A Note on the Passing of William Peter Blatty


Every writer has an author who inspired them at a young age. For me, that person was William Peter Blatty. I’m not prolific by any means. I’ve written one book, have about a dozen manuscripts I started but never finished over the years, and a few more ideas I would like to see published at some point in my life before I kick the bucket. I always loved writing, but I never wanted to sit down and write a work of fiction until I read The Exorcist when I was 17 and a senior in high school.

Something happened to me when I read that book, and I am not talking about being terrified by the material which eventually became the scariest movie ever made. It was his style of writing. The ability to tackle such a dark subject and inject it with enough humor to spark laughs, and intricately placed scientific and theological research. It made your head spin, but in a good way. It was relentless in its terror, metaphysical, and done with such an intelligence. I am certainly not alone when I call The Exorcist a masterpiece. But he did not just write one of those, he wrote three.

Shortly after, I read Legion and then The Ninth Configuration (Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane). They too became films not just where the screenplay was written by Blatty, but that he produced and directed himself. Not many novelists have had the opportunity to do it, much less do it twice and with such success. Along the way, he earned an Academy Award and two Golden Globes.

Blatty with his Oscar in 1973 for best screenplay ("The Exorcist").
Blatty with his Oscar in 1973 for best screenplay (“The Exorcist”).

As for his influence on me, after I read this trio, I was inspired to write fiction of my own. It was a demonic possession-based horror story, and I too tried to lace it with as much humor as possible. I would write a chapter every afternoon when I got home and bring it to school the next day so my two friends who had a computer class with me could read it. They loved it. They convinced me to publish it. More people ended up reading it, but what was I to do as a 17-year-old? I had no idea about publishing or any of that.

Over the years as I went to college and developed my writing, I worked on this book in small doses, before finally, my computer crashed. Even my good friend, a computer whiz could not recover the file. This is before flash drives were a big thing, and it never occurred to me to have it backed up. Only a chapter or two survive, as I started to rewrite it on a different computer. This was three years ago, and I have since moved on. But the story I wrote stays with me. The characters I created, the settings. I can still see it. Too bad no one else will.

I have to laugh, though. As I look back on what 17-year-old me wrote, so much of it was probably unintentionally ripped from Blatty’s ideas. The stories were not similar, just the themes, and those themes were created by Blatty. He literally wrote the book on the demonic/exorcism sub-genre of horror. That’s why no film or story has since come close, because he did it all.

In October, my passion for his work was rekindled with the release of his director’s cut version of The Exorcist III and Legion. I wrote about it extensively on this blog. I was thrilled that at age 89 he finally got to see his ultimate vision put out there. It was his last hurrah. I listened to the commentary on the film. Even at that age, he spoke with a charm, steadfastness, and wit that never dwindled from his younger days. He was at a slower pace, but he didn’t lose anything. He could still relate many comical occurrences from the productions of his films. Still, I had a gut feeling the end was near. I can’t explain it. I never had a premonition before. I wouldn’t call this one either, but on an afternoon less than two weeks ago as I sat down to watch my new Blu-Ray of The Ninth Configuration, my stomach became upset. The thought trickled into my mind that Blatty would not be here for much longer. He was 89, so it’s not exactly a divine, shocking revelation, but I felt it. A few days later, he was dead. My best friend and fellow paranormal investigator/enthusiast for all things Blatty like myself broke the news via text message. I actually was devastated.

2016 was an awful year for celebrity deaths. It’s amazing how these people we do not know can affect our lives. Blatty’s death in now-2017 saddened me. It wasn’t one of those, “Oh, that’s a shame” and move on with my life five minutes later, but actual sadness. The whole day I kind of moped around. I watched a bunch of his interviews online while reading fan tributes. If you are a Star Wars fanatic, then you probably felt the same way for Carrie Fisher recently.

I felt like I knew him, though I never had the pleasure. In interviews and his own writing, he gave us so much insight into his life. I could not agree with him on everything especially in regards to religion, but his faith drove his writing. It created the characters we all loved. The battle for good and evil that no matter how ugly it got, good would triumph in the end. That we should still believe in miracles. You did not have to be religious to enjoy such content.

And so I say goodbye to Mr. Blatty with this humble blog post. We knew the day would come eventually, but that did not make it any easier to digest. Thank you for giving the world your work. Thank you for showing us the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for your creativity and wit. Thank you for inspiring me to become a writer.

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