Literature / The Exorcist

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The Exorcist is 1971 horror novel by William Peter Blatty, which was adapted into a 1973 film.

It was followed by a 1983 sequel, Legion, which was later adapted into The Exorcist III.


This book provides examples of:

  • Deadpan Snarker: Karl can also be one of these. He and Chris have several low-key sparring exchanges.
  • Disappeared Dad: Howard MacNeil is in Europe for the whole book, which the characters surmise is the reasoon of her pick of the name "Captain Howdy."
  • Driven to Suicide: The Gemini Killer in Legion.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The theme of "evil against evil" is prevalent, starting with Merrin's archeological trip to Northern Iraq where he finds a demon statue that the natives stated was an evil artifact to combat evil. This foreshadows Karras' "evil act" of accepting Pazuzu into himself, to save Regan: also, suicide's a mortal sin in the Catholic Church. The reason it works is that Karras, like Christ, is willing to give his life to save another (John 15:13).
  • It Amused Me:
    • Burke Dennings enjoys tormenting the housekeeper Karl simply because he can. After Burke's death, the possessed Regan spends quite a bit of time speaking with Burke's voice and continues to torment Karl.
    • The demon also mocks Karras for the drugs he's using to keep Regan stable, informing him (correctly) that he's going to give Regan a fatal heart arrhythmia if he keeps it up.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Karras continues to find scientific explanations for the various phenomena for most of the book. It's more than a bit of a stretch by the end, but a rational explanation is at least possible, if not quite plausible. Averted in The Film of the Book by the floating body of Regan, which is pretty tough to explain away as anything but supernatural. In the novel, she does not float. The demon does some telekinesis, but Karras is aware of scientific research that indicates evidence for TK, so it doesn't count. A lot of the bed lurching around the room, etc., is explained by her superhuman strength as she thrashes around. Speaking foreign languages? Regan herself has only some basic French, but she could have picked up snippets of German, etc. from people around her. The demon answers Karras' questions in Latin, but Karras knows he's been formulating the answers in his mind before the demon speaks, so it could be simple telepathy (which also doesn't count because that is under scientific investigation, too.) All of this, the demon knows, and is playing Karras like a fish on a line.note 
  • No-Harm Requirement: The book has a desperate mother plead for help from two Catholic priests to remove an evil spirit that has turned her daughter into an Enfant Terrible. The trick, of course, is to extract the evil spirit while leaving the daughter mostly intact.
  • Pet the Dog: Burke Dennings is a drunk and a vulgar, foul-mouthed, often hateful bastard, but he is very fond of Regan. He gives her a birthday party on the set, and when he films her cutting the cake he calls it a screen test. His love for her is what killed him; when Sharon left him alone in the house with her, he knew only that she was sick; he must have gone upstairs to check on her.
  • Say My Name: "MEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!"
  • Shown Their Work: William Blatty dug really deep, finding literature about supposed epidemics of possession in the past as well as writings pro and con Psychic Powers and evidence for and against supernatural occurrence. He based much of the details on the legend of the "Devils of Loudon", where nuns made animal sounds, lifted up their skirts and yelled "Fuck me!", and a priest who did exorcisms was said to have become possessed himself. The exorcisms at Loudon were a public spectacle, held in the town square! The stories told by Mary, the Jeane Dixon Expy at Chris' party are all real. The medium who faked out the French empressnote  was D.D. Home; the Bavarian family who tried to burn all their worldly goodsnote  are mentioned in Montague Summers' Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology which is probably the book Mary lends Chris. The tale Fr. Karras tells Kinderman about the man who was convinced he was a werewolf is also true. However, that last one was mostly made up by the Church to rationalize the brutal torture and execution of a man and his daughter for becoming Protestants. Loudon had similar political motivations.


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