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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 demon Pazuzu and subsequently experiences other unusual phenomena. He had previously faced the demon many years ago during an exorcism in Africa. The find sparks a premonition that he will battle the demon 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 demon 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 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, but each presents a different version of the events and neither agrees with the events as presented in Exorcist II. It should be noted that Exorcist II is not considered canon, so what happened in Africa was most likely a combination of Dominion and The Beginning. He is played in both films by Stellan Skarsgård.