Review: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: November 30 to December 03, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for:

The movie is scarier, mostly because of the visuals, but also partly because it lets you assume that perhaps whatever possessed Regan MacNeill may not really be the devil but an unknown entity. The book, however, makes no allowances for alternative interpretations. It is Satan without a doubt, and I think that actually lessens the chilling effect, that the culprit is so obvious.

Perhaps evil is the crucible of goodness… and perhaps even Satan–Satan, in spite of himself–somehow serves to work out the will of God.

Other factors that also lessen the story are the overtly religious tone in the writing and long-winded religious explanations of signs and symptoms Regan exhibited. What makes them long-winded is the way in which they supposedly tie into a religious narrative, specifically that of Roman Catholicism. Many people find the religious aspects of the story frightening, and I can certainly see why, but for me, I find them too conveniently laid out for a story about the depths of evil.

So I couldn’t help but come up with a couple of fairly reasonable explanations for Regan’s deteriorating health and mental state. Medicine has advanced in leaps and bounds since the 1970’s when this book was written, and thus I think it’s safe to say that medical testings at the time didn’t yield that many valuable answers. So let’s look at Regan’s health under a different light.

Instead of demonic possession, here are a few things I think could have caused Regan to go off the rails:

  • severe food allergy (probably gluten)
  • toxic mold in the house (particularly in her bedroom)
  • some kind of long-term poisoning (I’d rule out lead, although it explains Regan’s behavior as she deteriorated, it would have shown up on lab results)
  • vitamin deficiency

I lean more toward the severe food allergy angle because celiac disease, if left untreated according to people who develop it later in life, can lead to neurological deterioration and all sorts of skin and gastrointestinal problems, which is in line with Regan’s symptoms as described in the book. Many of these people went undiagnosed for a long time simply because they had no idea what was wrong with them, and they continued to consume gluten on a regular basis while it built up in their system, and over time the amount of gluten they amassed caused all sorts of health and mental problems. Some even thought they were going insane–they actually said it felt like they were losing their minds (Jennifer Esposito’s story). So perhaps Regan wasn’t possessed; perhaps she had celiac disease, but there had been no way to test for it at the time.

I don’t mean to sound like a cynic though. I am open to the possibility that all sorts of supernatural things exist and like to go bump in the night, and that’s why I enjoy the SF/F genre so much. But this particular book makes it too difficult for me to buy into the conclusion that the culprit can’t be anything but demonic possession.

Of course I’m not a medical professional, just someone who knows a bit about food allergies and likes to poke holes in popular books. If you are a medical professional, feel free to correct me and/or add your own take on demonic possessions.

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