The Oath (Frank E. Peretti novel)
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The Oath is an allegorical 1995 horror/fantasy novel by Frank E. Peretti. The recipient of the 1996 ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award for Best Fiction, The Oath is one of Peretti's most critically acclaimed and layered novels, having sold over one million copies worldwide. The story centers on the fictional mining town of Hyde River, the gruesome deaths of many of the townspeople, and an "oath" that the residents of Hyde River have taken up to hide the secret behind them.
When the partial remains of nature photographer Cliff Benson are found in the woods near Hyde River, his brother, Steve, investigates the mysterious attack. After finding problems with a theory involving a bear attack, he teams up with local sheriff's deputy Tracy Ellis. As the deaths continue and the townsfolk are pressed for information, they close ranks, under the mysterious "Oath" made when the town was founded. Steve and Tracy grow closer to each other as they peel away the mystery and come face to face with the dark evil behind the deaths.
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The novel opens with an excerpt from a diary entry from 1882 during the founding of Hyde River.
Twenty-seven people died that I know of, and I can only guess that the others fled with whatever they could carry away. I could hear the screams and the shooting all night long, and I dared not venture out. The Reverend DuBois was left hanging in Hyde Hall until this afternoon. I informed Ben that I would not attend the signing of the Charter until the body was removed, so Ben ordered him cut down, taken out, and buried with the others. By late afternoon, the men who remained in Hyde River were back in the mines as if nothing had happened, and I also attended my business. After nightfall, we gathered in Hyde Hall under the cover of darkness and signed the Charter. With the signing of our names, we took the oath of silence, so I cannot speak of these things, but only write them secretly. The trouble is over, but I am no happier. I am afraid of what we have done. I am afraid of tomorrow.
There are several other archived letters, diary entries, and writings from the townsfolk scattered throughout the book, each of them relating to accounts of numerous mysterious deaths and disappearances in Hyde River and of residents being beaten by a group of hooded figures for breaking the "Oath". Many of the stones of these clues are overturned by the protagonists later on in the novel.
The book's plot begins after a nature photographer, Cliff Benson, is confirmed to have been killed in the woods, with his head and torso missing. His wife, Evelyn, is found covered with blood and half-crazed on a logging road and taken to a hospital, where she only has vague recollections of the events that transpired. Sheriff Les Collins is quick to close to case and pin the blame on a rogue bear. However, Cliff's brother, Steve, quickly finds holes in the theory and refuses to drop the matter. Joining him in his investigation is Sheriff's Deputy Tracy Ellis, who has seen enough cases swept under the rug by authority to know that something is amiss.
Meanwhile, Harold Bly, owner of the mining company that keeps the struggling town afloat and looked on as the head authority of the town, kicks his wife, Maggie, onto the streets. As a black, oozing rash grows on the skin above her heart, she takes refuge in the home of Levi Cobb, a mechanic who is looked down upon by the rest of the townspeople. As Steve questions her, he learns that she and Cliff had an affair. After a couple days, Maggie becomes strangely unaware of her rash and makes her way through the town to Old Town, an abandoned town near Hyde River. There she disappears, leaving only a blood-stained purse as evidence of what happened to her.
Steve learns from Tracy that it is believed by the townspeople that a giant dragon is responsible for the deaths, and that Harold Bly has the ability to control it. As another victim of the rash, Vic Moore, stumbles into old town, Steve follows. He, too, disappears without a trace. Steve learns that the old town was the original location of Hyde River, and that Hyde Hall is a cursed building where the dragon supposedly snatches up its victims. His and Tracy's initial disbelief fades after they spend a night in Old Town, chasing the dragon in an attempt to hunt it, but the dragon's impermeable scales are able to mimic the background scenery, rendering it virtually invisible.
Charlie Mack, owner of the local bar/restaurant urges Steve to kill the dragon after he sees with horror the rash on his own chest. A couple days later, his car is found on the side of the highway, smashed up with the entire roof peeled off. Harold Bly is perplexed by Charlie's death at the hands of the dragon, as he apparently never commanded it, but seizes the opportunity to take control of the tavern and mercantile, consolidating his ownership of the town. Steve, meanwhile, confronts the dragon in its supposed lair. His shotgun and rifle prove to be ineffective at killing the dragon, and he barely makes it out with his life when the dragon abandons its attempts to kill him, apparently with the desire to finish him off at its own timing.
