricula used in public schools and attempts by a thinly disguised version of the American Civil Liberties Union to shut down a Christian school by charging that corporal punishment constitutes child abuse.
The main point he is trying to make in his newest book, Peretti said, is that “when you throw out the idea of God as ultimate standard of right and wrong,” standards will be “dictated by those who have the most power.”
Some reviewers have challenged Peretti’s depictions of supernatural activity. One complained that “Piercing the Darkness” creates the impression that God can be manipulated by the prayers of Christians.
“The people that usually have the most trouble with my books are the ones that pick them apart from a theological point of view,” Peretti said. Although he deals with serious issues in his works, he stressed that he doesn’t intend for them to be read as theological treatises.
Peretti is making two speaking appearances Sunday at California churches. He will address the 10 a.m. service at Christ Cathedral in Bakersfield, a congregation affiliated with the Independent Assemblies of God that currently meets in a Seventh-day Adventist church at 1330 3rd St. Peretti will also speak at 6 p.m. at Montclair First Assembly of God at 9828 Ramona Ave., immediately east of the Pomona city line.