The internet offers numerous no-fun interpretations of demon dreams, all implying the dreamer sucks: Demon dreamers have many enemies, bad habits and possibly a twisted mind. Opening a store would be my downfall? I had no intention of ever opening a store, but now maybe. Also dodgy people may live in our walls, which would explain how a loaf of bread went missing. Our plaster walls feature some cracks and bulges that have always made me wonder if there isn’t someone slowly inching around in them.
Guess what? The internet doesn’t know everything. I’m pretty positive The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is to thank.
It’s important to read the classics. This 1971 novel and its 1973 movie adaptation defined demonic possession as a sub genre. The terrifying movie inspired kid-me to use a tough girl nightlight. It was refreshing to watch it as an adult and see it still holds up, still terrifies. Only no need for a nightlight now. I simply open my curtains and the luxury building across the street sets my bedroom aglow with lobby glare. The city is my nightlight, but the book left me just as unsettled during the day.
William Peter Blatty doesn’t let you off easy with a few cheap, fleeting boos. Both Blatty and the movie’s director, William Friedkin, believed they were telling a story on the “mystery of faith”, not a horror. The movie sticks tight to the book. Watching it many times first didn’t ruin the read for me. The movie is incredible, but the book mine’s the characters’ thoughts and emotions. The writing is so effective it feels like he’s mining us readers’, too.
He opened the door as if it were a tender wound.
There are four main characters: possessed girl (Regan), her mom (actress Chris McNeil), Father Damien Karras ( a doubting priest with a psychology background) and Father Merrin (the exorcist of unshakable faith). We all know the basic gist of the plot – a priest in the midst of a spiritual crisis is called upon to assist in an exorcism of a young girl. A bit extreme, but we’ve witnessed her health deteriorate as her behavior morphs from sweet to odd then creepy and so brutal it’s hard to read. You do because despite the deeply disturbing moments the writing is beautiful and increasingly removed. As the action intensifies, Blatty’s writing performs the equivalent of a camera pulling away.
Anticipation builds as Chris desperately seeks a medical explanation for her daughter’s strange, escalating illness. What happens when an atheist must face the supernatural to save her daughter? Of course, the mother will do anything. Chris uses her fame to have her daughter tested by the best medical doctors and psychiatrists. Her frustration and fear ground us in a mother’s horror where lesser possession stories cash in for shock value. Blatty may have inadvertently figured the formula of back-bends and levitation, but he doesn’t follow it.
The movie’s poster features the iconic image of Father Merrin arriving at the McNeil house. Chris McNeil is our entry, and the story leaves you with the unforgettable sight of little Regan’s evil face with grey cut up skin and glowing green eyes. They’re all special, but Father Damien Karras makes going along for this ride worthwhile. His spiritual torment thrusts us onto a rotting demon coaster in a broken car without a lap bar. Hands up.
I love this one scene of Karras watching the sun set in the same spot he watches it set each evening.
Once Karass met God in this sight. Long ago. Like a lover forsaken, he still kept the rendezvous.
The Exorcist is everything I want in my October reading. Much as I enjoy the genre, well written horror novels and movies sometimes seems like an oxymoron. For every novel I finish, there’s at least ten I return to the library with my tongue out. If entertainment is all you want, this novel delivers. It’s fast-paced, visual and provocative. Want a book with meat? The author has something to say here about faith in our modern world.
You may not realize how much of this novel sinks in until weeks later when you’re house/pet sitting alone in the country with a puppy, a blind, hard-of-hearing pooch and two bratty cats who love staring out windows like something’s coming. Normally I savor solitude but this is horror that stays with you, much like white animal hair.
Next time I pet sit, the furry ones and I need to clarify who’s protecting whom. Slackers.