Join Date: Jan 2008
The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty
The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty
By now I feel as though I must be one of the last admirers of the horror genre to have read William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. I've had friends and known of many who've read this book when they were kids or young adults. It wasn't until after my recent read of The Ninth Configuration, and a subsequent examination of Blatty's career and intentions, that I even felt compelled to read it at all.
I am thankful for this late-blooming desire to dive into Blatty's tale of a demonic possession, because if I had read this when I was younger I would not have appreciated it nearly as much. Sure, it would have scared the hell out of me. Really. I probably would have thought the gross stuff was really cool, and really gross. Yes, I probably would have thought it was one kick ass horror novel, and I probably would've talked in secret about the masturbation scene or the foul language; I could have been a part of the Exorcist cabal, with a secret to share amongst those “in the know.”
I think that reading this book at a young age is problematic, but not because of the obvious reasons. It's not that I think it is too gross or disturbing for a young readers, thinking it will scar their precious little snowflake minds. No, I think it is problematic because of the way a young mind might read the book. It is easy to read The Exorcist as nothing more than a well written and scary horror story, and I feel as though this does a disservice to the author and to the deeper themes of the novel - it disrespects the artist and his work.
Blatty's book is much more than a simple horror novel. At its core it is really a theological mystery; it is a book that deals directly with questions of faith and the problem of evil. Blatty does a pretty good job at conveying his themes through slow building tension and intense investigation. It is not until over half way through that his real intentions become clear, and by this point I was so enthralled by the plot that the introduction of a deeper more personal narrative caught me off guard - even though I new to expect it.
Blatty considers The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and Legion to be his “trilogy of faith,” or as he comically puts it, “Taken together, they are all about the eternal questions that nag at Woody Allen.” You see, Blatty is a great humorist; one of the best I've ever read. The horror in The Exorcist is very real, tangible, and very horrific, but the humanity and sincerity of the theological mystery is even more immediate. The narrative rings with truth because of the breadth of emotion Blatty conveys through his characters; he captures the entire spectrum of human emotion in great detail.
There are two main narrative threads running through the book. One deals with Father Karras's examination and investigation of the supposed demonic possession of a young girl, Regan MacNeil. The other deals with Kindermann, a detective, and his investigation of a strange, seemingly accidental death that occurs outside of the MacNeil's townhouse. Each of these men is lead down a road fraught with penetrating questions dealing with morality, evil, faith, reason, logic, and the supernatural.
Blatty leads his the readers straight into the heart of one of the most puzzling theological questions, a question that has confounded theologians for years, and a question that is often raised by those who do not believe: how can there be evil and suffering in a world governed by a benevolent God? What is the purpose of pain? Why do the innocent suffer? What did little Regan MacNeil do to deserve the absolute hell she is put through?
While I don't think that Blatty is entirely successful at conveying or investigating his themes, I do give him the benefit of the doubt. This is, after all, a theological quandary that has plagued religious minds for centuries. I actually think it would be beneficial to read C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain in tandem with Blatty's books - it would strengthen the totality of theme greatly. I do appreciate that Blatty makes no attempt at giving an easy answer, or any answer really, because any answer available would, most likely, be silly and too pat.
However, Blatty excels masterfully at creating a compelling, engaging, and frightening tale. His prose is ripe with solid characterizations and nuanced, natural sounding dialog. Dialog seems to be Blatty's trump card, and throughout the course of this trilogy it only gets better - much better. And seeing as how strongly he starts out, this is really saying something. I was very impressed with The Exorcist, and I have become increasingly enamored with its author. The book touches upon topics that are important to me while it also offers up a thoughtful and entertaining story. It is a well written, engrossing, and interesting journey into the mind of an author with something to say.