Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review : William Peter Blatty - Legion (1983)


Order LEGION here

What is it that you want from us? To suffer like you did on the cross? Well, we're doing it. Please don't go sleepless with worrying about this problem. 

My parents once had a zero-tolerance policy for horror movies and violent content in general. Unknowingly, they made them fascinating in my mind. Long after they stopped being the forbidden fruit, I'm still waching horror movies. I'm a good audience for them, I get frightened easily if the material is good. Horror novels are a tougher sell. Except for H.P Lovecraft's short sory THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, I can't say I got legitimately frightened by a book. In my quest to find the ultimate horror novel, I gave William Peter Blatty, another sacred monster of the genre, a try. After all, his novel LEGION was turned into horror classic THE EXORCIST 3, one of the true religion-based, shit-you-pants movies. The original work may be sagging at times, but it has some staying power.

LEGION is more or less the continuation of THE EXORCIST. It's not exactly a sequel, but it features characters from the latter and its events are alluded a couple of times. Lieutenant Kinderman is a Jewish * police investigator on the trail of a brutal, yet mysterious killer that leaves a series of clue that don't add up at all. Kinderman is old and tired and the horrors he is witnessing on this case are shaking the bases of his beliefs. Even if Kinderman has seen some shit during his lifetime, the truth about the series of murders he's investigating is going far beyond what he could have imagined. There are greater dangers to humanity than people who murder at random. Beings that cannot quite be stopped by the power of men.

You can tell from reading LEGION that William Peter Blatty didn't want to delve into anything overly spectacular. No flying demons from the underworld. No sword-wielding angel. None of that crap. The fight for the fate of humanity had to happen within the heart of men. It's a cool concept, but it makes the novel deliberately austere sometimes. The events of LEGION are intermeshed with the daily routines of Kinderman, which can be frustrating. The parts where he discusses cinema with father Dyer stuck me as particularly overblown and maybe a tiny bit complacent.The realistic/rational approach to religion-based horror is refreshing and convincing, but it's not without its drawbacks.

He thought of death in its infinite groanings, of Aztecs ripping out living hearts and of cancer and three-year olds buried alive and he wondered wheher God was alien and cruel, but remembered Beethoven and the dappling of things and ''Hurrah for Karamazov'' and kindness. He stared at the sun coming up behind the Capitol, streaking the Potomac with orange light, and then down at the outrage, the horror at his feet. Something had gone wrong between man and his creator, and the evidence was here on this boathouse dock.

The segment quoted above is the first paragraph in LEGION. I read that and dropped to one knee in public transportation. The musings of Lieutenant Kinderman are powerful and spectacular. William Peter Blatty seemed very preoccupied with not just coming off as another horror guy. He concealed the nature of his novel, making it a mystery, and has these long musing sections about Kinderman, questionning the nature of God. His true intentions towards mankind. So it's not REALLY a horror novel and not REALLY a mystery either. It's a literary novel that tries to address the possibility of religious dogma being true in the most realistic possible way. I supposed you can say it's a novel about demonology? It may seem austere and maybe it is a little, but I thought it was a lot more convincing than the flying demon/battling angel type of supernatural horror.

LEGION moved my gears, I'll admit. I thought it was going to scare me, but it didn't quite do that. I don't think William Peter Blatty bothered with what it would do to the readers, honestly and it's a healthy way to look at this if you're a writer. LEGION is just the best demon story it can be and I'm fine with that. I thought it was a little slow (and usually I like slow) and dry at times, but it' s a powerful book about men and their place in the greater scheme of things. The jury is still out about whether or not the novel of William Peter Blatty will ever scare me, but he convinced me he was a great author with a vision he truly owns. That is ultimately the only thing you need to make a novel successful. Vision.

* I know, just bear with me. It's an important detail. Remember, religious novel.

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