Daily Word Q&A With Wm. Paul Young, Author of The Shack
With more than 22 million copies in print worldwide, the novel The Shack takes readers on a father’s life-transforming journey that shows him the ultimate truth about love, loss, and forgiveness. After suffering a family tragedy, Mack Phillips spirals into a deep depression, causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack journeys to the shack and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa. Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy, changing his life forever. For all those who have wondered where God is in their pain, The Shack presents an unforgettable encounter with Love and the promise that we are never alone.
The Shack author Wm. Paul Young, 62, shares with Daily Word the inspiration for the book, how the Trinity is represented in the story, and the deeper invitation for readers and viewers to hear, learn, grow, and heal. The Shack was recently released as a major motion picture from Lionsgate, the producer of Life of Pi and The Blind Side.
Daily Word: Why did you write the original story?
Young: I wrote the original story as a gift for our children. I have always been a writer, but in no extraordinary sense. Over the years, I would write poetry, short stories, songs, and other things as gifts for friends and family. My wife Kim had been asking me over the course of four years, “Someday, as a gift for our children, would you please write something that puts in one place how you think, because you think outside the box.” We have six children, and they all love a good “story.” I wrote most of it on the commuter train to one of my three jobs and at Christmas that year, printed 15 copies at the local print store. Six went to the kids, one to Kim, and the rest I gave to my friends. Then I went back to work. Not once had it crossed my mind to publish it. Those 15 copies did everything I ever wanted that book to do. That is why I sometimes tell people, “This is God’s sense of humor.”
Daily Word: Does The Shack reflect your spiritual beliefs?
Young: Everything that I do represents my spiritual beliefs because every person is an expression of what they believe, what they trust. I was raised in a rigid Protestant tradition, and the God that I grew up with was not a comfort in the midst of loss and failure. I wanted to write a story that communicated to my children, “I want you to know the God who actually showed up and healed my heart, not the god with whom I spent my youth—a god I no longer believe exists.”
Daily Word: How did the original story for your children differ from the novel? Does the novel differ from the screenplay?
Young: Of course they differ, not in content as much as detail, and a movie has even more constraints than a novel. The rewriting and editing process is hard but worthwhile work—cleaning up the language, removing extraneous dialogue, and crafting the storyline arc. Chapter 15, “Festival of Friends,” is the only chapter never touched by a rewrite. It is in the book the way I wrote it. A movie is an expansive and collaborative endeavor. Other creative minds, imaginations, and hands all impact the final product. While I was invited into that process, I had no creative control. I am immensely pleased at the result. The movie is one of the most faithful book adaptations I have ever seen. I think anyone who loved the book will also love the movie.
Daily Word: Seeing the characters come to life on screen, is there anything that you would change about them or about the storyline?
Young: There are always little details that one would adjust, which probably only matter to the author. And there are elements in the movie that are better than I had imagined, so on balance, I wouldn’t change anything. I had no expectations from the beginning, especially once the film production was entirely out of my hands. When one learns to live without expectations, everything is a gift. This movie is a gift.
Daily Word: What was it like to watch the actors interpreting your characters, bringing them to life?
Young: Surreal wonder is the best phrase for something that for me is too beautiful for words. The ability that some human beings have, to climb inside an imaginary character and animate him or her to life, is stunning and miraculous. The sense of surprise and delight reminds me of a recent conversation with my mother, who is now 89 years old. A few weeks ago, I am sitting with my parent and describing the making of the movie and my mother has a far-off, quizzical look on her face. “What?” I ask. She smiles, “You are my son. Who would have thought?” That made me laugh then and laugh now. Exactly! Who would have thought!
Daily Word: What is the significance of Papa manifesting to Mack as a female African American?
Young: There are many layers to the significance of Papa (God the Father) being initially introduced in the book and the movie as an African-American woman. Please keep in mind that I am writing this for my own children, not thinking that the world was going to read it. I wanted to say to my children, “This imagery for God the Father better suits who I have come to know God to be, rather than the imagery I grew up with in which God was a distant, white, grandfatherly, disappointed being, watching from the infinite distance of a disapproving heart.” God is not Zeus, or Gandalf with a bad attitude. Also, it is orthodox to believe that all maternity and paternity, masculinity and femininity, originate with and in God. The Scriptures reflect the entire spectrum. I am Mackenzie, a middle-aged, short, balding, and little overweight white man (Sam Worthington made me look very good), but I needed a relationship with a God who is not confined inside my ethnocentric box. Papa breaks down the walls of our assumptions and invites us to something better, something that is revealed in Jesus.
Daily Word: What do you hope people will take away from the movie?
Young: I believe that well-crafted creativity opens up more space than it uses; that it has a great respect for the reader/hearer/watcher to hear for themselves what it is the Spirit would say to them. Like the book, the movie is very layered and is implicitly an invitation to hear and learn and grow and heal. Both the movie and the book will give people a language to have a conversation about God that is relational and not religious, and will also whisper that our hurts and brokenness, our losses and tears, all matter. We need a deeper conversation about what it means to be human, and both our spirituality and our humanity matter. My prayer is that this movie, like the book, invites you to growth and healing, not only of relationships but also for your heart and soul.
For more information, visit theshackresources.com.