Shaken from his experience, Steve decides to listen to Levi Cobb, who gives him copies of old letters and diaries from the town's forefathers. He learns that the town was purged of Christianity in the late 19th century, and any Christians taking residence in the town were either martyred or driven out of town. Those remaining in the town moved from Old Town and reestablished Hyde River after signing a charter. The sordid bargain of the town charter, "If this be Sin, let Sin be served," gave the dragon reign of the town. It began at an unthreateningly small size but grew over a century to a length of forty-five feet. The town's founder, Benjamin Hyde, was believed to have control over the dragon, and was the ancestor of Harold Bly.
Steve tells Tracy everything that he has learned, and, despite the fact that she is married, the two make love that night. Both of them awake with the foreboding black rash on their chests the next morning.
Meanwhile, Harold Bly is upset with the fact that the dragon has been killing people he wanted to remain alive, while ignoring his instructions to kill others. After noticing the rash on his own chest, he decides that the dragon wants Tracy and Steve removed from the town. He arranges for Sheriff Collins to murder Tracy, but she kills him in self-defense. Steve arranges to meet Harold that night at the bar to make peace. There, he learns that Harold Bly and all of his henchmen have the mark and that Harold never did control the dragon at all, but that the dragon is actually just embodied sin.
Steve is told that his beer has been drugged, then passes out and awakens tied to a ritualistic stone table in Hyde Hall to await being sacrificed to the dragon. He is freed by a bleeding Levi Cobb, who has been shot by Harold Bly. As Harold and his followers purge the town of Christianity as their ancestors did years ago, Levi tells Steve that he must have Jesus on his side to have a hope of defeating the dragon before taking his turn in death. Tracy convinces Steve to flee the town, but, on their way out during the night, and despite Steve's efforts, Tracy embraces the unrepentant apathy that all of the previous victims did before their death and is eaten by the dragon. Filled with grief, Steve vows to destroy the dragon and returns to town after injuring it with mining explosives (destroying its wings in the process).
Steve attempts to distance himself from growing accustomed to the rash and entering the final phase of the horrible deaths. On his way into town, he stops at the church and prays for forgiveness. He then puts one of Levi's plans into action and confronts the dragon using a makeshift spear that Levi had constructed in his garage. As Harold Bly and his followers watch in awe, the dragon attacks Steve with its fiery breath, but Steve does not suffer any burns. Frightened by the power of God, the dragon backs into the spear until it slides between its scales and into its heart. As the dragon's dying act, it bites Harold Bly in half. Instead of dying, the dragon just dematerializes in a bright flash. The other townsfolk, upset with Steve, swear that they will get revenge on him for killing their dragon. Steve corrects them, pointing to their hearts, and tells them that they still have their dragon inside of them.
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Much of the symbolism in The Oath relates to sin and its damaging effects. The dragon represents sin, and the fact that it grew from a small size to a terrifying one portrays how sin can become a habit. The black rash also makes correlations, beginning as a painful affliction but soon making its victims feel indifferent. They eventually begin to stink, and their condition is noticed by everyone except themselves. Levi Cobb's ministry and sacrifice can be compared to that of Jesus Christ, and Harold Bly and the townspeople represent the "fallen", those who can no longer tell right from wrong. The "Oath" itself symbolizes how some try to hide sin, and the bear that was initially blamed for Cliff's death represents scapegoats that sinners often use to excuse their sin.
The Oath Alternative Symbolic Meaning
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A person that no longer cares about his or her rash will also no longer care about what sins they have committed. Once they have compromised their values and no longer care, they will begin to do the same in other areas. The dragon, or Satan, will then be able to take them over completely, while they continuously sin. 
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- Steve Benson
- Officer Tracy Ellis
- Levi Cobb
- Harold Bly
- Maggie Bly
- Elmer McCoy
- Rev. Ron Woods
- Vic Moore
- Charlie Mack
- Cliff Benson
The Oath was originally released in 1995 as a paperback novel with cover artwork depicting Hyde Hall and the eyes of the dragon. Later, two different types of artwork were used in the paperback re-releases of The Oath. The first was a picture of a forest as per the setting of the initial death, and the latter signified the signing of the town charter and its "Oath" with the book's titled penned in blood. This artwork was also used for a hardback version of the book, released in 2005, which additionally contained an interview with Frank Peretti about the book.
Frank Peretti hopes to soon make The Oath into a film.
- Author Comments 2008[specify]