Growing up in rural poverty gave me few advantages, but one of them was when my mother decided to end the disaster she and her daughters were headed for and went back to college while I was in upper grade school. From then on she emphasized reading as much as possible, and would bring home books for me to read from astronomy to gothic cathedrals.
My mother also tended to let me read bestselling novels before I was a teenager. I’ve written before that I learned a bit too much by reading bestsellers so young, as ill language uttered by me clueless to its meaning left a couple of forgettable public moments. But overall, I learned more good than bad, and Mom often would review some of the books’ contents, especially if it were considered to be controversial.
Needless to say, my favorite book at the time was “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty. Years passed before I ever saw the film since I was much too young when it came out and no one that would take kids to films would take us to that one. To me, reading the book was like knowing a secret the other kids didn’t. I was too young to really absorb the dark messages of the novel, so I read aloud most of the icky vomit effects to my sister and whispered the disturbing religious parts that were “a bad thing.”
As adult, I now enjoy this horror film now considered a classic, not only for the disturbing religious story, but also for the message that screams through louder than all of the demons do at once while trapped in young Regan’s body. By the end of the film, I see the point is not about the girl, not about the demonic possession, but it’s about the young priest that had lost his faith. This point shines as the elder priest had the faith, but not the physical ability to battle the demons, but the younger priest had only himself, and found redemption in the end by giving himself to possession and saving the girl by destroying himself.
I think of stories like this as “step back” stories, because to get the message one has to look beyond the intensity to see the big picture the writer is giving us. Sometimes with so much emotional and dramatic detail, it’s easy to get lost, but when we see the message ring clear, it remains with us forever, as great stories do.