One of the perils of writing books is that you often realize something after the book has gone to the printer. Book production is a lengthy process. I submitted the manuscript for Nightmares with the Bible in January. The procedure of getting it ready has stretched eleven months. In that time, as any writer knows, you keep thinking about what you wrote. That’s where blogging comes in handy. In any case, as I was pondering demons the other day I realized that they really only became the objects of horror with The Exorcist. Now I’m not alone in noting the importance of The Exorcist in kicking off the modern interest in demons. But what I’m now thinking is that in making them the subject of a horror film—intended to be realistic—The Exorcist made demons monstrous. Let me explain.
Demons have generally, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, been evil. They cause suffering and misfortune. They also, however, have a mischievous nature. In other words, they can be playful. So can grizzly bear cubs, did I hear you say? That’s precisely my point. Grizzly bears aren’t evil. Powerful, yes. Dangerous, certainly. Evil, no. One of the threads I take up but don’t spend too much time weaving into my book is the idea of the playful demon, or sometimes, the playful Devil. In the Middle Ages such ideas weren’t rare. Think about imps. Do people really fear them? Not so much. And the often scatological behavior of demons in that time period made them a little less than serious.
I’m not suggesting that possession and exorcism are to be taken lightly. I know they existed before William Peter Blatty ever decided to write a novel about them. It was that novel, however, and the subsequent film, that made demons into monsters. They joined the unholy pantheon of creatures like vampires, ghosts, and zombies. They had the added frisson of being accepted as real by many religious traditions. They continued to evolve in popular culture until they proliferated around the cinematic and television worlds. Now we pretty much instantly recognize demons as monsters when we spot them. I suspect they would not have been seen in a similar way in the Middle Ages. Troublesome and evil they could be, but would they have been thought of in that mental category that we call monsters? I have my doubts. Perhaps it is good I didn’t think of this before sending my book off. I doubt the publisher would’ve been happy if I’d added an extra chapter at the last minute.