by Todd Agnew
Ted Dekker Interview
you don’t cringe at darkness, you are essentially becoming complicit
with it. Darkness’s greatest objective is to masquerade itself
as a wolf in sheep’s clothing."
-- Ted Dekker
Ted Dekker (born October 24, 1962) is a New York Times best-selling author of more than twenty novels. He is best known for stories which could be broadly described as suspense thrillers with major twists and unforgettable characters, though he has also made a name for himself among fantasy fans.
Christian artist Todd Agnew sat down and talked with Ted about his latest novel Green, the Circle series, and more.
Todd: I’m here with my friend Ted Dekker, and we’re just chatting a little bit about life, love and the pursuit of Green in the Circle non-trilogy.
Todd: The Circle series. Thanks, Ted, for taking some time talking with me today. This series, Red, White and Black is one of the top series in this decade in Christian literature. I know it was for me. I loved these books. Now, we’re taking one more step in that. You came back to the series. So I’m wondering why you think people are connecting so strongly to this particular series.
Ted: It certainly isn’t because of me, I can tell you that. It’s because I’m tapping into an irresistible story, which is the story of our own redemptive history. When I set out to write this series many years ago, it was first published five years ago but it was in my mind five years before that. Then, my intention was to recharacterize our own redemptive history. Everything from the fall right through today, and the future, in a way that brought the reader into a story that was not predictable at all to them. Completely fresh, so they experienced that redemptive history in a completely new context. C.S. Lewis kinda did that with the Narnia series.
Ted: But I wanted to write one that wasn’t quite skewed so young, that adults could really sink their teeth into, as well as teenagers. So I started writing this series... Black, which is essentially the story of the fall; Red, redemption; White, bright. Green the story of how it all ends, and how it all began. What’s unique about is that it’s a true circle. The entire series of four books is a circle. I know you’ve read the trilogy, ‘cuz it used to be a trilogy...
Todd: Yeah, that was one of the things I wanted to ask today because I’d always thought about it as a trilogy. What I’m wondering is did you always think of it as a trilogy and then you came back to it, or did you always have Green in mind?
Ted: I didn’t always have Green as such in mind. I originally envisioned it as seven novels, and I kept going through all these colors in my mind: purple, fuschia . . .
Todd: (chuckling) Magenta.
Ted: Magenta. But then, in talking with the publisher, we decided to go with a trilogy and only take so much of the story, and depending on how it sat with the fans . . . whether or not I continued it would depend on how things worked out with the trilogy. So I told the story essentially up until the point of Revelation, through the time of the early church, and that’s it. Within a couple years my fans, the readers, began to ask for more and more and more. And so I decided, okay, I’m going to complete this. Make it a full circle. I’m going to write a novel that will end it, but it will also tell how the whole thing began. Green truly is Book Zero. The beginning and the end. You can begin with it or you can end with it.
Todd: Now, why the colors?
Ted: Good question. There are a couple things happening here. One is that Green is to me the color of life. So when you take a look at the emblem of the circle itself, there’s a green band which stands for the Garden of Eden. On top of that is a smaller black circle, a red cross, and then a white pearl. Green, black, red, white. Now I only wrote Black, Red and White. Now I wrote Green, which is the story of complete, full, rich, life. So at the end of our own redemptive history, when there’s a new heaven and a new earth, in my mind that’s Green. That’s the completion of everything, and it comes into life once again. The Garden of Eden once again. But it’s also the beginning. It comes before Black. Before Black there was a Garden of Eden. Green. Does that make sense?
Todd: Yeah, it does. Ted, can you share a favorite story from one of your fans, a story they shared with you about how your writing impacted their life?
Ted: Oh, man. You know it’s so many everyday. The ones that impact me the most are the ones that say, “I never used to read” or “I never understood what Christianity was really all about until reading this series, until reading your books. Particularly with Black, Red & White, it’s like for the first time I see the Great Romance. The Great Pursuit of the Father for his daughter, his child. The Creator for His Creation.” In this series I wrote the entire relationship between God and man as a Great Romance. When they see that and they read Red and talk about how they never saw the destruction of the Messiah, or the killing of the Promised One coming because they themselves would have taken the side of those who killed him. And they realized that they themselves are no different than the people who killed Jesus, and that brought them to their knees. Those kinds of stories are the ones that impact me the most. The ones where their eyes have been opened. Because for the first time they’ve engaged their own story. It’s their story. I’m telling your story. And if you can see it for the first time, it’s like coming out of the forest, rising above it all and you see the beautiful land everywhere, and you say, “Oh, my goodness there’s a whole world here, not just my little forest floor. There’s an entire world of mountains and peaks.” When people write stories about discovering for the first time their own story in my stories, then I know I’ve written something that will live with them forever.
