Part of what makes James Wan’s horror movies like The Conjuring and Annabelle so terrifying is that they are inspired by the events that Ed and Lorraine Warren, world-renowned demonologists, experienced. Although The Nun is terrifying, when scholars and historians tried to find the truth about whether the film was inspired by actual events like the others, they found very little. So, what is the truth about The Nun and the demon, Valak, that inspired it?
The character The Nun first appears in 2016’s The Conjuring 2 before getting its own horrifying feature-length film explaining its origins in 2018. In her first appearance, the Nun is revealed to be the demon Valak, who is threatening Lorraine’s faith and the love of her life, showing her horrifying visions of what will happen to Ed if the Warrens continue the path that they are on.
“When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past (Demián Bichir as Father Burke) and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows (Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene) are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorised audiences in The Conjuring 2 as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.”
As fans will know, the movie wasn’t directed by James Wan, as many of the others mentioned were, but he was a principal writer for the film.
Who is Valak?
So where does it all connect? What does the demon who appears as a nun, who is revealed to be the demon Valak, the “Marquis of Snakes”, have to do with Ed and Lorraine Warren? We must dive into what history and mythology say about Valak to understand that.
In both The Conjuring 2 and The Nun, the demonic entity known as Valak takes the form of a nun to pervert the Christian religion and mock religious institutions. Researching this kind of thing is more challenging than typing the name Valak into Google and seeing what Wikipedia says about it. Still, luckily for us, HistoryvsHollywood did a lot of the heavy lifting.
As it turns out, one of the few times that a demon named Valak gets mentioned in mythology is in a book called The Lesser Key of Solomon which is considered a mid-17th century goetic grimoire, which basically means that it’s a book that explains how to perform black magic and necromantic rituals. The version available at the moment was co-written by Aleister Crowley, an English occultist known for being involved in demonic worship.
The only problem is that the demon known as Valak wasn’t known to appear as a nun or even as a female. The demon was known to appear as a sweet-looking young boy with wings and horns, often depicted riding a two-headed dragon.
In conclusion, Valak never appears as a nun in mythology and grimoires, which means that the connection of appearing as a nun was something that James Wan came up with. The name and the title of the “Marquis of Snakes” are just about the only thing that the two share.
Is There A True Story Behind The Nun?
So now that we know that The Nun has no real connection with the demon Valak besides their name, what is the truth? Is The Nun based on a true story? To be frank, the short answer is no. The character isn’t based on a real demon, and the story of The Nun is based on fiction rather than fact.
Unlike many of the horror movies that James Wan has created that feature the Warrens, The Nun was more based on another fictional work you might recognise once the plot is explained. In The Name of the Rose, the 1986 film starring Sean Connery, a similar story happens to the one we see in The Nun.
In The Name of the Rose, a friar and his apprentice travel to a Benedictine abbey in Northern Italy on behalf of higher authorities, investigating the mysterious death of one of the famous monks who is known to be cloistered away there at the monastery. Sound familiar?
Anyone who has had contact with the monk seems to find a similar fate to the monk. Those at the monastery start to fear that the devil is behind the murders and that he is somehow manifesting within the monastery’s walls.
Spoiler for The Name of the Rose: It turns out that the person behind the murders isn’t as supernatural as everyone first feared, and it turns out to be a very human threat. This is obviously where the inspirational piece and The Nun part ways, as the threat proves supernatural. James Wan once said that The Nun is The Name of the Rose crossed with The Conjuring to further prove the inspiration.
On the other side, there is also the appearance of the Nun in The Conjuring 2, so what was that about? This is where the no becomes a little wonky because the character’s appearance in The Conjuring 2 was inspired by a spectre that Lorraine Warren claimed haunted her. The story of the Warrens is one that many people have researched. Their exploits have been shared with the world through books and shows, and the two even kept a museum of occult items they had collected throughout their journeys.
Lorraine Warren had once described an entity that had haunted her as a “swirling tornado vortex with this hooded figure in there.” When James Wan was working on the concept for the film and heart that story, he dreaded including a spectre like that because of the amount of CGI that would have to go into creating a character like that.
During an interview for The Conjuring 2 with Gizmodo.com, James Wan explained that The Nun wasn’t even a part of the film until the team were doing the reshoots for The Conjuring 2. It took a while for the idea to come together. The only reason the demonic entity takes the form of a nun is to threaten Lorraine Warren’s faith and her family, and what better way to do that than perverting something holy? That’s why James Wan eventually settled on using a “very iconographic image of a holy icon”.
So a little bit of truth is hidden in a world of fantastical made-up lore about the Nun. All this is a testament to the film being so well-written and terrifying that it leaves people wondering if it was based on a true story.
Did you think that The Nun was based on a true story, or did you know the truth about the character?