The Exorcist Wiki
The Exorcist
Book information
Author William Peter Blatty
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date 1971
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book
Pages 340
ISBN 978-0-06-010365-1
Followed by Legion

The Exorcist is a 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty. The book details the demonic possession of twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil, the daughter of a famous actress, and the Jesuit psychiatrist priest who attempts to exorcise the demon. Published by Harper & Row, the novel was the basis of a highly successful film adaption released two years later, whose screenplay was also written by Blatty.

The novel was inspired by a 1949 case of demonic possession and exorcism that Blatty heard about while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University.[1] As a result, the novel takes place in Washington D.C. near the campus of Georgetown University, from April 1-June 27, 1971.[2] In September 2011, the novel was reprinted by Harper Collins to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, with slight revisions made by Blatty as well as interior title artwork by Jeremy Caniglia.[3]


An elderly Jesuit priest named Father Lankester Merrin is leading an archaeological dig in northern Iraq and is studying ancient relics. After discovering a small statue of the demon Pazuzu, a series of omens alerts him to a pending confrontation with a powerful evil, which, unknown to the reader at this point, he has battled before in an exorcism in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Georgetown, a young girl named Regan MacNeil is living with her famous mother, actress Chris MacNeil, who is in Georgetown filming a movie. As Chris finishes her work on the film, Regan begins to become inexplicably ill. After a gradual series of poltergeist-like disturbances in their rented house, for which Chris attempts to find rational explanations, Regan begins to rapidly undergo disturbing psychological and physical changes: she refuses to eat or sleep, becomes withdrawn and frenetic, and increasingly aggressive and violent. Chris initially mistakes Regan's behavior as a result of repressed anger over her parents' divorce and absent father.

After several unsuccessful psychiatric and medical treatments, Regan's mother, an atheist, turns to a local Jesuit priest for help as Regan's personality becomes increasingly disturbed. Father Damien Karras, who is currently going through a crisis of faith coupled with the loss of his mother, agrees to see Regan as a psychiatrist, but initially resists the notion that it is an actual demonic possession. After a few meetings with the child, now completely inhabited by a diabolical personality, he turns to the local bishop for permission to perform an exorcism on the child.

The bishop with whom he consults does not believe Karras is qualified to perform the rites, and appoints the experienced Merrin—who has recently returned to the United States—to perform the exorcism, although he does allow the doubt-ridden Karras to assist him. The lengthy exorcism tests the priests both physically and spiritually. After Father Merrin suggests that Karras take a break, Karras reads a poem that Regan wrote for Chris for Mother's Day one year. This causes Father Karras to feel compassion toward Regan and anger at the demon. Karras' faith in God is restored as a result. When Merrin, who had previously suffered cardiac arrhythmia, dies during the process, completion of the exorcism ultimately falls upon Father Karras. When he demands that the demonic spirit inhabit him instead of the innocent Regan, the demon seizes the opportunity to possess the priest. Karras heroically surrenders his own life in exchange for Regan's by jumping out of her bedroom window and falling to his death. Father Dyer reads him his Last Rites.

Factual basis for the novel[]

Aspects of the character Father Merrin were based on the British archaeologist Gerald Lankester Harding, who had excavated the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been found and whom Blatty had met in Beirut. Blatty has stated that Harding "was the physical model in my mind when I created the character [of Merrin], whose first name, please note, is Lankester."[4]

Aspects of the novel were inspired by an exorcism performed by the Jesuit priest, Fr. William S. Bowdern, who formerly taught at both St. Louis University and St. Louis University High School.

Recent investigative research by freelance journalist Mark Opsasnick indicates that Blatty's novel was based on an actual 1949 exorcism of a young boy, Ronald Hunkeler, from Cottage City, Maryland, whom Opsasnick refers to using the pseudonyms Robbie Mannheim and Roland Doe. Ronald was sent to his relative's home on Roanoke Drive in St. Louis where most of the exorcism took place.[5]

Blatty refers to the Loudun possessions and the Louviers possessions throughout the story, mostly when Fr. Karras is researching possession and exorcism to present the case to his superiors.[6] He also has one of his characters tell a brief story about an unnamed fraudulent Spiritualist medium who had studied to be a Jesuit priest. This story can be found in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 114. 1930, in an article about fraudulent practices by Daniel Dunglas Home.[7]

The True Meaning of The Exorcist[]

On October 28, 2011, William Peter Blatty wrote an article on the Fox News Opinion page entitled 'The Exorcist's' Secret Message that explains the meaning of the novel and why he wrote it.[8] According to Blatty, the meaning of The Exorcist is "That God exists and the universe itself will have a happy ending." It has always bothered him that lots of people, including the president of Warner Bros. thought that the demon won when Father Karras invited the demon to possess him and he jumped out the window and down the stairs to his death. Blatty's intended message was for it to be "Good over Evil" and "the mystery of goodness" and Father Karras was actually sacrificing himself to save Regan.[9][10] Blatty has stated on multiple occasions that The Exorcist was never meant to be scary.[11][3]

It's a humiliating confession. I have no recollection of intending to frighten anyone at any point in time. That's Stephen King - he's the master of terror [....] It was all an accident. I still didn't plan on frightening anyone. I sleep with a night light. Please.

