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The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty ”In our sleep, pain, which cannot forget, falls
drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own
despair, against our will, come wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

I get a wild hair every so often and recently I decided that I needed to go on a 1970s blockbuster horror novel extravaganza tour. It all started with shifted some books around and finding this ratty well loved copy of The Exorcist that inexplicably found its way into my book collection. I’d swear it was stolen from one of Kemper’s now famous Rubbermaid container boxes of nostalgic paperbacks, but I gave my midget ninjas specific instructions NOT to take anything from Kemper’s abode, but simply take a look around, so the presence of this book on my shelves is still a mystery.

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The Mysterious copy of The Exorcist.

When I was in middle school I rode the bus to school and every day this teenager with rumpled hair and scuffed motorcycle boots would catch a ride with us. He had been clocked for speeding by the cops and had led them on a merry chase around the countryside until he turned a corner too quickly, hit gravel, and rolled his car. He was a LEGEND. Needless to say he lost his driving privileges for a long, long time. He would always sit in the front and there was always this sweet scent coming off his clothes that later when I went to college and attended my first party I had that ah ha moment. He’d lean back against the window and hoist those boots out in the aisle where we could all admire them. He always had a paperback novel with him, usually of the horror genre, and he would studiously ignore us and read his book. We of course were boring holes through him with fevered eyes because he was the most fascinating thing we’d ever seen.

One day he looked back down the bus at us and said, “You want me to read you some of this?” as he flopped the latest paperback in the air. It was called The Exorcist. I don’t know if he understood or even understands today how cool a gesture that was, but it was pretty damn cool. So he started reading to us. We never got the whole story just bits here and there. Sometimes he would disappear for a while usually because he was jammed up in a little more trouble than normal. He’d show up with different paperbacks, The Omen, Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Other, and The Amityville Horror to name a few.

We were enraptured.

He scared the crap out of us.

Sometimes I couldn’t sleep which might have something to do with why my mom wouldn’t let me read such books.

Those moments on the bus with him reading to us and scaring us is one of my most fond childhood memories and boy did we feel like we were getting away with something.

So I started reading my ratty, not Kemper’s copy, of The Exorcist and could not believe how much I was struggling with the writing. The dialogue was horrible. How could this guy sell millions of copies of this book? I did some research. It seems that William Peter Blatty finished writing the rough draft of this book and was offered a lucrative screenwriting job and never went back through and polished the book. An editor, obviously not someone in the same category as Maxwell Perkins, allowed the book to go to print as is. Decades later Blatty is asked to read the book for the audio version. He kept having to stop to ask “who wrote this crap?” This story does have a happy ending. Blatty went back through and polished and rewrote and even added a critical scene to the book. It was released in time for the fortieth anniversary edition.

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William Peter Blatty looking like he is ready for his casting call for a spaghetti western.

The Dodge City Public library, they never has anything I absolutely need immediately, had a copy of the fortieth anniversary edition. Hallelujah! Praise the lord!

The difference between the books is a two star rating which I was already worried about how I was going to explain that rating to the legions of fans out there, and a four star rating which is much easier and much more fun to write a review for. So if you have thoughts of reading this book make sure you read the fortieth anniversary edition because as Blatty stated. ”This is the version I would like to be remembered for.”

This is a novel about a demon possession of a twelve year old girl, but Blatty also spends a good amount of time explaining the other psychological aspects that could be causing the symptoms other than a demonic possession. The priest Damien Karras, who also happens to be a psychologist, finds himself confronting not only an evil entity beyond his wildest imaginations, but also his personal struggles with his own faith. He is damaged, dark, and brooding...a magnet for women if he were interested.

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Jason Miller is Damien Karras in the movie.

”As he lifted the Host in consecration, it trembled in his fingers with a hope that he dared not hope, that he fought with every particle and fiber of his will. “‘For this--is--My body.’” he intoned with a whispered intensity.
No, it’s bread! It’s nothing but bread!
He dared not love again and lose. That loss was too great, that pain too keen. The cause of his skepticism and his doubts, his attempts to eliminate natural causes in the case of Regan’s seeming possession, was the fiery intensity of his yearning to be able to believe. He bowed his head and placed the consecrated Host in his mouth, where in a moment it would stick in the dryness of his throat. And of his faith.”

The thought that kept going through my head as I read this book is if you find proof of the devil or a demon or even true evil does that mean that you’ve found proof of God.

Glory be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-fire-coal chestnut falls; finches’ wings...
He fathers forth whose beauty is past change.
Praise him.

Regan or Rags as her mother likes to call her starts exhibiting strange behavior and talking in tongues and levitating. It is never really explained how or why she becomes possessed. Unless I somehow missed that part. Changing editions midstream has me a little worried about that as I did not go back and read the hundred or so pages that I’d read before the switch. She goes from being a creative, likeable, normal twelve year old girl into something that is not only horrifying, but barely recognizable as human.

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Linda Blair played Regan in the famous movie version.

”Reining in his revulsion, he closed the door and then his eyes locked, stunned, on the thing that was Regan, on the creature that was lying on its back on the bed, head propped against a pillow while eyes bulged wide in their hollow sockets shone with mad cunning and burning intelligence, with interest and with spite, as they fixed upon his; as they watched him intently, seething in a face shaped into a skeletal mask of unthinkable malevolence. Karras shifted his gaze to the tangled and thickly matted hair; to the wasted arms and legs and distended stomach jutting up so grotesquely; then back to the eyes: they were watching him...pinning him...”

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Terrifying stuff!

”Requested and performed exorcisms had begun to decline in the Western world by the 18th century due to advancements in medical understanding, and occurred rarely until the latter half of the 20th century when the public saw a sharp rise due to the media attention exorcisms were getting. There was “a 50% increase in the number of exorcisms performed between the early 1960s and the mid-1970s”.

Media suggested hysteria.

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Iconic shot from the movie.

The church has a priest that had performed the last exorcism in 1949. He is an elderly Jesuit priest named Lankester Merrin. The two priests know they are over their heads, but in a true act of courage and faith take on the demon. No need for more details as I’m sure most of you have seen the movie and if you have not I would encourage you to read the book before watching the movie. My son rented the movie and we are looking forward to watching it this weekend. He is going to minor in film in college. The movie was nominated for ten academy awards and grossed over $441 million worldwide. No wonder the demand for priests and their knowledge of exorcisms went up exponentially. The tour of 1970s horror will continue with Jaws. Stay tuned.


My friend, Gary Wyatt, supplied me with a picture of the house where the famous exorcism case happened in 1949. This was the case that inspired William Peter Blatty to write this book. Instead of a girl this case involved a thirteen year old boy named Roland Doe. Walter Halloran a Catholic priest of the Society of Jesus performed the exorcism. The setting: St. Louis, Missouri.

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Exorcism House in St. Louis