William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist" was published in 1973, where it quickly rose to the top of the bestsellers list. It is based upon a 1949 account of a young boy who became possessed in Maryland. The book was highly praised for its realism and characters that readers could easily identify with. It was this characteristic of the book that made it so successful and terrifying. Blatty himself said, "I don't think of The Exorcist as a horror tale at all. It's frightening but quite real. It's power to frighten derives from it's credibility" (http://www.jeanluc.demon.co.uk/articles/selfpossessed.htm). Blatty does not merely produce a thriller with a fast, page turner of a plot, he also covers deep, psychological and theological issues as the story progresses. This intellectualism brought him both praise and criticism from reviewers. Peter S. Prescott said of the book, "I suspect [Blatty] wants his book to be interesting in an intellectual way, but it is not" (Newsweek May 1971). However, there was a general consensus that Blatty had made an excellent effort to research his topic and make it as realistic and thought provoking as possible. The book is still well received today. In 1999, reviewers at Amazon.com gave the book a rating of five and a half stars out of a possible six. Reviewers made such remarks as, "["The Exorcist] is the best Horror story ever written" (www.amazon.com). The novel was a success on many levels, and covered a wide audience which also attributed to its appeal.
"The Exorcist" tells the story of Regan MacNeil, an eleven year old girl who becomes possessed by a demon. The novel is set in Georgetown near Georgetown University in Washington D.C., and Regan is the daughter of a prosperous, recently divorced actress. As her condition worsens and she performs more and more horrifying acts, her mother is forced to call upon Father Damnien Karras, a Jesuit priest studying at Georgetown, for help to rid Regan of the demon in her body. Blatty develops a sub-plot around Karras' effort to plan the exorcism and his struggle with the death of his neglected mother. Father Merrin, another priest who had performed an exorcism earlier, also arrives at the MacNeil house to aid in the task. As the two priests perform the exorcism for hours, the manifestation of the devil confronts them with their innermost fears, and brings them to the brink of insanity. Father Merrin does not survive the demon's tortures, and Karras must complete the exorcism himself. He exorcizes the demon, but it leaves Regan and enters Karras' body where it attempts to make him harm the girl. The book ends as Karras plunges out of a window to the twenty foot drop to the flight of steps outside Regan's room to avoid allowing the demon to hurt her. Evil is bested, but one has the feeling that it can readily appear again.
Regan is the perfect subject for possession in the book. An angelic 12 year-old girl who acts like the Devil is a hard character not to pay attention to. She does not deserve her affliction in any way shape or form. When she does become possessed and begins to act under the power of the demon, she commits many unspeakable acts. Since she such a real, innocent character, it is absolutely horrifying when the demon controls her. Her head spins around, she uses profanity profusely, she murders one of her mothers friends and causes Merrin to die, levitates, among other graphic attrocities. The way Blatty depicts her, she could be a girl that anyone has seen or talked to, and when she acts in this manner it is shocking yet blatantly believable. Critics remarked that the book is, "one that is difficult to put down, so gripping is the plot, so real are the characters" (Dollen Best Sellers ). Another critic said, "it reads like an actual case history and since it is built on theoretical and factual material which is not merely the author's invention, one cherishes the romantic suspicion that it is one which might yet acquire reality..." (Fallowell Books and Bookmen ). The subject for possession could not defend herself against it. The evil in the book is one that does not discriminate between its victims, for there is no sense that a good, innocent person is safe. One can picture almost every detail of Blatty's book, and the picture becomes more and more horrible and increasingly entertaining, as the plot progresses.
The universal theme of the struggle of Good against Evil, God against the Devil is a prominent and vital facet in the novel. The two priests represent good, while the demon represents the evil. Unfortunately, this war must be fought inside of a twelve year old girl. "The Exorcist" raises the religious question about the nature of God, for what kind of benevolent God could allow a innocuous, young human being to suffer this horrible fate. This is the question that Blatty wanted readers to consider. In an interview in 1990 about "The Exorcist", Blatty said of its basic premise, "if there is a Satan and he works in the world, his object principally is to make us despair by coming to despise our own humanity and thinking of ourselves as so bestial and repellent that , if there were a God, he couldn't love us" . The demon in Regan MacNeil wants everyone to despise her. It makes her attack her mother, her mother's friends, herself, and the two priests who come to her aid. It wants them to despise the girl and abandon her without sympathy. The answer to the question about God's love comes in the form of Father Karras. No matter how much Regan assaults him, he continues to perform the exorcism, and eventually gives his own life to save her. Readers are able to see this classic concept played out in a unique setting with a unique subject. After "The Exorcist" was released as a novel and a movie, several similar books and films were written where children are a source of evil, such as the 1976 film "Omen" and Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" (1984). An earlier film,"Rosemary's Baby", had a similar theme of a child possessed. It was also a shockingly terrifying highly-acclaimed story-line that proved to be extremely successful. Many people can identify with the innocence of youth and serious religious questions and doubts, but to combine these two elements into a realistic, well written thriller novel proved to be a formula for success.