–William Peter Blatty

According to Blatty, famous author Ray Bradbury once called The Exorcist a "beautiful love story" because Father Karras willingly sacrificed himself to save Regan, a little girl who he never met, only the demon.[12][13][14]


According to a research from the Spanish Book Institute, the Spanish language/Spanish translated version was the eighth-most popular book sold in Spain in 1975.[15]


On October 31, 2010, Cemetery Dance published a special omnibus edition of The Exorcist and its sequel

40th Anniversary Edition cover.

Legion, signed by Blatty (ISBN 978-1587672118). A limited edition of 750 copies (with an additional 52 leatherbound copies), it is now out of print.[16] On September 27, 2011, The Exorcist was re-released as a 40th Anniversary Edition in paperback, hardcover and audiobook editions with differing cover artwork. This new, updated edition featured and revised material, as Blatty writes: "The 40th Anniversary Edition of The Exorcist will have a touch of new material in it as part of an all-around polish of the dialogue and prose. It also features all new cover artwork and interiors by the artist Jeremy Caniglia. First time around I never had the time (meaning the funds) to do a second draft, and this, finally, is it. With forty years to think about it, a few little changes were inevitable -- plus one new character in a totally new very spooky scene. This is the version I would like to be remembered for."[17]


In 1973, the novel was adapted by Blatty for the film of the same name and directed by William Friedkin with Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller and Linda Blair. The screenplay for the film won Blatty an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

In February 2014, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a two-part adaptation of the novel by Robert Forrest[18] produced and directed by Gaynor MacFarlane and starring Robert Glenister as Father Karras, Lydia Wilson as Regan, Teresa Gallagher as Chris MacNeil, Karl Johnson as Detective Kinderman, Bryan Dick as Father Dyer, Alexandra Mathie as The Demon and Ian McDiarmid as Father Merrin.

The 2016 television series The Exorcist was created inspired by the novel, serving as both a reboot and as for the events depicted.



  1. Zak, Dan. "William Peter Blatty, writer of 'The Exorcist,' slips back into the light for its 40th Anniversary". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company, LLC, 30 Oct. 2013.
  2. Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist. New York: Harper & Row. 1971. Print.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "After 40 Years, Grisly 'Exorcist' Book Gets A Rewrite". Weekend Edition Saturday. NPR, 29 Oct. 2011.
  4. "A website dedicated to William Peter Blatty, The Ninth Configuration & Legion". The Ninth Configuration, 2009. Accessed 31 Mar. 2014.
  5. "Part I - The Haunted Boy: the Inspiration for the Exorcist". Strange Mag, 2000. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
  6. Pages 245-250 in the 40th Anniversary edition.
  7. Count Petrovsky-Petrovo-Solovo. "Some Thoughts on D. D. Home." In Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 114. 1930. Quoted in John Casey (2009), After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Oxford. pp. 373-374.
  8. Blatty, William Peter. "'The Exorcist's' Secret Message". Fox News Opinion. FOX News Network, LLC., 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
  9. Vitello, Paul. "William Peter Blatty, Author of 'The Exorcist,' Dies at 89". The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 13. Jan. 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
  10. Blatty, William Peter. "William Peter Blatty on 'The Exorcist': From Novel to Film". New York: Macmillan, March 2015. eBook.
  11. Simon, Scott. "The Author Of 'The Exorcist,' William Peter Blatty, Dies At 89". Weekend Edition Saturday. NPR, 14 Jan. 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
  12. Galluzzo, Rob. "#RESPECT - Let's Give It Up For THE EXORCIST's Father Karras". Blumhouse Productions and Red Seat Ventures, LLC., 21 Oct. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
  13. "Ray Bradbury once said that it was actually a...". The Exorcist Online. Tumblr, 9 Nov. 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
  14. "Love Story: An interview with The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty". Gadfly Online. Gadfly Productions, Oct. 1998. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
  15. Folha de São Paulo, Ilustrada, p.5, January 28, 1976 (in portuguese) - Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  16. "Cemetery Dance Publications: The Exorcist and Legion (Special Edition)". Cemetery Dance, 22 Dec. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
  17. - Further 40th Details
  18. "BBC Radio 4 - The Exorcist". British Broadcasting Company, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.