The Circle Trilogy

by Ted Dekker
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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2396

First published: 2004

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Edition(s) used: Black, 2004; Red, 2004; White, 2004. Nashville, Tenn.: WestBow Press

Genre(s): Novels

Subgenre(s): Adventure; apocalyptic fiction; evangelical fiction

Core issue(s): Apocalypse; doubt; the Fall; good vs. evil; love; sin and sinners; union with God

Principal characters

Thomas Hunter, the protagonist

Kara Hunter, Hunter’s sister

Carlos Missirian, an assassin

Valborg Svensson, the man who seeks to release a deadly virus upon the world

Monique de Raison, a vaccine developer

Rachelle, Hunter’s romantic interest and wife in future Earth

Johan/Martin, Rachelle’s brother and a member of the Circle

Elyon, the name for God used by the inhabitants of future Earth

Michal, and

Gabil, Roush counselors and messengers of Elyon

Teeleh, the leader of the Shataiki, the evil and fallen Roush

Tanis/Qurong, the first born of unfallen humanity and later, leader of the Horde

Justin, an incarnation of Elyon

Makil, Hunter’s military lieutenant in future Earth and later a key member of the Circle

William, a military leader and key member of the Circle

Ciphus, a high priest of the Great Romance religion as corrupted by the Scabs

Chelise, the daughter of Qurong

Woref, the military leader of the Horde and suitor of Chelise


In Black, the first volume of Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy, Thomas Hunter, a twenty-five-year-old in twenty-first century America, finds himself in another reality whenever he falls asleep or loses consciousness. He is told that this alternate world is Earth, far in the future following an event called the Great Deception in 2010, in which most of the world’s population was destroyed by the Raison strain, a deadly virus mutated from a vaccine of the same name.

After waking up, Tom reads a newspaper article about a vaccine just developed by Raison Pharmaceutical. Tom realizes he must warn the world before it is distributed. With his sister’s help, he begins a quest to convince authorities that the vaccine—touted as a revolutionary solution to multiple worldwide diseases—is actually destined to become a worldwide killer. His quest requires him to learn more about the virus, so he seeks to return to future Earth frequently in hopes of learning details that will enable him to thwart the villainous effort to destroy the world. Tom’s efforts to warn the world work paradoxically in the plot: His urgent report to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) becomes the very means whereby Valborg Svensson learns (via an informant at CDC) that the seemingly safe Raison vaccine has the potential to mutate into a deadly virus, setting in motion the very chain of events Tom is working to thwart.

In Tom’s frequent return visits to future Earth, he learns from the white, batlike Roush named Michal and Gabil that Elyon has returned the world to a prelapsarian state in which evil—personified by thousands of black, batlike creatures called Shataiki—is entirely contained on one side of a river, opposite untainted goodness lived out by humans who are experientially ignorant of evil. In this new Eden, the unfallen humans worship and commune daily with Elyon through a ceremony at a nearby lake with restorative waters that serve as a metaphor for Elyon’s presence. The people of future Earth pursue every desire of their hearts without internal sin or negative consequences. Only one act is forbidden them: to drink the water of the Shataiki on the other side of the river. Should any one of them do so, Elyon’s protection from evil will be lifted, and the humans will be at mercy of the evil bats.

From his first visit onward, Tom begins engaging with future Earth in ways that begin to change both him and its residents. He meets and begins courting Rachelle, receiving lessons in their unfallen courtship process from other men in the village. Tom also has a personal encounter with Elyon at the lake. Overcome with an unexplainable desire to immerse himself, Tom dives into the lake when others merely drink. He hears Elyon’s voice calling lovingly to him, and through the water, he feels both Elyon’s love for him and hatred for sin.

