I noted in last week’s post that the reads will be darker for the remainder of the scary reads posts. Some of the books are dark because of the supernatural element and others also take place in a dark time and place in human history. This week will be the darkest of the supernatural, in my humble opinion: demon possession.
Briefly, please excuse any post oddities you might come across. My computer crapped out and I am writing this post on the app with a bluetooth keyboard. Still learning how to make a post through the app.
The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty
Now, this is far from my first demon possession read that I have posted on here. Just off the top of my head I can think of three that I read before I read this foundational demon story tome. I don’t know why it took me so long to loop back around to fit in this basic, but here it is. And it’s place on my reading list had a definite effect on how scary I found this one.
Demons, or the idea of demons, frightens me to my core. Don’t get me wrong. Many of my contemporaries talk about how this was the first horror movie/book they encountered and how it was life alteringly scary. Since this came out, however, other demon lore has been released that is scarier than this. By far. I think the next book I will be talking about is an example.
What The Exorcist brings, however, that other books don’t do as much of, is question how real demon possession is in the first place. It takes place in the seventies, which I very much picked up on when reading this book. Everyone smoked and the prevailing psycholological framework at the time was psychoanalytic. A priest goes to long lengths to get the Vatican’s permission to perform one, trying to prove that the symptoms of the possessed little girl, Regan, cannot be explained away by schizophrenia, while considering for himself if possession could be real. If this could really be a demon inside this little girl. He’s not even sure himself. I can tell you from my own work with people struggling with schizophrenia that the symptoms this girl has deviate significantly from theirs. And while psychoanalysis has its effects on how we do therapy today, I don’t use it, and listening to them talk in those terms in the story it’s amazing how it’s really just the psychology of white people of European descent. I talk about psychotic symptoms on a near daily basis and I don’t talk about them arising from guilt. And multiple personalities isn’t really a thing. If someone is having noticeable personality changes and losing time, that’s usually a trauma response and can be helped by working on the underlying trauma. But I digress.
It’s about faith and spirituality as much as it is about getting the demon out of her, and it has that classic insidious nature of possession with the things you notice that are subtle enough to be explained away and then grow to unwieldiness because you didn’t catch them in time. That never gets old for me. I don’t know why. I always know where it’s headed and I read with bated breath as it gets there.
So I am going to be critical of a well liked and read book for a moment. It could get rambly. I felt it started off rambly and I almost had to put it on audio for it to get its hooks in me, which I didn’t expect with such a highly rated book. It picked up quickly enough for me, but not before I scanned Goodreads to see if anyone had the same complaint, and they really didn’t, so I pressed on. I felt like there was too much superfluous detail. Then there was a super rambly character, the police inspector, and it got to the point where I rolled my eyes when he got into the narrative because I knew it would be awhile before we got to the point of what he wanted. I watched the movie in another lifetime and I didn’t need to watch it again after reading this. But it was good. It was scarier in its day than it is now, but it’s also a spiritual work as much as an entertaining one. The other books take the existence of darkness for granted and leap in from there, but this one begs the spiritual question in the first place.
The Demonists, Thomas Sniegoski
This one leaps right in with demons exist and spiral down a dark hole from there. There is a little bit of skepticism about if mediums are real in the prologue, but the author is sure to kill that. It is fantastic, intense and gory, just as I expected it to be.
I put this one on for a long run because I need to get out of my head when I am running sometimes. I need to think of something other than how much I’d really just like to stop running. I wanted something with a promise of being engrossing, diverting and fantastical. It worked. I remember one part of my run where it was spooling out one of the narratives to be woven back up at the end and being able to visualize the setting more than worrying about my pace and turning around early.
This was written to be action packed, absorbing and surprising. Purely entertaining. No long narratives over the requirements to prove a true possession and conversations with experts and long winded police inspectors and other members of the cloth. No internal battles over spiritual matters and what it means to be spiritual. No, intestines were being torn out, men were killing their own mothers, and a woman has to go to lengths to keep under control a legion of demons within her belly. Demons that she put there in the first place. I don’t mind a bit of a refresh from a pure entertainment read after some of the things I read laden with larger implications. Even if it haunts me a little.
So any true reader knows that we read for different reasons. Two books dealing with similar material but with different purposes. Both scary and Halloween-y.
Next week I am blogging on books where Edgar Allan Poe is a character. Does this qualify it as revisionist history? I don’t know. Probably doesn’t matter. But if you’d be interested in catching that post, I can hint that the Poes in these books are true to the facts I gathered on the realities of his life. That continue to qualify him as everyone’s eigth grade literary hero.
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