On Gerald Brittle’s “The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren”

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s nothing like a “Based on a true story” message at the start of a movie that drives a horror fan to Wikipedia afterwards. I’m guessing that I can’t be the only one who came to this book after watching James Wan’s The Conjuring, and the truth is that I picked up the book to be entertained — more specifically, to be scared. (Ed Warren may argue that this makes me a more inviting candidate for demon visitation, or a more innocent spirit manifestation, but at least I have better weapons now.) The Demonologist is touted as a reference book for exorcists-in-training, and you can’t get more authoritative than that — provided, of course, you give credence to the preternatural in the first place.

So is it scary? Oh, it is — but only if you’re a believer. And by “believer” I don’t necessarily mean a devout and practicing Catholic like Ed Warren, I mean anyone who concedes even the slight possibility of people lingering on — whether as spirits or as mere energy — after death. If you believe this, then from there it’s a slippery slope — at least if you allow yourself to be seduced by the Warrens’ lucid explanation — to accepting the existence of malevolent entities. But it sure helps if you’re a Catholic, and I guarantee you, you’ll be good and scared.

As a book though — and not just in terms of the stories being told — The Demonologist is a mixed bag. The chapters are divided somewhat arbitrarily, sometimes by case, sometimes by theme, and it’s confusing. Structurally, it’s repetitive, as the same practical advice gets duplicated towards the end. Stylistically, The Demonologist is a bit of a mess, as it’s written as a series of interview transcripts by Gerald Brittle, who isn’t the most critical raconteur. Some of the cases would have been more effective in the telling had they been fully narrated in the first person by Ed Warren. (Note that Lorraine Warren, clairvoyant and Ed’s wife, is as much a part of the interviews, but there’s only one demonologist in the title.)

At certain points one wishes Brittle — and indeed, there’s not much of him in the book, which is why The Demonologist reads more like dictation — would interject with questions of his own. Ed Warren would interpret, with seeming authority, a demon’s utterances — and then turn around a page later and remind the interviewer that “demons are master liars” and that nothing they say — ostensibly the basis for Warren’s pronouncements — should be trusted. Or Warren would expound at length on the demonic realm, for instance, then glibly provide the caveat “I’m a practicing demonologist, not a theologian.”

What makes The Demonologist particularly interesting is how it stands as a kind of template / blueprint for just about every haunted house / demon possession cultural artifact in the past few decades — far more so, I would argue, than William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. (I mentioned something similar in my blog entry on The Conjuring; it’s no different from previous movies, but that’s because of the source material.) Every film staple you’ve seen — doorknobs that won’t turn, people that levitate, furniture that moves, mysterious knocks on the walls, footsteps in the middle of the night — they’re all enumerated here as evidence of an “inhuman presence.” Even waking up the same time in the middle of the night (I felt the proverbial shiver down my spine just now, re-reading the passage below):

Most notably, the individual in an infested environment will have an unshakeable feeling of another presence in the house. This sense of presence will develop to a point where the individual… may begin waking up at fixed times of the night, or at precisely three o’clock in the morning.

And yes, I woke up at three in the morning for two successive nights after reading this book.

4 replies on “On Gerald Brittle’s “The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren””

Dec 22, 2013
Dear Benito – Where did you get the idea that Ed and Lorraine Warren were devout Catholics? All major faiths forbid communicating with spirits and channeling them out out of the question. Lorraine did this, and was supported in this by Ed Warren for decades. In fact it helped make her a good investigator. Suggest you soften that approach.

Dear Yolande — you’re right, they don’t actually use the words “devout” or “practicing” in the book, although both Ed and Lorraine mention at least a couple of times that they go to Mass to prepare for an exorcism.

I think you need to read the book again.
I heard the author speak a few years ago and he explained the book’s internal structure. He said, in terms of language, he used the beginning of the book to introduce and define terms that would follow in the later pages. He then said, in terms of structure, that demonological activity occurred in a known progression (infestation, oppression, possession, etc) and the internals of the book followed that progression, with each stage defined, and then illustrated with an appropriate case. There was nothing at all haphazard about the book’s progression, while he further made it clear the book was written according to the publisher’s layout instructions, not his own. Interestingly, he said, about 20% of the book was cut out by the publisher’s legal dept because the church insisted “it told too much.”

Dear Yolanda, the biblical John and Corinthians speak about discernment of testing which spirit to trust and those not to trust.

1 John 4:1-21 –
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

1 Corinthians 14:1-40
etc etc

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