The Exorcist

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Category: Classic
Date Published: 1971
Number of Pages: 400
Print Price: $11.24
eBook Price: $9.78

I was a little spooked about reading William Peter Blatty’s notorious novel of demon possession The Exorcist. That’s because I was always the girl at the overnight birthday party who hid behind a chair while the other kids were watching the horror movie Carrie. Because of the same sort of gore and violence, I still won't watch Passion of the Christ either.

Nonetheless, I took a chance and started Blatty’s book – in the dead of night and all alone. And I was perfectly fine. I continued it the next night under the same circumstances.

The Exorcist is the tale of Regan MacNeil, the 11 year-old daughter of famous actress Chris MacNeil. Chris is filming a movie in Washington, D.C. She's renting a house there and has a pair of Swedish housekeepers, Karl and Willie Engstrom, and her daughter’s nanny, Sharon Spencer. Chris is divorced from Regan's father.

From early on in the book, weird things start happening in the house. For instance, furniture is not where it's supposed to be, and noises first thought to be rats are heard coming from the attic. To make matters worse, Regan starts exhibiting some strange behavior. She starts using foul language she would never have heard and struggles in math, which had always been a strong subject for her in school. In response to her behavior, at first, Regan is started on Ritalin, but of course it doesn't help and her behavior gets weirder. She's seen by doctors and soon a psychiatrist and even goes to a clinic in Ohio. Despite all this attention, though, there is no change in her behavior.

Soon, the novel turns into a bit of a murder mystery. The director of the film on which Chris is working, Burke Dennings, dies in an apparent fall outside the MacNeils' home, but with injuries seemingly inconsistent with or at least unlikely to happen during such a fall.  Detective William Kinderman, who is investigating Dennings' death, may seem familiar to older readers – he's a carbon copy of Lieutenant Columbo of 1970s TV. (Incidentally, The Exorcist was published in 1971, the same year that Columbo debuted.)

Later, at the peak of what's looking more and more like demonic possession, the dead director Dennings is apparently speaking through Regan – perhaps from someplace beyond the grave. By this time, though, the novel’s protagonist Father Damien Karras has successfully petitioned the bishop for an exorcism; the evidence seems convincing – Regan needs very high doses of psychiatric medication, incredible physical restraint and a feeding tube.

But Father Karras, a Jesuit priest and also, conveniently, a psychiatrist, drags his feet to ask the bishop because he wanted to be certain Regan was really possessed. But by the time Father Lankester Merrin sees Regan he wants to start immediately. Father Merrin was hand-picked by the bishop to perform the exorcism. So convinced is he of the possession that he doesn't even want to bother with any of Regan's recent history that led to her present state.

As a contrast to the Father Merrin’s faith, Regan’s mother Chris professes to be an atheist. Her daughter’s only apparent exposure to religion had been through an occasional comment from Sharon. It is revealed, though, that Regan plays with a Ouija board. Even Chris was chilled by that revelation.

I had been taught in grade school that the devil can't possess anyone who hasn't opened the door to him. I believe using a Ouija board is more than enough of just such an invitation.  Regan probably didn't know she was playing with fire.

As it turns out, Father Merrin has done a few exorcisms in his past. The demon possessing Regan is familiar with him before even laying eyes on the priest when he first walked into the MacNeil house. She screams his name. The exorcism that follows lasts for days.

I won't spoil the ending for you, but I'm not necessarily endorsing this book. I don't care about the use of "bad words," but in case they bother you, you'll see the f-word, the a-word, the s-word, and the dreaded c-word. You'll also see Jesus's name used in vain. There are highly graphic and obscene parts you'll definitely want to skip (I did), including a description of the Black Mass. They are few and far between, but let's just say I won't be watching the movie. Ever. And I definitely won't be looking for a copy of the book to go on the parish library shelf.

Of note for those interested in the Catholic background of the book, Blatty was educated by Jesuits. He credits them in the acknowledgements with "teaching him to think." Also interesting, in Blatty’s biographical information which appears in the book, we're informed that the author "has read every book in English on the subject" of exorcism and demonic possession, and “spent almost a year writing the novel. He is particularly intrigued by the fact that psychiatrically we know no more about the phenomenon of possession, its nature and causes, than we did in 1921. In spite of scientific advances since then, the subject remains ultimately speculative."

ISBN-13: 978-0062094360
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 1 inches

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Jeanie is an RN in Kearney, Nebraska. She blogs at Mystical Rows and The Jeopardy! Fan .

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