RIP William Peter Blatty — and the Devil in the Details

Hello friends, and Happy New Year.

I’ll post sometime soon about the pinched nerve issue (more painful than it sounds) emanating most likely from my C5-C7 spine. I’ve seen issues on MRI before but they’ve never presented symptomatically until about a month ago. But that’s for another post.

I was struck by the recent passing of William Peter Blatty, a name which may only be peripherally familiar to some. He was the author of The Exorcist. He died at the ripe old age of 89 years. It was from Multiple Myeloma, and he evidently went from diagnosis to death in about three months. 89 is a long life to be sure. Nonetheless, it does tickle the viscera unpleasantly to hear about Myeloma as a cause of death.

For those that don’t know, it may seem ironic that Blatty was a devout Catholic. The book, with all of its horrific and blasphemous material that was brought to life in what I still think is the most terrifying film ever made, was denounced by some as evil and most likely is to this day by a subset of the religious right (I do my best not to travel in those circles so I’m not sure but it’s a pretty safe bet). And yet Blatty’s stated purpose in the book was to bring people to God. By exposing people to the reality of evil and the horrors of the Devil, they would be introduced to faith. They would be shocked and frightening into considering the possibility of God. And if one looks at the movie, beyond the vomiting pea soup and the spinning heads and the terrifying appearance of Regan McNeil, the story is fundamentally about Father Damien Karras, who lost his faith and regained it in the face of evil. This story was continued in the true sequel to the book, Legion, which was made many years after its publication into the true sequel to the movie, Exorcist III, with George C. Scott taking over the role of Detective Bill Kinderman, who was played by Lee J. Cobb in the first film (funny — maybe having an important middle initial was a critical element in the casting decision). In that film, just like Karras did in the firs tone, George C. Scott finds belief in the face of evil.

I wrote in this blog during my treatment about this concept known as the Noonday Devil — the voice whispering in one’s ear that the struggle isn’t worth it. I wrestled with that at one point where I wasn’t seeing the progress in the therapy that I was hoping for. I managed to get through it — I was fortunate (or blessed, depending on one’s spiritual inclinations or lack thereof) that I responded to therapy and put this behind me. It was an important enough moment that I wrote a song about it for my band’s 2011 record This Mortal Coil. And at the beginning of that song, there is a sample from the Exorcist III.

So while I started this post thinking William Peter Blatty’s death was of interest because of Myeloma, I’m ending it realizing there may be a deeper connection.

So as not to be too heavy, I’ll end this with a very funny little anecdote that I recently learned of from a friend of mine. It’s Blatty recounting an experience he had shortly after the publication of the book and it’s hilarious.

When I worked at BMP, the Head of Television commuted in from Brighton every day.
He started reading The Exorcist on the train.He said he thought it was the most evil book he’d ever read.If fact, he said it was so evil he couldn’t finish it.So, at the weekend, he went to the end of Brighton pier and threw it as far as he could.So I went to the bookshop.I bought another copy.Then I ran it under the tap.And left it in his desk drawer.For him to find.

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