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January 30, 2010 1:08 PM   Subscribe

The devil rides out - How Dennis Wheatley sold black magic to Britain.
posted by Artw (23 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I loved the movie, and have been thinking about the book for awhile. Haven't picked it up yet, though.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:17 PM on January 30, 2010


criminal dwarf Lord Gavin Fortescue

If only I had read more Wheatley novels when I came to choose my Metafilter login.

(This is fantastic. I really should start buying FT again.)
posted by permafrost at 1:35 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Only a couple mentions of Crowley in passing?
posted by Balisong at 1:47 PM on January 30, 2010


Wow. A FPP link to Fortean Times. For some reason I'm nervous all of a sudden.
posted by Splunge at 2:13 PM on January 30, 2010


Ha. He's like Ayn Rand with an occult hairdo. This is great, thanks; I saw a bunch of Wheatley hardbacks a while ago and couldn't figure out why I'd never heard of him before, and never bothered to learn more until now. There's a fan site that adds a bit to the explanation for his lost popularity:

By the time of his death in 1977 it is estimated that Wheatley had sold in excess of fifty million copies of his books worldwide. It is interesting to note then, that twenty-five years after his death, his books have all but disappeared from bookshops...

There are a number of reasons for this. Wheatley's work is firmly fixed within the white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant imperialism of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. He makes no bones about proclaiming the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race above all others. There are various instances of sadism in his work, primarily directed at women (albeit not by the heroes). Satanism (the left hand path) equates in Wheatley's mind with socialism (the political left). As with many writers of this period, his leaning towards the extreme right of politics was seen as providing a bulwark against the encroachment of the extreme left into literature as typified by the publications of Victor Gollancz and the socialist intellectuals of ‘The Left Book Club’.

He praises both Mussolini and Franco and somewhat cringingly, refers to Hitler as ‘His Excellency’ in his pre-war book ‘Red Eagle’. In the Gregory Sallust war stories he makes Hermann Goring a largely sympathetic character. In Goring he saw an upper middle-class epicure and hero of the First World War with a strong sense of duty and nationhood, yet a man who could still share a dirty joke. These are the qualities that Wheatley possessed and admired in others.

Also, his work often slides into the medieval conceit of equating physical disability or disfigurement with evil; whether one-armed, hare-lipped, or cross-eyed, all could mark one out as a potential acolyte of the devil. Therefore, a percentage of Wheatley's writing is distasteful by modern standards and some of his tirades of breathtaking vulgarity against racial minorities, which would have been quite at home in the pages of ‘Der Sturmer’, render these passages unprintable today.


Then they add he never allied himself with fascists in Britain and loathed Mosley. What a strange guy.
posted by mediareport at 2:15 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the modern world, the occult has become open source.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:26 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


The anti-war subtext of The Devil Rides Out kinda passed me by as a kid. Interesting. I might re-read. Thanks for this.
posted by Leon at 2:29 PM on January 30, 2010


Strange, I was just reading about Wheatley in passing today. Coincidence? I think not! It must be the Devil's Hand!

The Devil's Hand!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:33 PM on January 30, 2010


This is completely fascinating, thank you.
posted by jokeefe at 2:52 PM on January 30, 2010


I remember being 15 years old and reading Wheatley's "Gateway to Hell" (in a Swedish translation), having snuck it from my parent's bookshelf based on the cover. It certainly started me reading about Crowley, etc. in reference books, but that only lasted for a few weeks - i.e. that was how long until I had exhausted everything that my small northern Swedish town library had to say about the occult (not much).

Never did read the other books in the series - not available to me anywhere, so I forgot all about it. I found it in a box in the attic at my parent's place recently, and tried reading it again. At 15 it was fascinating, a little scary, and a little sexy - perfect for a teenager. Now... not so much. It was interesting, though.
posted by gemmy at 2:57 PM on January 30, 2010


I love this stuff. When ever I read about any of these old skool bad boys I just can't stop giggling. The stories about Aleister Crowley drawing symbols in the sands of Egyptian deserts, wacking of a doves head drinking its blood and then doing his travel buddy in the ass all while screaming "I'M THE MOST POWERFUL WIZARD IN THE WORLD"

It never gets old.
posted by nola at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm curious as to how much Wheatley's works might have influenced Anton LaVey. There's certainly something about that black-magic-as-Playboy-lifestyle aspect that's really familiar to me from a few cheap paperbacks that I picked up in the seventies.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:16 PM on January 30, 2010


Crowely also made his travel buddy dress as an Djinn and in later years had himself photographed as the Chinese God Of Joy ..complete with tapped back eyes.

Crowley is *hilarious*.
posted by The Whelk at 5:58 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


then doing his travel buddy in the ass all while screaming "I'M THE MOST POWERFUL WIZARD IN THE WORLD"

Definitely a new spin to "a wizard did it".
posted by me & my monkey at 7:03 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


How do you dress as a Djinn? Wear a lamp?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:33 PM on January 30, 2010


I believe there was body paint.
posted by The Whelk at 9:40 PM on January 30, 2010


Never mettle in the affairs of wizards, for it makes them soggy, and hard to light.

Never throw your butts in the urinal, for they are subtle, and quick to anger.
posted by Balisong at 11:51 PM on January 30, 2010


The first grown-up book I ever remember laying eyes on as a kid was my mum's copy of The Devil Rides Out.

She never bothered with Lobsang Rampa though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:10 AM on January 31, 2010


The stories about Aleister Crowley drawing symbols in the sands of Egyptian deserts, wacking of a doves head drinking its blood and then doing his travel buddy in the ass

Not to mention persuading posh birds to donate him large sums of money while they ate parcels of his shit and piss which he called 'Cakes of Light'.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:13 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


If feel obliged to comment but haven't got much to say except that Phil Baker's biography of Wheatley sounds like a cracking read.
posted by Mocata at 7:34 AM on January 31, 2010


Sex, Jingoism & Black Magic;
How I loved me some Dennis Wheatley when I was a kid, a real little Englander; especially the sex.
Wheatley had a vast output. Some have called him the Stephan King
of his day. On preview Mocata he-he.
posted by adamvasco at 9:06 AM on January 31, 2010


Not to mention persuading posh birds to donate him large sums of money while they ate parcels of his shit and piss which he called 'Cakes of Light'.

if I were making a Crowley bio-pic I'd do that as a montage set to Queen's It's a Kind of Magic.
posted by Artw at 11:02 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back in the day, when we still had second-hand book shops you can almost guarantee finding a battered copy of the Haunting Of Toby Jugg in the horror section.

I used to love the hilariously pompous disclaimers at the front of the novels:
‘The Haunting Of Toby Jugg is a Black Magic story by Dennis Wheatley, who writes: ‘I, personally, have never assisted at, or participated in, any ceremony connected with Magic – Black of White. Should any of my readers incline to a serious study of the subject and come into contact with a man or woman of Power, I feel that it is only right to urge them, most strongly, to refrain from being drawn into any practice of the Secret Art in any way. My own observations have led me to an absolute conviction that to do so would bring them into dangers of a very real and concrete nature’.
I remember one of the old comedy program spin-off books (possibly the Not The Nine O'Clock News one) having a spoof version with 'and make a lot of money and I don't need the competition' added to the end.

Crowley fans might want to check out The Devil's Paintbrush by Jake Arnott where he's a major character. There's some interesting ideas but it's a bit of failure as a novel, unfortunately.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:14 AM on February 2, 2010


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