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The Shack

by William P. Young

The Shack is a novel by William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk, published in 2007.

The novel was self-published but became a USA Today bestseller, having sold 1 million copies as of June 8, 2008.  It has also maintained its status as #1 Paperback trade fiction seller on the New York Times best sellers list since June 2008.

Young originally wrote The Shack as a Christmas gift for his 6 children with no intention of publishing it. After letting several friends read the book he was urged to publish it for the general public. Young and his two partners (former pastors from Los Angeles) had no success with either religious or secular publishers, so they formed Wind Blown Media for the sole purpose of publishing this one book. The Shack has achieved its #1 best selling success via word-of-mouth and with the help of $300.00 web site; nothing else has been spent on marketing.

The title of the book is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain”, as Young explained in a telephone interview. He also states to radio host talk show Drew Marshall that The Shack "is a metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged...the thing where shame or hurt is centred."


The novel is set in the American Northwest. The main character is Mackenzie Philips, a father of five, called "Mack" by his family and friends.

Four years prior to the main events of the story, Mack takes his three children on a camping trip to Multnomah Falls and Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon. Two of his children are playing in a canoe when it flips and almost drowns Mack's son. Mack is able to save his son by leaving his youngest daughter Missy alone at their campsite. After Mack returns, he sees that Missy is missing. The police are called, and the family discovers that Missy has been abducted and murdered by a serial killer known as the "Little Ladykiller". The police find an abandoned shack in the woods where Missy was taken, but her body is never found. Mack's life sinks into what he calls The Great Sadness.

At the beginning of the book, Mack receives a note in his mailbox from "Papa", saying that he would like to meet with Mack on that coming weekend at the shack. Mack is puzzled by the note - he has no relationship with his abusive father, who left when Mack was young. He suspects that the note may be from God, who his wife Nan refers to as "Papa".

Mack leaves his family and goes alone to the shack, unsure of what he will see there. He arrives and finds nothing, but as he is leaving the shack and its surroundings are supernaturally transformed into a lush and inviting scene. He enters the shack and encounters manifestations of the three persons of the Trinity. God the Father takes the form of an African American woman who calls herself Papa, Jesus Christ is a Mideastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit physically manifests himself as an Asian woman named Sarayu.

The bulk of the book narrates Mack's conversations with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu as he comes to terms with Missy's death and his relationships with the three of them. Mack also has various experiences with each of them. Mack walks across a lake with Jesus, sees an image of his father in heaven with Sarayu, and has a conversation with Sophia, the personification of wisdom. At the end of his visit, Mack goes on a hike with Papa, who shows him where Missy's body was left in a cave.

After spending the weekend at the shack, Mack leaves and immediately is nearly killed in an automobile accident. After his recovery, he realizes that he did not in fact spend the weekend at the shack, but that his accident occurred on the same day that he arrived at the shack. He also leads the police to the cave which Papa revealed, and they find Missy's body still lying there. With the help of forensic evidence discovered at the scene, the Little Ladykiller is arrested and put on trial.


The Shack went largely unnoticed for over a year after its initial publication, but suddenly became a very popular seller in the summer of 2008, when it debuted at number 1 on the New York Times paperback fiction best sellers list on June 8. Its success was the result of word of mouth promotion in churches and Christian-themed radio, websites, and blogs. The publishers, Windblown Media, initially spent only about $300 on marketing for the book. As of January 2009, The Shack had over 5 million copies in print, and had been at number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for 35 weeks. The Shack was also released in hardcover, and translated into Spanish as La Cabaña.

The book was endorsed by several high-profile American Christians. Biblical scholar Eugene Peterson (author of The Message) said that the book would be as influential as The Pilgrim's Progress. Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith called it "the most absorbing work of fiction I've read in many years". Singer Wynona Judd said "this story has blown the door wide open to my soul".


The book is also the object of ongoing—and sometimes high-profile—criticism, typically from theologically conservative evangelicals. For example, evangelical author Chuck Colson wrote an influential review called "Stay Out of The Shack," in which he criticized "the author's low view of Scripture" and certain "silly lines" spoken by the book's God characters. Evangelical leader R. Albert Mohler, Jr. called The Shack "deeply troubling" on his radio show, saying that it "includes undiluted heresy". Leading apologist Norman Geisler has also weighed in with a stern critique outlining 14 theological "problems" with the book. A negative review by evangelical blogger Tim Challies was read by tens of thousands of people. In his 'Doctrine' series, Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll repudiated The Shack's use of "graven imagery" and Sabellianism in regards to God's image.

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William P. Young book is superb. I couldn't put the book down and read it in 3 days. It talks about the great issues of life in a thoughtful and enjoyable way


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