September 14, 2019

EXCEPT THAT'S THE SUBPLOT:

William Peter Blatty's Counter-Countercultural Parable (Kevin Mims, 9/14/19, Quillette)

[T]he Exorcist is a deeply religious novel in which Catholic priests play the most heroic roles, martyring themselves to save the life of a little girl who isn't even Catholic. (In 2011, the publisher brought out a 40th anniversary edition that had been lightly revised by Blatty to, among other things, make it more Catholic-friendly; if you plan to read The Exorcist, I recommend finding the original.) And, although the book is a cautionary tale about the harm that divorce can do to children, it is not a call for an end to all divorce, nor is it an argument against women in the workplace.

Although the demon inside of Regan accuses Chris of bringing about the divorce by putting her career ahead of her marriage, Blatty indicates that this isn't the case. He portrays Chris as a loving mother and wife, who still hopes to reconcile with her husband. The divorce is clearly the result of Howard's fragile ego and his inability to handle his wife's success. Just before they begin the exorcism, Father Merrin reminds Father Karras not to speak with the demon, warning him, "Especially, do not listen to anything he says. The demon is a liar."

Nevertheless, it is Merrin who makes the clearest plea for Americans to reconsider the idea of ending their troubled marriages. When asked by Damien Karras what the reason for demonic possession is, Father Merrin replies:

"I think the demon's target is not the possessed; it is us...the observers...every person in this house. And I think the point is to make us despair; to reject our own humanity...to see ourselves as ultimately bestial...without dignity; ugly; unworthy. And there lies the heart of it perhaps...For I think belief in God is not a matter of reason at all; I think it is finally a matter of love; of accepting the possibility that God could love us. He knows...the demon knows where to strike...Long ago I despaired of ever loving my neighbor. Certain people...repelled me. How could I love them? I thought. It tormented me...How many husbands and wives must believe they have fallen out of love because their hearts no longer race at the sight of their beloveds? Ah, dear God! There it lies, I think, Damien...possession; not in wars, as some tend to believe; not so much; and very seldom in extraordinary interventions...such as here...this girl...this poor child. No, I see it most often in the little things Damien: in the senseless petty spites; the misunderstandings; the cruel and cutting word that leaps unbidden to the tongue between friends. Between lovers. Enough of these."

The Exorcist was written at a troubled time for author and country--a counter-countercultural parable by a writer uneasy with the effects of rapid liberalization on the family unit. It is perhaps unsurprising that contemporary critics overlooked Blatty's culturally unfashionable social conservatism. But, as Mary Eberstadt's sobering new assessment of the sexual revolution's legacy reminds us, his cautionary tale has aged well.

There's a reason though that the book is called The Exorcist and not The Possessed.  It is about Father Karras and his crisis of faith.  It is only by accepting the reality of Evil that he is lead back to faith in the Good.

Posted by at September 14, 2019 8:25 AM

  

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