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Title: The Exorcist
Series: The Exorcist #1
Author: William Blatty
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars
An elderly Jesuit priest named Father Lankester Merrin is leading an archaeological dig in northern Iraq and is studying ancient relics. After discovering a small statue of the demon Pazuzu (an actual ancient Assyrian demon), a series of omens alerts him to a pending confrontation with a powerful evil, which, unknown to the reader at this point, he has battled before in an exorcism in Africa.
Meanwhile, in Georgetown, a young girl named Regan MacNeil is living with her famous mother, actress Chris MacNeil, who is in Georgetown filming a movie. As Chris finishes her work on the film, Regan begins to become inexplicably ill. After a gradual series of poltergeist-like disturbances in their rented house, for which Chris attempts to find rational explanations, Regan begins to rapidly undergo disturbing psychological and physical changes: she refuses to eat or sleep, becomes withdrawn and frenetic, and increasingly aggressive and violent. Chris initially mistakes Regan’s behavior as a result of repressed anger over her parents’ divorce and absent father.
After several unsuccessful psychiatric and medical treatments, Regan’s mother, an atheist, turns to a local Jesuit priest for help as Regan’s personality becomes increasingly disturbed. Father Damien Karras, who is currently going through a crisis of faith coupled with the loss of his mother, agrees to see Regan as a psychiatrist, but initially resists the notion that it is an actual demonic possession. After a few meetings with the child, now completely inhabited by a diabolical personality, he turns to the local bishop for permission to perform an exorcism on the child.
The bishop with whom he consults does not believe Karras is qualified to perform the rites, and appoints the experienced Merrin—who has recently returned to the United States—to perform the exorcism, although he does allow the doubt-ridden Karras to assist him. The lengthy exorcism tests the priests both physically and spiritually. When Merrin, who had previously suffered cardiac arrhythmia, dies during the process, completion of the exorcism ultimately falls upon Father Karras. When he demands that the demonic spirit inhabit him instead of the innocent Regan, the demon seizes the opportunity to possess the priest. Karras heroically surrenders his own life in exchange for Regan’s by jumping out of her bedroom window and falling to his death, regaining his faith in God as his last rites are read.
I think this book would have been much easier to read as fictional horror if I didn’t believe that demons are real, that possessions are real or that exorcisms are real. That being said, Blatty is no Christian. He grew up catholic and this story deeply reflects that but he was what you’d call a “nominal” catholic. A “nominal” X is someone who likes to say he is X but only believes or practices select bits of X while criticizing and trying to change every other bit of X. It is kind of like saying you love pizza and then only eating the cheese and throwing the rest away.
My main issues with this book weren’t about the demon possession or the nature of evil. Unfortunately, it was all with the nature of God. The older priest, Merrin, believes that God is an Omega Point (from what I understand that is extremely similar to the hindu idea of Nirvana, where everyone becomes part of one gigantic thingamajig and loses their individuality). That is extremely problematic for me as it denies what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible as a personal God. It also makes Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection meaningless as we’re all going to reach perfection naturally on our own through evolution.
My other issue is that Jesus, as God, is barely mentioned. In the Bible, in the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus and then later others, cast out demons in Jesus name. They didn’t use complicated rituals and perform mystical ceremonies. The name of Jesus has power for those who believe in Him. It really felt like the author believed in the power of evil and demons but wasn’t quite so sure about the power of God.
With these issues in mind, I think this is going to be the first and last book by Blatty that I read. There’s a sequel to this called Legion that I had on my TBR but that’s not going to happen now.
On a final note, ouija boards are dangerous. They open the user up to the supernatural and unfortunately, only the evil side of that. Don’t play around with them folks, they are not a game.