So my current book project involves addressing The Conjuring universe. A few weeks back I posted on The Nun, the newest member of that diegesis and one with no claim to be based on real events. Nevertheless, the film circles back at the end to “Frenchy” and his exorcism shown in the original movie. One of the frustrating aspects of Ed and Lorraine Warren ’s oeuvre is that documented sources are difficult to locate. When I found out Satan’s Harvest (by Michael Lasalandra and Mark Merenda, with Maurice and Nancy Theriault) was the “true story” behind Frenchy Theriault’s possession, well, let’s just say working on a book is a good excuse. Overly dramatized, and somewhat padded, this account may be the closest we can come to this particular demonic encounter.
I don’t pretend to be certain about many things, so I reserve judgment about what actually might’ve happened to Maurice Theriault. Unlike portrayed in The Nun’s storyline, he never lived in Romania. He was physically abused by his father and was made to participate in unwanted sexual acts. His was not an easy life. Still, when Lasalandra and Merenda try to explain the origin of possession they go back to the same source as the original movie—Salem. Credulously claiming that the Devil was behind what happened in 1692, they believe that demonic possession accounted for that unfortunate miscarriage of justice. It’s difficult to say if they considered that such speculation implies that the innocents killed there were actually witches. (They state that the Devil asks people to sign his book.)
Herein lies part of the problem with academics and the supernatural. Sensationalized claims don’t help since academics are all about being taken seriously. At the same time it’s clear that conventional explanations don’t always fit. Neither credulousness nor extreme skepticism will lead to solving such mysteries. This is why we need the monstrous. That which falls outside the parameters of what quotidian experience leads us to expect. Science can make everything fit only by leveling off the exceptional. Academics won’t risk exploration of the anomalous. This leaves the curious few means of finding out what happened beyond simple dismissal or overly gullible popularizing accounts. Satan’s Harvest contains information that calls out for explanation. Perhaps a hoax was involved, but that doesn’t add up when all the evidence is in. Beyond that, we’re left to guess. And some things it feels better to be sure about.