Book Review: The Case Against Satan
BOOK REVIEW: THE CASE AGAINST SATAN
The horror market has been saturated with tales of the demonic for years. Favourites such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose to name a few. When William Peter Blattey released The Exorcist in 1971, it would change the tide of how people view evil, the devil, and possession. I had always believed this novel to be one of the earliest in horror literature that touches upon these specific subjects, but when I recently saw that another book – The Case Against Satan – was being reissued and re-released, I looked into the title and realised this tale goes further back than the devilish account presented by Blattey – and it strikes a very familiar chord.
The Case Against Satan was published in 1962, a good nine years before The Exorcist hit our shelves. It is a story centred around a teenage girl called Susan Garth, who is experiencing what the local priest describes as diabolical possession. She experiences seizures, is unable to enter churches and has violent outbursts that seem at odds with the sweet, charming person she used to be. Turning to the church for help – after rejecting psychiatry – Susan’s father allows her daughter to undergo an exorcism – at dramatic results.
I do not want to give anything away. If you have not read this title, I have not written anything about this story that will spoil the narrative that unfolds.
One cannot read this story without making the comparison to legendary The Exorcist. Whether this is fair is an issue in itself, but I did feel surprised when I read The Case Against Satan at some of the very strong similarities that emerged. The two priests in spiritual battle, the behaviour of the girl, some of the descriptions of the actual exorcisms. If William Peter Blattey read this novel, I think it’s fair to say it had an impact on him, or his approach to the subject. This is not to detract from the brilliance of The Exorcist – which remains one of my all-time favourite novels – but I did find it interesting to read an earlier account of fictional possession that lends itself to Blattey’s approach
The comparisons aside, The Case Against Satan is a very good book – one worthy of sitting in most horror novel collections. It isn’t particularly fast-paced or over-dramatic, indeed some chapters are very still and subtle, but the story as a whole is very creepy, unsettling and gripping. The novel doesn’t just leave itself with scene after scene of frightening exorcism ritual description, but explores some extremely deep subjects – such as the nature of theology, evil and existence, and some uncomfortable touches upon the issue of abuse.
I enjoyed Ray Russell’s novel very much, and considering it was released before the days of demonic possession in mainstream media, I’d say it is iconic and very significant.
If you like dark, creepy reads, I recommend this title highly.
I rate Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan 5/5.