Todd: Wow. Now, many of the great writers, they write their heartbeat. Their one series . . . many times they call it their Magnum Opus. For Tolkien it’s Lord of the Rings. Many people say C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. Stephen King and the Dark Tower series. Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time. Would you consider the Circle series to be your Magnum Opus?
Ted: You know, I have said before that I was born to write this story. But not necessarily limited to Black, Red & White. When I say “this story” I mean re-characterization, the re-telling of redemptive history. That has become my obsession. The Circle series will always have a special place because it was my first full re-telling. But I have other ones in mind now. Two in particular. I’m so excited to rediscover it. For me, that story is kinda like manna from heaven. I need it everyday. You have to keep consuming. We humans are so feeble in so many ways. We’re told one thing one day, we understand it, we embrace it, and then it’s forgotten two days later. So we need to keep ingesting that word, that truth, so that it lives with us. As a writer, I need to keep writing because that’s the way it lives with me because that’s the way that I discover.
Todd: Most people reading your books see that there’s some real dark stuff in there. What is that like for you? What is it like to try to get your head around that kind of stuff and then what’s the purpose in trying to get it on paper?
Ted: One, you have
to remember that I grew up in a very dark jungle. Animism. People being
being eaten by animals. Fires in the night rising
as they burned dead bodies. I mean, people with pig grease on their face,
you know, naked. It was very dark by American standards. This is where
I was born and raised. I always saw the difference between good and evil
in very stark terms. So what is dark, dark for some, for me is not as dark.
When you talk about the surfaces, the way the painting looks, dark is the
heart. And I paint that heart with a very dark brush because it’s
very important for me to understand, and for the reader, to see how dark
the room is before you enter it with the light and dispel that darkness.
I think in this culture with my readers it’s important for whatever
images I give them, they need to cringe at darkness. If you don’t
cringe at darkness, you are essentially becoming complicit with it. Darkness’s
greatest objective is to masquerade itself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Too many authors put their wolves in sheep’s clothing, and
then we all walk around happy having not seen or been repelled, essentially
disturbed, by that darkness. That’s not authentic. That’s not
even right. Let the world paint it’s wolves in sheep’s clothing.
We, who are followers of Jesus, should call darkness out for what it is
and, except for the light which redeems us, except for the grace of God,
we would tremble.
Now the second part of your questions, why is it important to put it on paper? It’s only important if you can also bring the light in. It’s not important or valuable by itself. You can make something very horrific, but if you don’t come from behind that and show the destruction of that which is evil, show the hope that comes from the light that is Christ, or the metaphor of Christ that I’m using in this story, then it is ultimately worthless. In fact, it is quite destructive. So for me, it’s very important to have a very redemptive, and essentially a very happy ending. My books all end very happy. Well, happy is kinda a weak word, but you know what I mean.
Todd: (Laughs.) There are so many books, people writing, people teaching, explaining the gospel in hard facts. This is what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John say. This is how the Romans Road works. So why do you choose to explain it in story, in fiction? And how do you think that conveys this powerful truth in an accurate and powerful way?
Ted: Well, you know what the difference between fiction and real life is? I’ll tell you.
Todd: Okay, good!
Ted: The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense. Now, if you think of that in terms of story, you understand why we’re so taken by fiction because it’s our way of making sense of disorder. The story of redemptive history makes sense of our existence. Why do I exist? What is my purpose? I’ll tell you what your purpose is. Let me tell you a story. Not facts, figures, teaching, how you should live—those are all fine. But for most people it’s in one ear out the other, and it doesn’t really impact their life. What does is story, which is why Jesus used story constantly. We live in story. We find ourselves in story. And so for me to characterize and to explore . . . it’s not just characterizing, I truly write to explore. There’s no better place to explore than in my own story, in story itself. Because I have to makes sense of things in order for that story to end. You know, these movies you go to where it’s all going on, and everything’s fine, and then at the end it all falls apart and you don’t know who won or who lost, there’s no bad guy or good guy and you leave the theater feeling completely depressed. Some people I guess like those stories. Most people don’t. They watch those more for their artistic value. People like stories to make sense. There needs to be that light that comes on at the end and you go, “Ah! That’s why. That’s who did it.” That’s why story is so popular. That’s why we’re drawn to it in such large numbers.