Just as Tom is beginning to embrace the goodness of this unfallen world, Tanis, the firstborn, Adam-figure of future Earth, becomes increasingly fascinated with the evil Shataiki and the knowledge of “ancient Earth” that he believes—incorrectly—Tom has gained from them. Despite a lifetime of warning, Tanis allows Teeleh, the leader of the Shataiki, to tempt him; he then crosses the river and drinks the forbidden water. Future Earth and its inhabitants are immediately infected with the loss of innocence, and the Shataiki are able to cross the river and attack. All the people become infected with a skin and mind disease, and many are killed by Shataiki; a few, including Tom, Rachelle, and Rachelle’s brother Johan escape across the desert. They are led by a boy who speaks for and represents Elyon to a forest with a lake. The boy instructs them to bathe every day in the lake to keep the disease away and to never forget him.

In Red, the second volume, Tom’s efforts to preserve goodness in future Earth and his quest to stop the Raison strain from destroying present Earth’s population continue. He must rescue Monique de Raison, the vaccine developer who has been kidnapped by Svensson so that he can obtain the key to creating an antidote for the Raison virus, which has been released and threatens to destroy most of Earth’s population in ten days. Tom’s rescue attempt becomes a critical part of the worldwide effort to discover an antidote; meanwhile, Svensson and his allies seek to obtain global power by demanding the surrender of all military weapons in exchange for the antidote.

In his existence in future Earth, fifteen years have passed, and Tom has become the leader of the Forest People, a community of people faithful to the commands of Elyon in the wake of the exile from the Colored Forest and the infection. All who would follow him must bathe in the lake water of one of the forests at least once every two days; otherwise, their minds will become dull and scabs will form on their skin, and eventually the person will become a Scab, joining the ranks of the Horde. Tom leads the army’s resistance to the Horde, who significantly outnumber the Forest People and seek to destroy them.

The future Earth plot centers around a young man named Justin who is teaching a new way of peace, urging mercy and understanding toward the Scabs. His ideas seem heretical to the Forest People, who believe they must remain enemies with the Scabs to be faithful to the Great Romance, and many fear Justin plans to betray them so that they fall under the Horde’s power. Red culminates in the wrongful execution by drowning of the innocent Justin, who is revealed to be an incarnation of Elyon. His death turns the water of the lake red like blood. Tom’s love for and trust in Justin leads him to follow Justin into the lake, voluntarily inhaling the bloody water. He, Rachelle, and a few others all do so and find they can breathe the water. They hear Elyon’s voice speaking to them under the water, and they surface. After this death-and-resurrection-like experience, they no longer need to bathe regularly; their disease and scabs have vanished. Surrounded by Scabs and forest dwellers who condemned Justin, they are in danger and race to escape. Most succeed, but Rachelle is killed by the Scabs. Red concludes as these few depart the forest to dwell in the desert. At the command of Justin, who appears to them alive, they call themselves the Circle.

In White, the final novel of the trilogy, those in the Circle led by Tom are no longer at war with the Horde. Their mission is to avoid capture and death and to convince as many Scabs as possible to willingly drown and then find new life in the red pools Justin has revealed to them. Those who do this find freedom from the disease and join the Circle. Tom singles out one particular Scab, Chelise, daughter of Tanis/Qurong, to woo and win to the Circle, risking his life and friends to convince her. Woref, whom she detests but who has been promised her hand in marriage by Qurong, opposes Tom and the Circle with an intensity fueled by his lust for Chelise and by the hatred of the Shataiki for the Circle.

Meanwhile, in 2010 in Tom’s present Earth, people are showing symptoms of the disease, and panic spreads globally as word of the nature of the virus becomes known. The world looks to Tom for a solution, and he seeks to find one through his experiences in future Earth. Like most of the events in the two realities, the solution to the dilemma in 2010 is intimately tied to Tom’s knowledge of and existence in future Earth and his identity as part of the Circle.

Christian Themes

The Circle Trilogy weaves together numerous themes that are either foundational or central to Christian life. In Black, through his unfallen future Earth, Dekker imagines the intangible as tangible: God (Elyon) speaks directly to humans, and they can literally—not just metaphorically—bathe in the water alive with his presence. Organized religion practiced by the community is vibrant for each person and brings delight and spiritual refreshment daily. Fruit provides nourishment not only to the palate and body but also to the soul. Relationships between humans are free from jealousy and strife, and individuality is no threat to the community: People reflect God’s creativity in their distinctiveness without expressing that individuality in self-exaltation or selfishness.

