The Corner

Culture

William Peter Blatty, R.I.P.

Here’s one of the most gratifying emails I’ve ever received:

John, it’s wonderful. In over 27 years of commentary on this film, this is the one I have always wanted. Finally, someone under­stands — and has a forum to explain. God bless you. Warmest, Bill

The sender was William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, who died yesterday. It came in 2000. He had read my appreciation of his work in the Weekly Standard, in the only piece I’ve ever written for that magazine. (I had wanted to write on a re-released version of the movie and the publishing schedule of NR wouldn’t cooperate.) One of my main points was simple but often overlooked: Much of the reputation of The Exorcist may rest on heretical gross-out scenes in the film, but the movie, and the especially the book, try to show that the antidote to despair is God’s love. Blatty was an orthodox Catholic and the book and movie were expressions of his faith.

The article in the Standard includes this line: “Portions of the book are even more revolting that the film, especially a description of the Black Mass.” An editor was struck by the line. He asked me to read a passage over the phone. I refused. “I don’t want to speak the words,” I said.

So The Exorcist isn’t for everyone. Yet it’s also quite different from what you may think it is.

One more thing–and perhaps a good note to end on: In my 2015 podcast with him, Blatty explained why he believes in life after death.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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