This Present Darkness is Book One in what was perhaps the first series I ever read as a young adult. It had taken me years to ever get really interested in reading, despite my parents’ own infatuation with the activity, and these books by Frank Peretti proved instrumental in helping me get ahead on that path.
One could summarize the theme of these books simply: “The Power of Prayer.” In classic Peretti fashion, he paints a vivid and terrifying supernatural world atop a quiet, American-generic, small-town scene. The imagery of good vs. evil and the tangible effects that prayer can have on real life have stuck with me for nearly two decades now, and it’s not surprising. If these books aren’t yet considered classics of the Christian Fiction genre, they absolutely should be. I’m glad to have at least a small hand in helping revive their popularity.
In the small town of Ashton, everyone appears to be going about their business in the normal, American way: the businessmen cheat, the politicians squabble, the reporters write, the newcomers creep everyone out, and the Pastor prays. But as Peretti peels back the thin layer that separates the material world from spiritual, we see that the two are actually entirely intertwined. Evil is not some unreal figment of the holy roller’s imagination: it’s a pervasive darkness that lies within the shadows of us all. It’s real and tangible and its supported and sustained by the evil forces described in Ephesians 6:12.
Evil is not the only spiritual reality present in Ashton, however, for while the unbelievers and newcomers carry with them their own demonic influences, so also the Man of Prayer has his protectors. Angels with swords drawn and eyes fleeting surround this man of God as he seeks to protect the town and his loved ones through the power of his prayers. It is through these prayers that Peretti clues us in to the possible ripple effect our conversations with God might have. At the man’s request, God commands His messengers and creates roadblocks for the demons. By his prayers alone, this man is able to move spiritual mountains, for the God to Whom he is speaking is actually listening.
Peretti introduces us to the “Universal Consciousness Society,” his fictitious group of Instructors who believe in and utilize the “Global Mind.” This of course is nothing more than a New Age front for demonic powers and possession, against which only the spiritually armored believer can fight as he is “praying always.”
These books are far less allegorical than Peretti’s other attempts, such as The Oath or The Visitation. Whereas the experiences of his human characters in those books are but illustrations of spiritual realities (like sin and possession), his human characters here rarely witness the spiritual battles that rage all around them. They’re inclined to feel it, and they know that the angels and demons are all around them in the room or the town, but they cannot see it. This point alone makes both This Present Darkness and its follow-up, Piercing the Darkness, all the more realistic.
I can recall having come away from reading these books a changed teenager, and that’s something not often accomplished with fiction. Frank Peretti set his own bar pretty high with these books, and while I don’t think he’s ever reached them again with his other stories, he should at least be proud that he gave the Christian Reader’s world two classic tales about the power of prayer. I highly recommend both books, though I must warn readers against the danger of caring more about God’s messengers around them than about God Almighty within.