The terror began so unobtrusively they might have forgotten all about it. Noises in Regan's room, an odd smell, misplaced furniture, an icy chill. Small annoyances for which Chris MacNeil, Regan's actress mother, easily found plausible explanations.
The changes in eleven-year-old Regan were so gradual, too, that Chris, busy filming a new picture, did not recognize for some time how much her daughter's behavior had altered. And even when she did, the endless medical tests that followed shed no light on Regan's symptoms, which grew increasingly severe and frightening. It was almost as if a different personality had invaded the little girl. The very house thickened with the sense of an evil presence.
Desperate, Chris turned from the doctors to Father Damien Karras, a Jesuit priest who was trained as a psychiatrist and also had a deep knowledge of such phenomena as satanism and possesion. Was it possible that a demonic force was at large? If psychiatry could not help, might exorcism be the answer?
Damien Karras resisted the idea. In its long history the Church has been profoundly skeptical of possession. But, finally, it came down to a matter of Regan's life or death. And that meant the time had come for that implacable rite that binds exorcist and demon in literally mortal combat.
No reader of this fantastic and deeply religious novel will come away untouched by the power of that ritual, or unaffected by those things in this world which cannot be explained by the most rational inquiry, the most informed skepticism.
Was Regan possesed?
William Peter Blatty (1928-2017) was an American writer and filmmaker best known for his 1971 novel The Exorcist and for the Academy Award-winning screenplay of its film adaptation. He also wrote and directed the sequel The Exorcist III. Some of his other notable works are the novels Elsewhere (2009), Dimiter (2010) and Crazy (2010).
Photo: Bill Blatty (author of the Exorcist) relaxing. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.