This past week I began reading Legion by William Peter Blatty. I had reread The Exorcist a month or two ago, found the Detective Kinderman character fascinating, so I ordered the Legion hardcover at a used, discounted price off Amazon (my new favorite hobby now that I’ve been assembling bookshelves in my living room). This all began over the fall when I started watching the Exorcist TV series on Fox. I hadn’t read the original novel in two decades and was curious how canon the TV series and movie were with the book. Naturally, after that, I thought I would move on to Legion.
Then news of Blatty’s death broke on Friday. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been in the middle of an author’s book when he or she passed away. I think that’s why the news struck me as it did. Not only that, I had been talking about Blatty and his work with someone Friday morning! Oh, and it was also Friday the 13th. Holy crap. Yeah yeah, whatever.
Blatty’s passing, only five days after his 89th birthday, forced me to consume the rest of Legion over the weekend. I decided before Friday that I loved the book. Maybe even more so than The Exorcist (the novel is much better than the movie, by the way). Some may find Lt. Kinderman a rambling, long-winded character (some may find my blog posts to be the same, so I “got” him) in Legion, but his paragraphs and pages of spewing on God, Good versus Evil, the Afterlife, and the meaning of why we’re all here captured my attention. Kinderman’s diatribes and pontificating had a profound ring to it, and I knew I should pay attention because it would come up again later in the story. Blatty’s own Roman Catholic faith is evident here as well.
In Legion, Kinderman’s friendship with Father Dyer has grown from their shared grief over Damien Karras’s death at the end of The Exorcist, and it adds poignancy to the tragedy that befalls Dyer in Legion. To avoid spoilers, I won’t elaborate any more on that. We are also introduced to Kinderman’s wife and daughter for the first time.
And there’s the whole Tommy Sunlight character in Legion. The 1983 book is the basis for Exorcist III, a movie that came out in 1990. George C. Scott took over the Kinderman role in this film, since Lee J. Cobb, who played Kinderman in The Exorcist, was long dead by then. I had never seen Exorcist III, so after finishing Legion this morning, I rented E3 from Amazon Prime and watched it on my iPad. Blatty wrote the screenplay and directed the film, but I immediately saw the contrasts from the novel. The studio/producers clearly wanted something “marketable,” so there’s a whole exorcism plot development in the movie that (thankfully) never appears in the novel. The character of Tommy Sunlight in the book becomes “Patient X” in the movie, and even though the film is twenty-seven years old (the book, thirty-four), I won’t divulge any further details on Mr. Sunlight’s/”Patient X’s” true identity.
My final verdict on Exorcist III is that it’s not a bad movie if you’re a horror-film buff. But if you’re a fan of Blatty’s books, you may not be completely thrilled with the screen adaptation. I know both Blatty and Exorcist director William Friedkin disliked Exorcist II: The Heretic. If you go on YouTube, there is a whole clip of Friedkin going off on E2 with colorful language that might make Pazuzu blush. The nicest thing he says is that E2 is a piece of shit, and many others, myself included, concur with the assessment.
That said, Blatty wanted to divorce Legion from the God-awful E2 and only with some begrudging did he retitle it Exorcist III for the screen. There isn’t any exorcism whatsoever in the novel, but Hollywood intervened (as it tends to do) and insisted that be changed for a movie version. The novel is a wonderful, supernatural detective story that stands perfectly without any exorcising.
Oh, and did you know astronaut Billy Cutshaw (to whom Reagan says “you’re gonna die up there” before she pees on the rug in The Exorcist) is a central character in The Ninth Configuration, another Blatty novel? That one goes on my reading list now.
There was a movie adaptation of The Ninth Configuration in 1980. Cutshaw is played by Scott Wilson, who also plays Dr. Temple in E3. Speaking of Temple, he was toned down a bit from the chauvinistic, cigarillo-smoking character in Legion to Wilson’s portrayal in E3. And, speaking of Wilson, he’s best known to TV audiences these days as Hershel (another doomed character) on The Walking Dead.
I’ll wait until I’ve read the book before watching a film adaptation of The Ninth Configuration, even though Blatty wrote the screenplay and directed that one as well.
Another bit of trivia: Blatty and Friedkin were good friends. Blatty even has a cameo in The Exorcist as a producer on the set of Chris McNeil’s movie, but apparently the writer and director butted heads on other aspects of the film. In the book, Reagan McNeil’s head never spins 360 degrees. That is one of the anatomically-impossible things I hate about the movie version of The Exorcist (you know, because levitation is so much more realistic). I prefer to think a possessed Reagan only created a head-spin illusion to try and throw Merrin and Karras off their game, and we as an audience saw what the priests saw. It’s the only way I can get through an incredible and ridiculous scene.
It was difficult to finish Legion and know I’ll never read an original tale featuring Lt. Bill Kinderman again. I grew to love that character.
Rest in peace, William Peter Blatty.