I knew another reading of Blatty’s The Exorcist would still find terror in the pages, and I was absolutely correct. I first read it as a kid and it scared the hell out of me. I saw the movie a few times, again when I was younger, and as a young adult decided to keep that tape in the bottom of the closet to prevent any member of the household from wanting to view it again. I knew that the reason the book frightened me so was because it played on the biggest fear I had as a kid: being “bad”.
I was raised in a relatively religious household, where the worst thing you could be was bad. Bad girls got into huge trouble, and bad things happened to bad people. The usual perpetrator of this ill will was the devil and his demon children. The Exorcist dumped all that rhetoric out on its head by depicting bad things happening to a girl who was, for all we are shown, a good girl. I was absolutely grief stricken to have found out that perhaps, no matter how good I tried to be, bad things could still happen to me. Uber bad things, like demonic possession. Even when I tried to interpret this idea with a bit more experience under my belt, I was still heartbroken. I wondered if maybe Regan was being tortured because her mother had done something bad. I mean, she was a divorced career woman who smoked and drank and didn’t even believe in God. So what if her daughter was suffering because she had failed to be good?
I was glad I’d moved beyond those fears, because they seem pretty childish now. At least this is what I thought until I realized the new fears the novel found root in were simply adult manifestations of those same nightmares.
This was the first time I’d read the novel since becoming a mother myself, and I was overwhelmed by the pain I felt for Chris this time around, and the resurgence of my own parental bogie men. I completely empathized with her fear that there is something wrong with her daughter that she can’t fix. I’ve been there when the doctors can’t tell you what happened to your child and they tell you to just wait and see how things turn out. I was afraid for this mother who, like myself, didn’t really know what to do for her beloved baby. I wondered if she’d ever thought, “What did I do to have my baby so stricken?”
And I was afraid for Father Karras as well. Operating from a state of having no faith is pretty miserable, and doubly so when it is your vocation to not only have a strong base for yourself but to instill in others the same foundation. Even from the stance of practicality versus religion, you have to believe in something and work towards something. But I have been where Father Karras was, as well. I’ve lashed out and wondered how any Divine Being could strike a baby with affliction that would only cause struggle throughout her life. That place was horrific.
Their fears are very real ones that aren’t always so easily exorcised. But they both found a way to vanquish those monsters. Chris never gave up searching for solutions for Regan’s afflictions and went outside her lack of religious convictions to find an answer. Father Karras finally found peace in the sacrifice of his life to save Regan, a practical answer to his dilemma even when not completely in line with his religious answers. Neither one of them relied solely on the doctrines of religion or the practical, scientific world. Each applied a blend of both to find something that worked for them. That blending certainly works for me when these monsters come calling.