"The Exorcist" was adapted to film in 1973. Blatty wrote the script for the movie, and it would win him an Academy Award in 1974. The movie was extremely successful and grossed over $100 million at the box office and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. The film proved to be as horrific and shocking as the book, for there are reports of members of the theater audience vomiting, crying in fear, and running out before the movie ended. The film was only recently released on video-cassette in Britain because state officials deemed its content too disturbing. Several reviewers panned the film as the scariest movie ever made. "The Exorcist" was such a popular and well-received movie that Warner Brothers released a 25 year anniversary DVD edition in 1998 (http://www.kak.net/theexorcist/indexe.htm). Also, there is a planned rerelease of the film on Halloween of 1999 which contains recently recovered additional scenes. The next installment of the Exorcist series "Exorcist 4" is in the script stage as of 1990. The film is intended to be a prequel to the first exorcist movie and give the background of Father Merrin's earlier struggle with the demon (http://www.jeanluc.demon.co.uk/articles/selfpossessed.htm). The theme of "The Exorcist" remains popular today because of its frightening focus on the timeless struggle of good and evil that is applicable to nearly all forms of media and people. Both word of mouth and favorable reviews contributed to "The Exorcists" popularity. It was rated as a four star movie, and the rumors surrounding the filming and the film's over all shocking effect intrigued audiences and brought them into the theaters again and again to fully realize and understand the films many subtle nuances and scenes. There are sub-subliminal scenes in the movie where the demon actually appears outside of Regan's body in two separate shots. Also, rumors surrounding the movie included stories that actual ghosts appeared in the movie, and that the actress was actually possessed by the demon (http://www.btinternet.com/~Schwa/).
The book gained world-wide recognition as well. It has been translated into ten languages: Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Thai, Russian, Greek, Italian, and Korean (http://virgo.lib.virginia.edu/uhtbin/cgisirsi/hpeKyG5jt0/11565150/51). Again, the reality of Blatty's characters plays an important role in the international market. Everyone has seen a beautiful, charming young girl, and to imagine her as a vile, extremely evil demon is especially unnerving and frightening. Fathar Karras also has a global appeal. He is not a faultless hero, for he is plagued by his neglect of his mother. His tireless efforts to save Regan invoke sympathy from the reader as he puts all thought of himself aside for her, and literally sacrifices his own body for her's. Another aspect of the wide range of audiences that Blatty reaches is the setting. The story takes place in Georgetown, near Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in a prosperous neighborhood in the heart of the United States. There is a feeling that if an event as vile and viscous as this could take place in one of the most affluent areas in America, it could take place anywhere. Also, Blatty leaves the story somewhat uncomplete, so there is still a feeling that the demon is still out there and could appear or strike at any time without warning. One must think about what it would be like to lose the control that we all like to have of our own bodies. This is a primal desire that Blatty manages to completely disrupt in his novel. It is a horrifying concept for everyone.
After writing "The Exorcist" Blatty went on to write more novels and screen plays, including the sequel to "The Exorcist", "Legion". Today, he is best known for his work as the screenwriter of "The Exorcist", for which he received an Academy and Golden Globe award. Blatty's tale has gained a cult following in the horror genre, and he is still sought after for interviews such as a 1990 edition of Fear Magazine. "The Exorcist" was a huge turn for Blatty since he had mainly been writing comedy pieces for movies and magazines until the 1971 publication of the book. He is still thought of as one of the most brilliant horror writers ever, and reviewers constantly place him in ranks with the ever popular Stephen King. This persona hardly fits Blatty as he now lives in California with his wife and seven children (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/blatty.htm).
Overall, "The Exorcist" is an extremely well written thriller with characters that could either live next door or be the readers themselves. It was released while America was in the midst of the Vietnam War, another factor that added to its popularity. The book helped readers escape from the constant barrage of Vietnam news and protests, for it has to do with a demon and a little girl, which were anything but issues in a war. "The Exorcist" is an extremely fast paced work, so Blatty's audience could totally lose themselves in it while the country struggled on through the war. It is a universal story that everyone can identify with, and easily made the transformation to film. This book definitely deserves its title as one of the best horror novels ever written its intelligence, universality, and realism.