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Original ‘Exorcist’ Novel Gets Revised For Its 40th Anniversary

The Exorcist (1973)

William Peter Blatty recently brought a revised and expanded version of his blockbuster horror novel The Exorcist back to stores in celebration of the 40th anniversary since his spectacularly chilling story took the world by storm and became the basis of a classic film that to this day remains one of the scariest movies ever made. HarperCollins released The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition in hardcover and eBook on October 4, 2011.

Continue reading for information on the updates in this new edition, as well as a lengthy note released by author.

The haunting tale of a young girl becoming possessed by demonic forces that threaten to consume her soul until help arrives in the form of two priests prepared to go to Hell and back to save her spent 57 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, including 17 consecutively at Number One. For this new edition of The Exorcist, Blatty has gone back to his original manuscript and made a few revisions to parts of the story he was never satisfied with. Blatty didn’t make major changes to the narrative, but he is adding in a scene with the new character of a Jesuit psychiatrist that is said to be quite unsettling.

The reasons Blatty gives for doing this updated edition were that due to dwindling funds and a mounting workload, including adapting a Calder Willingham book into a film project for Paul Newman, he was forced to let the novel go to press without ever being able to fine tune the final draft. “For most of these past forty years I have rued not having done a thorough second draft and careful polish of the dialogue and prose,” the author said in his official statement, the rest of which is included in full below. “But now, like an answer to a prayer, this fortieth anniversary edition has given me not only the opportunity to do that second draft, but to do it at a time in my life — I am 83 — when it might not be totally unreasonable to hope that my abilities, such as they are, have at least somewhat improved, and for all of this I say, Deo gratias!”

As much as I love the film version of The Exorcist I have no particular love for the original novel, but I am well aware of Blatty’s obsession with consistently retooling his works both literary and cinematic. His vocal dissatisfaction with the ending of the Exorcist movie was one of the reasons (the main reason naturally being the studio’s unending pursuit of the almighty dollar) Warner Bros. released the “Version You Have Never Seen” of the film back in the fall of 2000. Plus Blatty had made multiple edits to his 1980 directorial debut The Ninth Configuration, one of my absolute favorite films of all time (based on his own novel Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane, which the author considers the true sequel to The Exorcist), until his final cut was released on DVD in 2002.

Blatty’s desire to improve upon his works in understandable given that in most cases the final product was usually the result of the writer having to adhere to a punishing schedule or seeing his films be underfunded, plagued with severe production difficulties, or in the case of of his 1990 film The Exorcist III (which was originally titled Legion, based on another of his novels, and was not intended to be an Exorcist sequel) being recut and reshot by thick-skulled studio executives. It will certainly be interesting to see Blatty finally get a chance to finish his best-known literary work the way he intended.

A Note from the Author

“In January 1968, I rented a cabin in Lake Tahoe to start writing a novel about demonic possession that I’d been thinking about for many years. I”˜d been driven to it, actually: I was a writer of comic novels and farcical screenplays such as A Shot in the Dark with almost all of my income derived from films; but because the season for “funny” had abruptly turned dry and no studio would hire me for anything non-comedic, I had reached James Thurber’s stage of desperation when, as he wrote in a “Preface to His Life,” comedy writers sometimes take to “calling their home from their office, or their office from their home, asking for themselves, and then hanging up in hard-breathing relief upon being told they “weren’t in.'” My breaking point came, I suppose, when at the Van Nuys, California, unemployment office I spotted my movie agent in a line three down from mine. And so the cabin in Tahoe where I was destined to become the caretaker in Stephen King’s terrifying The Shining, typing my version of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” hour after hour, day after day, for over six weeks as I kept changing the date in my opening paragraph from “April 1″ to April something else, because each time I would read the page aloud, the rhythm of the lines seemed to change, a maddening cycle of emptiness and insecurity –- magnified, I suppose, by the fact that I had no clear plot for the novel in mind — that continued until I at last gave up the cabin and hoped for better luck back “home,” a clapboard raccoon-surrounded guest house in the hills of Encino owned by a former Hungarian opera star who had purchased the property from the luminous film actress, Angela Lansbury, and where I finally overcame the block by realizing that I was starting the novel in the wrong place, namely the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., as opposed to northern Iraq. Almost a year later I completed a first draft of the novel. At the request of my editors at Harper and Row, I did make two quick changes: cleaning up Chris MacNeil’s potty mouth, and making the ending “less obvious.” But because of a dire financial circumstance, I had not another day to devote to the manuscript, so that when I received a life-saving offer to adapt Calder Willingham’s novel Providence Island for the screen for Paul Newman’s film company, I instantly accepted and left my novel to find its fate. For most of these past forty years I have rued not having done a thorough second draft and careful polish of the dialogue and prose. But now, like an answer to a prayer, this fortieth anniversary of the novel has given me not only the opportunity to do another draft, but to do it at a time in my life””I will be 84 this coming January””when it might not be totally unreasonable to hope that my abilities, such as they are, have at least somewhat improved, and for all of this I say, Deo gratias!

— William Peter Blatty

Book Cover Art

The Exorcist book cover

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