Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that Christian parenting guru James Dobson has praised the Harry Potter book series. Dobson believes their focus is on the occult and therefore potentially dangerous, said a spokesman.

Christian Fantasy Genre Builds Niche Without Hogwarts, Muggles or Spells

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Could the next Harry Potter be a devout Christian?

As the days tick down until Saturday, when a breathless world learns the fate of the teenage wizard, a new breed of fantasy fiction, with Potter-style stories, is emerging.

Like the Potter series, it has mystical creatures, macabre events, epic battles and heroic young protagonists.

But, unlike the Potter books, this genre has overt Christian tones: messiah-like kings who return from the dead, fallen satanic characters and young heroes who undergo profound conversions. What you won't generally find: humans waving wands and performing spells.

Christian fantasy, which had been a slow seller, has caught fire recently, industry analysts say, ignited by the success of the Potter series, which has sent some Christian readers looking for alternatives.

Secular and Christian publishers are churning out titles aimed at the lucrative and growing audience of readers, who are snapping up an estimated $2.4 billion in Christian books a year -- about a 30 percent increase in the past four years.

Some Christian religious leaders and Christian parents have expressed unease with the Potter series, believing, among other issues, that humans' use of magic is forbidden by the Bible. The series is on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books at school libraries.

Tapping into that unease are an increasing number of Christian writers who are producing Potteresque books without the elements that some Christians say violate the Bible.

"For a Christian family who's a little skeptical of some of the messages in the Harry Potter books, then they would find my books safe," said Wayne Batson, a Howard County middle school teacher who has written a popular three-book series called the Door Within. His latest book, "Isle of Swords," part of a new series, is due out next month.

Baton's Door Within series, published by Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson, features Maryland teenager Aidan Thomas, who is suddenly plunged into an enchanted world. He must choose to join the forces of good or evil. The forces of good are led by a saintly king who has risen from the dead after being slain by an evil knight, who now leads a corrupt kingdom.

The growth in Christian fantasy books is part of the recent escalation in sales of Christian fiction. Stirred by the success of the apocalypse-themed Left Behind series, publishers are producing works of Christian suspense, thrillers, sci-fi, romance, horror (the devil is a prominent figure), mystery and -- the latest trend -- "chick lit."

"Fiction has probably been the strongest category within the Christian book explosion," said Jana Riess, religion reviews editor for Publishers Weekly. "It's definitely leading the way."

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