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The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 4, 2011
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When originally published in 1971, The Exorcist became not only a bestselling literary phenomenon, but one of the most frightening and controversial novels ever written. (When the author adapted his book to the screen two years later, it then became one of the most terrifying movies ever made.) The deceptively simple story focuses on Regan, the 11-year-old daughter of a movie actress residing in Washington, D.C.; the child apparently is possessed by an ancient demon. It's up to a small group of overwhelmed yet determined humans to somehow rescue Regan from this unspeakable fate. Purposefully raw and profane, this novel still has the extraordinary ability to literally shock us into forgetting that it is "just a story." The Exorcist remains a truly unforgettable reading experience. Blatty published a sequel, Legion, in 1983. --Stanley Wiater --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
"A fantastic and deeply religious novel that will touch the reader to his very soul." -- Abilene Reporter-News
"Almost unbearable suspense." Asheville Citizen-Times
"Absolutely superb!" -- The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Suspense that never lets up!" -- Publishers Weekly
"Up until dawn I was with The Exorcist." -- Cosmopolitan Magazine
"Populated with unforgettable characters, The Exorcist overflows with intelligence and insight and you will read it, if you're wise, with every light on in your house and every light on in your brain." --L.A. Magazine
"It's a great love story. I wish I had written it." -- Ray Bradbury
"Chilling." -- Anthony Burgess, Author of A Clockwork Orange
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The plot of the The Exorcist is well-known to just about everyone. Chris MacNeil and her daughter are living in Georgetown while Chris is filming a new movie. The energetic and happy child, Regan, suddenly begins to change. Strange things begin to happen in the house - rustling noises are heard at night, objects seem to disappear and reappear in strange places, and Regan begins to complain about her bed shaking at night. When Regan's state of mind begins to deteriorate, Chris seeks medical help for her daughter, but the doctors, after a series of complete, agonizing tests, can find no evidence to support their theories of a condition brought about by a lesion in the temporal lobe of the brain. Regan continues to worsen, making wild animal noises, struggling with her caretakers with superhuman strength, cursing like a drunk pirate, speaking with several different voices, projectile vomiting a nasty green substance, claiming to be the devil himself, and - in what is probably the most shocking image of all - hideously violating herself with a religious icon. She eventually has to be strapped into bed for the protection of her as well as those around her. Desperately, the nonreligious Chris turns to the Jesuit priesthood for help, asking for an exorcism to be performed on her daughter. Father Karras studies the case, attempting to find a medical explanation for Regan's behavior even after he witnesses some extraordinary things in Regan's room and converses with the demon claiming to reside within her. In the end, Father Merrin, whom we met in a highly symbolic scene at the beginning of the book, comes to perform an exorcism, engaging once again in battle a demon he had defeated years earlier. The book concludes in a particularly strong, dramatic, and satisfying way.
The descriptions of Regan's behavior and increasingly disturbing actions are laid out in quite open and impacting ways here, but I think this aspect of the story is expressed much more effectively in the movie. It's one thing to read about projectile vomiting, a head spinning completely around, and the other physical manifestations of Regan's condition, but it's something else to actually watch it presented visually onscreen. The book's main strength, in my opinion, comes in the form of the character of Father Karras. The novel provides much deeper access into the mind and soul of this tragically troubled character, and herein is to be found the true heart of the book. The exorcism itself does not take center stage the way it does in the film. Despite all of its religious and demonic attributes, I believe Peter William Blatty's novel is a deep look inside the heart of man as he attempts to make sense and keep the faith in the face of the sometimes revolting human condition.
Those who have seen the movie will benefit greatly from a reading of Blatty's novel. There are a number of sub-plots covered only in these pages, and much of the symbolic and quite subtle aspects of the harrowing drama are not captured in the film at all (or are awkwardly included in the form of symbology that the casual viewer may not notice or recognize). It is interesting for me to ponder why so many find The Exorcist a truly frightening reading experience while I really do not. Perhaps those who are not religious have never really examined pure evil as straightforwardly as they are forced to in the form of this possessed child. In any event, I believe the horror many feel at this undeniably gripping and disturbing story comes not from a vision of the events so vividly described herein, but rather from a consciousness of the changes and perhaps fears wrought upon their own heart and soul by the implications of the experience.
Fast forward about 30 years, and I was ecstatic to see that this book was being re-released on Kindle. I almost refuse to buy any book nowadays in a non-digital format. I like to be able to read on any device, and the auto-sync (I think that Amazon calls it Whispersync, from their proprietary view) is fantastic. Grab the phone, it takes me to where I was reading on my tablet. Grab the tablet, it takes me to where I was reading on my actual Kindle. Ah, and don't get me started on the built-in dictionary and search capabilities. . . .
I could go five stars on this book quite easily, but it is surely not perfect, so I can only go four. I'm splitting hairs a bit, since it is an excellent to awesome book, especially considering the timeframe in which that it was written. Could you imagine trying to write a book without having the Internet at your disposal? How did authors such as William Peter Blatty do it? Now THAT is a mystery to me. Nowadays, you have so much more research material right at your disposal. Back then, you had books. And a library. Ouch.
At any rate, if you have seen the movie (and you probably have) and you have read the book (which you probably have not, since you are reading a review) then there are some major differences between the two. I have to admit, I hate it when someone says, "The book was so much better than the movie!" To me, this is a red flag. Sure, the book might have been better. But they are different media, so they require different techniques. With a book, you have, say 300 to 400 pages (or more) to write, so you can say whatever you want. In a movie, due to Hollywood's constraints on moviegoers without any patience, you have two hours. So, when you adapt a book to a screenplay you must prune. And prune Mr. Blatty did here. Quite interesting that he wrote the screenplay as well; that would be unusual. Usually, Hollywood thinks that the original author is too close to the material so they hire someone else to do the adaptation. In this case, Mr. Blatty was the correct choice. Yes, the movie was different. But he didn't win an Academy Award for nothing.
Both the movie and the book deal with guilt. Movie, Damien's guilt. In the book, Damien's guilt AND the actress's guilt. And in the book, the actress becomes surprisingly more sympathetic as the plot progresses. In the movie, you think, "Well, she's still a spoiled brat actress who expects everything to be handed to her." There are other themes as well: Good versus Evil, la la la. Whatever. Been there, done that. Maybe not quite as well as Mr. Blatty does in both media version however.
One other important item: there are back stories in the book - and some nastiness in the book as well - that wouldn't have worked well with an American Movie audience. Those were smartly pruned so that audiences would only faint, and not puke. Now, I would prefer myself that those elements remained in the movie, but I can fully understand why they were edited out.
Excellent work by Mr. Blatty of course. Like I said, I could go five. Maybe I went four since I had a hard time sleeping the other night after reading. . .