One of the most vivid materializations of spiritual truth in the novel is the Great Romance, the name used in future Earth both for Elyon’s means of relating to humans and for the courtship of a man and woman. In Black, Tanis teaches Tom that a man follows the same steps to win a woman’s heart that Elyon takes to rescue “everything that is his . . . he chooses . . . he pursues . . . he rescues . . . he woos . . . he protects . . . he lavishes.” By depicting religion as a romance between humans and God with God as initiator, Dekker portrays passion and desire—not simply duty and decision—as essential elements of a true relationship with God.

Evil, too, is more visibly a corruption of something originally intended by God to be good, and the consequences of exchanging evil for good, of desiring the creation instead of the Creator are incalculably disastrous. As with Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis, the essence of the first sin in future Earth is a desire for knowledge that grants godlike power. Dekker also portrays a Christian understanding of God’s hatred of and grief over sin when, during Tom’s conversion-like experience in the lake, Elyon gives him a glimpse of the ugliness of his own sin followed by the sound of Elyon’s voice screaming in pain as a consequence of that sin.

In the second and third volumes, Red and White, the events in future Earth parallel and become a metaphor for the practice of religion that is merely ceremonial versus the mercy, faith, suffering, and joy that are at the heart of biblical Christianity. Red portrays those obedient to Elyon (God) at war with the disobedient, but many of the obedient have lost sight of love and mercy. Justin’s death and resurrection at the end of Red offer a vivid picture of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the implications of the new life and community this sacrifice makes possible for Elyon’s followers are demonstrated by the members of the Circle in White. Their new freedom through drowning and living anew in the red water of the pools parallel several biblical teachings central to Christianity, perhaps most explicitly expounded by Paul in Romans, chapters 6-8: the Christian’s appropriation of forgiveness and new life by dying to self and sin through baptism into the death of Christ, the resulting experience of a second birth and new life, and the mercy and love toward others that this process is to produce in the Christian as one becomes like Christ.

Throughout the trilogy, Dekker presents a clear contrast between unfallen, fallen, and redeemed humanity. The dual plot provides a vehicle for the reader to appropriate these biblical teachings to daily life. The tale encourages readers to apply to twenty-first century Earth what Dekker has taught them through the creative images of unfallen (and then, recently fallen) future Earth and its inhabitants.

Sources for Further Study

  • Butler, Tamara. Review of Red, by Ted Dekker. Library Journal 129, no. 10 (June 1, 2004): 114. Looks at the second in the series, finding it a somewhat unsettling mix of politics and religion.
  • Butler, Tamara. Review of White, by Ted Dekker. Library Journal 129, no. 18 (November 1, 2004): 70. Praises the concluding book in the series and calls the author a “master of suspense.”
  • Dekker, Ted. The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2005. This nonfiction work by Dekker criticizes the Church for its reluctance to pursue pleasure in God. Dekker calls the Church—believers in Christ—to awaken to God-centered pleasures in the midst of the darkness and dryness that can dull the spiritual senses to God’s goodness and hinder the Christian from walking in freedom, hope, and joy.
  • Fowlds, Sean. “Ted Dekker: Black, White, and Read.” Publishers Weekly 250, no. 37 (September 15, 2003): S11. This article focuses on Ted Dekker’s rise to prominence as a writer and describes his style as well as the then upcoming trilogy.
  • Holm, Kelsey. “Hollywood Plot Holds Deeper Message.” Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, January 5, 2007, p. 1. Article deals with the release of the film Thr3e, based on one of Dekker’s novels. It is the first release of Fox Faith, a division of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, and a Christian film company.
  • Kennedy, Douglas. “Selling Rapture: The Rise of the Christian Right in American Politics Has Added Impetus to an Already Huge and Growing Market in Evangelical Fiction.” The Guardian, July 9, 2005, p. 4. Kennedy examines the growth of Christian fiction in a variety of genres. Includes discussion of Dekker and his works.

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