Legion (Not the TV Show)

Legion (Exorcist, #3)Legion by William Peter Blatty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the twelve years that passed between THE EXORCIST and LEGION, its sequel, author William Peter Blatty honed his writing skills. For the most part, I found LEGION to be a much better written novel than THE EXORCIST, at least on the prose level. When it comes to focus, however, I found Blatty’s writing here as frustrating as ever. Whole scenes and conversations amount to nothing and go nowhere. The entirety of the story is crammed into the first few chapters and the last few chapters, with the middle chapters containing little more than filler, especially the multiple chapters that follow Dr. Amfortas, a character who ultimately winds up not doing much at all. If Amfortas were removed from the novel, nothing would change but the word count.

Lieutenant Kinderman is presented somewhat better here than he was in THE EXORCIST, but his dialogue still comes off like someone doing a bad impression of a nebbishy Jewish person. The dialogue of his mother-in-law, whom we meet in Kinderman’s home life, is even worse. The mystery at the heart of the novel is good, and the supernatural elements are chilling, and they alone are what save LEGION from being utterly forgettable. I’m a big fan of the film adaptation — released as THE EXORCIST III: LEGION and starring the great George C. Scott as Kinderman — but the end of the novel is both different from and, unexpectedly, worse than the movie’s. The film’s producers famously demanded that an exorcism be added to the climax, since the word “exorcist” was in the title and they thought that was what the audience wanted to see. I always thought it was a mistake and wondered what the real ending was. Well, now I know. In the novel, the killer’s motivation, which involves a character we meet only once in a complete throw-away of a chapter, is resolved off-page when we’re told that character died from a stroke, and so the killer just stops killing and — literally — lies down and dies. The end.

There’s a theological philosophy couched in the novel that’s interesting, something about who is really watching over the world since it clearly isn’t God, and I wish more time had been spent exploring it. I also wish it had tied in a little better with the plot. But then, I kind of wish everything had tied in a little better with the plot. Ultimately, LEGION is a messy novel with a few good scenes and a couple of good chills, but not a novel I would recommend to anyone but Blatty completists or fans of Lt. Kinderman who want to see where his adventures take him after THE EXORCIST. For everyone else, rent the movie instead, bad exorcism scene and all.

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