Some flaws in Blatty’s novel, “Legion”

William Peter Blatty wrote a sequel to his smash hit, The Exorcist. Titled Legion, it is the story of supernatural revenge wrought through a “scandal” engineered by the demon of the first novel.

As Fr. Damien Karras is dying at the bottom  of the steps – after inviting the demon to “come into me” and taking it out the window with him – the angry expelled demon slips the spirit of the dead Gemini Killer into Karras’ dying body. Karras himself goes on to his Heavenly reward, leaving a temporarily empty shell. But the demon soon fills the corpse with the Gemini Killer’s spirit, and arranges for the Gemini to continue his life of serial murders via the body of the saintly Karras.

Unlike the film version, in the Legion novel, Karras is truly gone and does not appear as a character at all. Rather, his corpse is being manipulated by the Gemini, who in turn is being supported, behind the scene, by the demon. Blatty brings back as protagonist police detective William F. Kinderman from the first novel, who must get to the bottom of a new series of murders in Georgetown, and who ultimately, and to his horror, identifies the killer as the Gemini’s spirit, now residing in Karras’ resuscitated corpse. During the process, Kinderman meets Dr. Vincent Amfortas, the novel’s “Karras figure” – a deep but tortured soul; and Amfortas’ nemesis at the clinic, the brilliant but petty and spiteful Dr. Temple.

Although I love this novel, nonetheless I feel that it suffers from seeming to have been written in a hurry, containing jagged edges, irrelevant and baffling material, and leaving important questions unanswered. Some of my criticisms follow:

1. Kinderman’s seemingly endless speculations on the (supposed) high probability of Intelligent Design are never really answered or addressed. It is if Blatty wishes to convince the reader that some version of ID is a foregone conclusion, as worked out in the “steel trap” mind of the elderly Jewish detective. For me, it doesn’t work, mainly because Blatty doesn’t give Kinderman sufficient knowledge about what real science really says about natural selection and its relationship to evolution and “deep time”. That is, we only get Kinderman’s naive, scientifically inadequate views, but never the other side. We watch Kinderman convincing himself of ID without having him seriously invoke alternatives, thus preaching to his own choir and giving himself relatively easy answers. This uncritical attitude is far from the sharp thinking of the Kinderman we met in The Exorcist.

2. Was the nasty Dr. Temple really having an affair with Dr. Amfortas’ one true love? If so, this unpleasant little interlude has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the narrative; it doesn’t advance the story; and it only leaves a baffling sense of distaste in the reader’s mind. It doesn’t clarify Temple’s character, and only serves to torment Amfortas, who is already tormented beyond the capacity to endure.

3. What is the purpose, at the very end of the story, of having Kinderman indict Temple of feeding “Patient X”/”Tommy Sunshine” (the Gemini Killer residing in Karras’ body) bits of historical data about the Gemini Killer? The entire point of the novel is that the Gemini Killer is indeed, is in fact, in possession of Damien Karras’ resuscitated corpse. But if Temple was educating Patient X about the Genimi, this weakens the case that Patient X was really harboring the Gemin’s tortured spirit – i.e., he could really have been an innocent with a blank mind which Temple filled with otherwise secret Gemini-data, convincing this innocent that he was really the Gemini. Of course, the actual presence of Karras’ resuscitated body – because of its clear supernatural implications – mitigates against this idea, but the idea is still an unnecessary complication.

This puts an entirely ill-conceived, unnecessary – and show-stopping – doubt into a narrative – and into the reader’s mind – which otherwise points directly toward the Gemini Killer’s reality, the one factor on which the story depends. I simply cannot understand why Blatty threw in this red herring at all, much less threw it into the story’s climax – which, without this element, would have been totally cohesive and coherent in establishing the real presence of the real Gemini as explanatory of the mystery at the narrative’s heart.

4. What becomes of the question of justice – human and divine – when Blatty simply lets the Gemini off the moral hook? By this I mean:

At the end, the Gemini, reconciled to the spirit of his dead twin brother, and depotentiated by the death of his father against whom his crime spree was directed, simply dies passively and gently, implicitly taken, along with his near-angelic brother, to an apparently joyous afterlife … all without having to answer for the murders of Alex Kintry, two priests, nurses, hospital patients, etc.

In his historical life, the Gemini was clearly culpable for committing multiple murders. At his death, he briefly “went to Hell” – but only to be “rescued” by the vengeful demon of The Exorcist – who then sent him back, in Karras’ body, to continue his life of crime. Thus, the Gemini got off “Scot-free” for his mortal crimes, and for posthumous crimes committed via his manipulation of Karras’ body. It’s as if, in some kind of rush not only to pull all the disparate elements together, and to provide a happy ending, Blatty completely overlooked the dark questions of basic morality as applied to the fate of the Gemini Killer – an enthusiastic and unrepentant murderer.

There are other flaws in the Legion novel, but these suffice to illustrate the difference between this story and Blatty’s earlier The Exorcist. If only Blatty had applied the same discipline to Legion that he applied to The Exorcist. A better, more frightening, and more satisfying book would almost certainly have resulted.


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