It’s hard to believe that it’s been forty years since author William Peter Blatty wrote one of the single most terrifying novels the world has ever seen in The Exorcist, but alas, time flies! To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, Blatty has retooled his book a bit, thus creating The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition.
From the Press Release
Forty years ago William Peter Blatty published a novel that changed the literary and cinematic landscape. A masterful and often shocking blend of horror, mystery, and religion, THE EXORCIST spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, including seventeen consecutively at number one, and was turned into an iconic film that received ten Academy Award nominations, with Blatty winning the Oscar for best screenplay. The novel and film spawned countless imitations, but Blatty’s unabashedly profane, terrifying, yet faith-centered original remains the sine qua non of the genre.
For the special 40th Anniversary Edition of THE EXORCIST (Harper; October 4, 2011; $25.99), William Peter Blatty has returned to the manuscript, reworking portions of the book that never satisfied him. Due to financial constraints and a pressing workload at the time, he was forced to forego a desired revision. “For most of these past forty years I have rued not having done a thorough second draft and careful polish of the dialogue and prose,” Blatty says. “But now, like an answer to a prayer, this fortieth anniversary edition has given me not only the opportunity to do that second draft, but to do it at a time in my life—I am 83—when it might not be totally unreasonable to hope that my abilities, such as they are, have at least somewhat improved, and for all of this I say, Deo gratias!” Among the changes, Blatty has added a chilling scene introducing the unsettling minor character of a Jesuit psychiatrist.
Or is he?
THE EXORCIST begins in northern Iraq, where an archeological dig led by Jesuit priest Father Lankester Merrin yields a demonic artifact, a harbinger of things to come. In Washington, D.C., young Regan MacNeil—daughter of famed film actress Chris MacNeil—begins exhibiting disturbing behaviors. Odd, haunting occurrences also begin to take place in the MacNeil’s rented Georgetown townhouse. Chris seeks medical and psychiatric help for her daughter, but Regan continues to descend into a state of apparent demonic possession. Desperate, Chris turns to a local priest, Father Damien Karras, who at the last decides that the life of the girl can only be saved by an exorcism. Because Karras is undergoing a crisis of faith, the higher powers of the Church turn to an experienced exorcist, with Karras to assist, and the priests are tested both spiritually and physically by the grueling sacred rite of exorcism. Facing their fears through the power of faith, they pay the ultimate price for saving the life of young Regan MacNeil.
With the storytelling gifts of a true master, Blatty crafts a riveting narrative that still retains the power to both terrify and edify its readers, including those who have come of age since its monumental debut.
A Note From the Author
In January 1968, I rented a cabin in Lake Tahoe to start writing a novel about demonic possession that I’d been thinking about for many years. I‘d been driven to it, actually: I was a writer of comic novels and farcical screenplays such as A Shot in the Dark with almost all of my income derived from films; but because the season for “funny” had abruptly turned dry and no studio would hire me for anything non-comedic, I had reached James Thurber’s stage of desperation when, as he wrote in a “Preface to His Life,” comedy writers sometimes take to “calling their home from their office, or their office from their home, asking for themselves, and then hanging up in hard-breathing relief upon being told they “weren’t in.’” My breaking point came, I suppose, when at the Van Nuys, California, unemployment office I spotted my movie agent in a line three down from mine. And so the cabin in Tahoe where I was destined to become the caretaker in Stephen King’s terrifying The Shining, typing my version of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” hour after hour, day after day, for over six weeks as I kept changing the date in my opening paragraph from “April 1” to April something else, because each time I would read the page aloud, the rhythm of the lines seemed to change, a maddening cycle of emptiness and insecurity –- magnified, I suppose, by the fact that I had no clear plot for the novel in mind — that continued until I at last gave up the cabin and hoped for better luck back “home,” a clapboard raccoon-surrounded guest house in the hills of Encino owned by a former Hungarian opera star who had purchased the property from the luminous film actress, Angela Lansbury, and where I finally overcame the block by realizing that I was starting the novel in the wrong place, namely the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., as opposed to northern Iraq. Almost a year later I completed a first draft of the novel. At the request of my editors at Harper and Row, I did make two quick changes: cleaning up Chris MacNeil’s potty mouth, and making the ending “less obvious.” But because of a dire financial circumstance, I had not another day to devote to the manuscript, so that when I received a life-saving offer to adapt Calder Willingham’s novel Providence Island for the screen for Paul Newman’s film company, I instantly accepted and left my novel to find its fate. For most of these past forty years I have rued not having done a thorough second draft and careful polish of the dialogue and prose. But now, like an answer to a prayer, this fortieth anniversary of the novel has given me not only the opportunity to do another draft, but to do it at a time in my life—I will be 84 this coming January—when it might not be totally unreasonable to hope that my abilities, such as they are, have at least somewhat improved, and for all of this I say, Deo gratias!
— William Peter Blatty
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