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Father Lankester Merrin is a fictional character in the novel The Exorcist (1971), its film adaptation, The Exorcist (1973), and several sequel films.
Merrin, an elderly priest and paleontologist on an archeological dig in Iraq, finds images of the Devil, Pazuzu, and subsequently experiences other unusual phenomena. He had previously faced the Devil many years ago during an exorcism in Africa. The find sparks a premonition that he will battle the Devil again in a distant land. Merrin does not appear again until much later in the novel, when he joins the protagonist, Father Damien Karras, in Washington, D.C. to exorcise the Devil from the body of a young girl. Merrin, who has a heart condition for which he takes nitroglycerin, dies during the ritual, leaving the inexperienced Karras to complete the exorcism himself.
Merrin's depiction in the 1973 film The Exorcist is faithful to the novel. The character of Merrin reappears in the sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), in extended flashbacks detailing an exorcism he performed in Africa following the Second World War. He is portrayed in both films by the late Max von Sydow. The character was featured again in both prequel films, Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Both films revisit Merrin's experiences in Africa immediately prior to his first exorcism. He is played in both films by Stellan Skarsgård..