(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The central and overt themes in The Exorcist are metaphysical: What is the nature of man? How does one explain the existence of evil, and can that be reconciled with the existence of a benign God? Even the epigraphs of the three sections of the novel show a movement from the problem of evil, both supernatural and human, to an affirmation of faith and love by St. Paul. These issues are dramatized in the plot, but also discussed openly (too much so for some critics, who found fault with such expository lumps) by the characters, especially Father Karras and Lieutenant Kinderman.

Perhaps the deepest fear exploited by The Exorcist, running under and alongside more specific social issues, is that of death and nothingness after death. In the novel, the night that the first signs of Regan's possession manifest themselves (rapping noises that her mother hears), Chris MacNeil dreams of "death in the staggering particular . . . thinking over and over, I am not going to be, I will die, I won't be, and forever and ever . . . ." In I'll Tell Them I Remember You (1973), Blatty, discussing his mother's death, mentions his own "half-waking dream of death that had left me convinced it meant final extinction," on which Chris's dream is certainly based. The positive message of possession is that noncorporeal realms do exist; in Legion (1983; see separate entry), this expands to include definite human survival after death.

Paradoxically, if it undercuts fear of extinction by death, possession raises...

(The entire section is 630 words.)