William Peter Blatty Critical Essays

Blatty, William Peter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Blatty, William Peter 1928–

American novelist and screenwriter, author of John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! and The Exorcist. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

I consumed The Exorcist as if it were a bottomless bag of popcorn. It's a page-turner par excellence. I variously believed, discredited and respected The Exorcist. Blatty writes and thinks sophisticated. His little Regan MacNeil, daughter of a divorced actress living in Washington, D.C., is no spontaneous successor-sibling to Rosemary's baby (the inevitable and faulty comparison). Blatty takes Regan and us through neurology, psychiatry and common sense before turning her over to a Teilhardlike Jesuit philosopher-paleontologist and a Hamlet-like Jesuit psychiatrist who conduct an exorcism….

Faulkner, Blatty is not. But Poe and Mary Shelley would recognize him as working in their ambiguous limbo between the natural and the supernatural. Not that The Exorcist has the literary elegance or insistent brooding of a Frankenstein or Gold Bug to propel it beyond the present. But it is hair-raising entertainment that makes certain philosophical claims. Diabolism is one…. Next philosophical claim: religious belief springs not from the intellect…. Blatty supports his conviction with action. His characters may smell of incense or sulphur, speak a single diction, move with cinematic poise. They nevertheless do Blatty's bidding. They defend his myths.

Webster Schott, "The Devil and Little Regan," in Life (courtesy Life Magazine; © 1971), May 7, 1971.

Blatty has done his homework [for The Exorcist]. He discourses, a bit bookishly, on the history of possession and the relation of autosuggestion to masked guilt. I suspect he wants his book to be interesting in an intellectual way, but it is not; nevertheless, it is wonderfully exciting. Blatty maintains headlong thrust, slowly increasing Regan's agony until the reader winces; no more, a part of us says, but of course we want more, because Blatty handles the horror so well. The battle between the Jesuit and Regan's inhabitants is always alarming, occasionally intriguing. The story, I should add, is also astonishingly obscene—astonishing because in this story obscenity is restored to its proper place and emphasis; not neurotically thrown away, but a screaming offense against nature.

Peter S. Prescott, "Fear Can Be Fun," in Newsweek (copyright Newsweek, Inc. 1971; reprinted by permission), May 10, 1971, pp. 112-13.

This book [The Exorcist] is one that is difficult to put down, so gripping is the plot, so real the characters. There are a few minor subplots that could be done without, but no doubt in the movie they will be written out. The ghetto mother of Father Karras is a case in point. On the other hand, there are some excellent minor characters who add depth and warmth, such as the servant, Karl, and the police officer, Kinderman.

This is Mr. Blatty's fifth novel, and by far his best. Some of the profanity may offend a few readers but the language is in keeping with the subject matter.

Charles Dollen, in Best Sellers, May 15, 1971.

["The Exorcist"] is a terrifying mixture of fact and fancy. Well researched, written in a literate style, it comes to grips with the forces of evil incarnate, and there are not many readers who will be unmoved. "The Exorcist" is as superior to most books of its kind as an Einstein equation is to an accountant's column of figures.

Newgate Callendar, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 6, 1971, p. 47.

The Exorcist is about the possession of a young female, but it has nothing to do with literature. It is a pretentious, tasteless, abominably written, redundant pastiche of superficial theology, comic-book psychology, Grade C movie dialogue and Grade Z scatology. In short, The Exorcist will be a bestseller and almost certainly a drivein movie.

R. Z. Sheppard, "Brimstone by the Numbers," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1971 by Time Inc.), June 7, 1971, p. 96.

America's number one best seller [The Exorcist] arrives in England, a country where we tend to take hauntings, ghosties, things that go bang, bang, bang in the night, rather much for granted, or at least know that anything they have we can top. After all we've been growing into and out of our landscape for centuries, the Americans haven't (Indians, who have a great many curious things going for them, excepted). Somehow black happenings in Beverly Hills or Washington, DC do not have quite the same cachet, the power to unnerve, as the Monster of Glamis or the Headless Virgin of Piddletrenthide. So I began this book in a cynical, we-know-it-all-in-the-Olde-Worlde frame of mind, of the belief that despite the great Edgar Allan Poe American tales of the supernatural are usually pseud and sensational, an attempt by a nouveau, tinsel-tangled culture to establish some kind of rapport with the primaeval forces. This lack of multi-dimensional experience in the very fabric of the American dream creates a massive hunger for the mysteries (cf Drum Majorettes as pageantry compensation, Charles Manson as witch rather than plain, old-fashioned homicidal maniac, etc). Why, as it turned out, did I therefore find The Exorcist a genuine, spine-chilling spell-binder?…

[Blatty] has researched his theme thoroughly—The idea for The Exorcist first came to him in 1950. Since then, Mr. Blatty has read every book in English on the subject—and this pays off time and again. Perhaps this is why the book is so horrific. Though a fiction, it reads like an actual case history and since it is built on theoretical and factual material which is not merely the author's invention, one cherishes the romantic suspicion that it is one which might yet acquire reality….

By the end my head was awhirl, sharks were cruising round the room, my marrow was crawling with lice, and grim ectoplasmic things were beginning to undulate in mirrors. If any of you a few weeks ago saw a young man with a blanched and deranged look, flitting moth-like among the magical, lamp-lit streets of Notting Hill at four in the morning, that was me, trying to walk out of insomnia and back into the narrow, comfortable, insufficient world of rational man.

Duncan Fallowell, in Books and Bookmen, April, 1972, pp. 50-1.