Book Review: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all doing well! It’s Friday, and time for another review. Today, I am sharing my thoughts on one of my favourite novels: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty was first published in June 1971 by Harper and Row and (my copy) is 340 pages long.

The Exorcist tells the story of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, who finds herself possessed by an evil spirit. To save her, two priests must perform an exorcism on her leading to a battle between good and evil like no other.

Regan MacNeil
Regan begins the story as a sweet girl who befriends Captain Howdy, a supposed spirit she talks to through the use of an Ouija board. Throughout the story, Regan becomes more and more disturbed and violent, and her character development throughout the book is captivating; her behaviour and physical appearance change drastically as her possession progresses.

Chris MacNeil
Chris is a successful actress who has arrived in Georgetown to finish filming a movie. Her relationship with her ex-husband is rocky, and she is concerned that their divorce has negatively impacted their daughter. Her concern grows when distracted with work, and unbeknown to her, Regan starts playing with an Ouija board and acting strange.

Chris loves her daughter very much, and when Regan begins to fall further into demonic possession, she drops everything, including a chance to direct a film, to try and help her, including contacting a priest, even though she is an atheist.

Father Karras
Karras is a priest and psychiatrist who is struggling with his faith. As a scientist, he tries to meet reports of the supernatural with rationality and scepticism. When Chris seeks him out, desperate for help, he agrees to meet with her daughter, but only in a medical capacity believing possession to be an unlikely cause for her behaviour. Karrass is soon convinced otherwise, however, when the demon, speaking through Regan, talks about his recently deceased mother, taunting him and playing on his guilt over his inability to help her.

I could really relate to the character of Karras. As an atheist raised in a Catholic family, I remember having the kinds of thoughts he has about faith. I remember moving from childhood certainty in a benevolent creator to the constant wavering brought about by the world and all its pain and suffering and struggling with the realisation that the idea of a God just did not fit with my experiences. I think of all the characters in the book, Karras is probably one of – if not the – most fully rounded.

Father Lankester Merrin
Father Merrin is an elderly priest who, in Africa many years ago, had previously faced the demon now possessing Regan.

Appearing in the opening chapters, where he discovers images of the demon in Iraq that cause him to have a premonition that he will face it again, he does not reappear in the book until much later.

Not believing Karras to be fully qualified to perform the rites of exorcism, the bishop requests that the more experienced Merrin do it. However, Merrin allows Karras to assist. As the exorcism pushes on, it affects both priests spiritually and physically, ultimately causing Merrin’s heart to fail and forcing Karras to complete the process.

Writing Style
Blatty uses suspenseful language without being overly dramatic or melodramatic; instead, he allows his readers to interpret what they read based on their own experiences and beliefs, making it much more enjoyable. He also uses multiple perspectives throughout the novel giving us insight into the thoughts and feelings of each character about certain events—especially those involving Regan—adding further depth to the story overall.

His descriptions of Regan’s physical transformation during her possession and her emotional journey as she struggles against the demonic forces are beautifully detailed and help to draw you deeper into the story. Throughout the book, there are moments of intense terror interspersed with moments of hope that take you on a roller coaster ride of emotion, making it difficult to put down.

As well as being a good scary story, the book explores themes such as faith, redemption, and innocence lost through the arcs of each character. Blatty also does an excellent job of developing believable characters with complex motivations and emotions, making them more relatable than the usual ‘screaming victim’ trope often found in many horror stories. These characters feel like real people dealing with unimaginable circumstances rather than just caricatures or archetypes.

Final Thoughts
I really enjoyed the novel, and having already seen the movie in the early 2000s when it was re-released, I was surprised to find elements of the story that had not made it to the screen. For example, the house staff have their own stories in the book, and there is much more to the backstory of the McNeil family, including the loss of their first child when he was three.

Interestingly, the novel was inspired by the supposedly true story of a young boy from Maryland who was suffering from demonic possession.
I think this real-world link is one of the reasons why The Exorcist continues to be so popular; because it is grounded in real-world theology and Catholic beliefs about demons and exorcisms, it gives a sense of authenticity that other horror stories often lack.

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural yourself is immaterial; this book should still provide plenty of thrills and chills regardless, and I would recommend it to anyone. Whether you are a horror fan or just looking for something new to read, you will not regret The Exorcist. In fact, I think everyone should have it somewhere on their reading list.

I am giving The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty a 9/10.

Have you read the Exorcist? Have you seen the movie or the series? What did you think?

As always, thanks for reading my review! I really do appreciate your time.

Until next time,


© 2023 GLT

Categories: Book Reviews, Reading

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7 replies

  1. In my humble opinion, the book was much better than the film, for all of the points you mention. The Exorcist, written so long ago, has never been surpassed…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been really wanting to read this book !

    Liked by 1 person

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