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The Demonologist is an entertaining and well-written novel that almost immediately becomes a suspenseful page-turner. As an Anglican Priest and English Major who loves Milton and Paradise Lost, this was right up my alley. I was engaged and intrigued throughout the story and eager to reach the climactic conclusion to see how it all gets sorted out. I was not disappointed in the entertainment value of the novel; however, the integrity and thoroughness of the development and “worldview” of the story is sophomorically contradictory.

I was enthused by how Pyper weaves lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost through the fabric of the novel. Various characters speak the lines and Pyper uses them to advance the narrative. The main character, English Professor David Ullman, is an expert on Paradise Lost and other religious writings including the Bible; although, he is not a believer in the supernatural. He sees the Bible and various religious stories as mythology–ways of identifying archetypal elements of humanity and nothing more….until he comes face to face with the reality of demons.

Many novels since the DaVinci Code have been compared to it in attempts to gain readers. The Demonologist is one novel that is on par in more ways than one with Dan Brown’s hit. Similarities include the page-turning suspense, quick pace, mysterious codes and the religious angle. Unfortunately, the books also share the elements of religious and historical contradiction and nonsensical conclusions.

In this book, Pyper incorporates demons as major characters and forces; however, there is no clear understanding conveyed regarding the roles and places of demons in the universe. Additionally, we have a one-sided supernatural realm, and this is where Pyper most misses out on developing a substantive novel. His character, Columbia University Professor David Ullman, comes to believe in the existence of demons of the Biblical variety and as revealed in Paradise Lost. Ullman is chased by demons, and his daughter is apparently killed by demon possession. However, Ullman never broaches what I think is a clear, logical next step…faith in God and discovering the other supernatural reality: Jesus Christ and the heavenly host of angels. Few references are made to Jesus, and he seems to be shrugged off as just an historical religious figure in a potpourri of “god” options.

Pyper demonstrates an unwillingness in the book to explore at all the kingdom of Light and Jesus Christ. Upon reflection, this makes the whole story seem disingenuous to me. Pyper avoids heavenly angels or having his characters consider praying to God or exploring how Jesus might help them in overcoming the enemy. I would expect that an expert on the Bible who loses his daughter to a demon–thus proving Satan’s existence–might be inclined to consider all of those Scriptures revealing Jesus’ victory over said demons. The only intimation of thoughts of God is when he enters a Roman Catholic Church to sit and is shooed away by a demon personifying a priest.

One does not just freely move away from a demon, as the character David Ullman escapes from the demon Belial in the book’s conclusion. One must move to something, and that something must be greater than the demon, and it must exert grace and power greater than the enticement and bondage of demons. That power is absent in this book; a semblance of its virtues (love, truth, etc) exist without a source…without a Savior, and the excuses are inadequate.

Additionally, it would seem that a Milton expert might also reference Milton’s Paradise Regained, as he references verses from Paradise Lost apparently sympathetic to or revelatory of Satan. So much more of Milton’s treatment of Satan and Jesus could have been explored in the book. Paradise Lost is only half the story.

Like so many popular novels and movies that incorporate Satan and demons, this book leaves off prior to taking the courageous and realistic step of incorporating Jesus and heavenly angels. Any Biblical scholar who has come to believe in Satan would surely look to Jesus who saw Satan “fall like lightning from heaven,” and has given his disciples “power to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy.” But in this case, the character refuses to acknowledge the other side of the supernatural equation. Characters going to heaven or hell and being captured or escaping seem to be arbitrarily determined according to the narrator’s whim, as though this hasn’t been thought out in very much depth.

Another major contradiction of this book, and unfortunately another element in common with Dan Brown, is the role of the Roman Catholic Church. A major character in the book is an assassin, “The Pursuer,” sent to kill the main character to prevent evidence of demon possession being pubicized…as if the Roman Catholic Church would kill to hide something it believes is true. This contradicts actual Roman Catholic practice of exorcism (read The Rite The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist), and of course, a hitman sent by the church — C’mon man!

I think Pyper proves himself an excellent writer, and this is an entertaining novel. When you open a door into the spiritual realm, though, you find the main player is not Satan, it is Jesus Christ. Without exploring that element, this book misses the mark.

To read more about Milton’s character of Satan in Paradise Lost and the Biblical portrayal of Satan, read a paper on C.S Lewis’ view of Satan and Paradise Lost here.

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