Panther Books – 1977
This is a book that is as much about human nature as it is about demonic possession. Huxley isn’t just giving an account of the weird and depressing shit that happened in Loudun; he’s also trying to give a psychological/sociological explanation of its causes. This is not a ‘spooky’ book, but it is genuinely frightening. I find it absolutely terrifying to think about how incredibly stupid and unfair people have been to each other. I also think that it would be completely naive to presume that humans, as a species, are beyond making the kind of mistakes that are made by the characters in this book.
The historical narrative reads like a novel, but it never seems dubious or sensational. As far as I can remember, there’s never any suggestion that Huxley believes that anyone was actually possessed or involved in sorcery. There is however, a horrendously tense atmosphere created by the inevitability of Grandier’s execution. This book evoked the same feelings of claustrophobia and confusion that I felt whilst reading The Crucible by Arthur Miller.
In honesty though, some passages are rather boring: Things get quite dull towards the end of the third chapter, and the chapter about Surin is an absolute chore to read.
Overall, this is definitely more intellectual and insightful than most historical accounts of events involving demonic possession. Huxley manages to squeeze his insight into the text without detracting too much from the storytelling. This book is definitely worth a read. 7/10.
The 1971 film ‘The Devils‘ is based on this book, and it’s worth a watch. Oliver Reed is great in it.