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The Omen

Novel by David Seltzer 1976.

First in a series completed by other authors - two novelisations: Damien - Omen II by Joseph Howard, and The Final Conflict - Omen III by Gordon McGill; and then two original novels: Armageddon 2000 - Omen IV and The Abomination - Omen V, again both by Gordon McGill.

Robert Thorn (Jeremy Thorn in the original edition, but as the film renamed him Robert, later editions of the book and its sequels also adopted the new name) is an important American politician whose pregnant wife has endured two miscarriages: if she loses another child, it would mentally destroy her. When Thorn arrives at the hospital, a priest delivers the crushing blow (excuse the pun) that his child is dead. Seemingly with a stroke of luck, though, another mother has just died in labour, giving birth to a son. The priest tells him that God works in mysterious ways and urges him to take the boy as his own. Thinking of his wife, Thorn accepts, and Damien becomes their son. However, as the child grows, it becomes clear that something is wrong; Damien seems mortally afraid of entering a church, animals react to his presence and an oddball priest is following Thorn trying to tell him that his son is the Anti-Christ.

One of the numerous big-selling and influential religious horror novels that followed in the wake of Rosemary's Baby which included such books as The Exorcist and The Sentinel. A measure of influence: while the film version of The Exorcist grossed $89m at the box office and The Omen only $28m, the latter's impact on popular culture has been such that even to many people unacquainted with the horror genre, the name alone conjures up images of quiet evil: remember the jokes spawned in Only Fools and Horses when Del Boy decides to call his son Damien. Like the three other classics above, The Omen has spawned copies, sequels and pastiches ad nauseam until the very concept of the story became a clich�. This is unfortunate for new readers, because they are more likely to cringe at what seem to be clich�s than feel some of the originality that the book had when it was written.

But having said that, The Omen still stands up today as a powerful tale of the perennial battle between good and evil; and as Seltzer so astutely points out in the text, "... there was not an audience in the world that failed to be impressed with quotations from the Scriptures": after all it's how the Jehovah's Witnesses manage to do business. Religion is a subject that many people pretend to know a lot about, whereas only a few know much at all; and subsequently the detail that Seltzer goes into here rings very true. Most horror fans will already have read this book; if not they certainly ought to, because it is one of the bona fide standards of the genre, and a pretty good read to boot.

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