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In 1973, fear had a name, that name was The Exorcist.
This article however does not concentrate on the chilling horror starring Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn, rather the novel that preceded it by two years. On the surface, The Exorcist is a novel about the loss of innocence and how doubts of religion exist in even the staunchest of people. Underneath however, it is a truly terrifying piece of writing, based on the actual exorcism of Roland Doe in 1949. The Exorcist sees 12 yearold Regan McNeil become possessed by an unknown entity, while those around her, including her mother, desperately seek answers to what or who it is that is causing Regan’s behaviour.
It matters not which edition or copy of The Exorcist you manage to obtain, this review is of the recently released 2011 edition which features a new chapter, but every edition will feature quotes from critics on the cover which read something like ‘the most terrifying novel ever written’, ‘grips like a python’ and ‘unable to put it down’. High praise indeed. The novel and more widely known film adaptation differ in a number of ways. Whereas the film is set up in two parts, the first hour – build up and diagnosis, the second hour – battle between Regan and Father Karras and Merrin, the book however focusses much more on the build up, with the final confrontation lasting a mere 30 pages in the books final chapter.
Every character featured is incredibly well written by William Blatty, from housekeepers Karl, Willie and Sharon, to the underused Father Dyer, but none more so than Regan’s mother Chris McNeil and Father Karras (played by Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller in the 1973 film adaptation). Chris is written as a successful actress who struggles to maintain a balance between her career and her daughter, which becomes one of her ‘guilts’ when her daughter becomes sick. Karras is questionably the most interesting of the novel’s characters, a priest who is suffering from a lack of faith, finding himself confronting his beliefs in the form of Regan.
Overall the novel successfully measures up to the explosive impact the 1973 film had. Horror fiction from the 1970’s in the modern day is always at risk of falling behind with the times due to the introduction of such genres as ‘torture porn’ coupled with the impressive advancement of technology, but Blatty has written a novel that was way ahead of its time and continues to stand up today against modern classics.