Dennis Wheatley was born in London in January 1897, inheriting a family wine business. He began writing novels after WW1
service and a decline in the fortunes of the family business.
His most enduring characters were those of the Duc de Richleau and his friends, who were to become Wheatley's most popular inventions. His work in the thirties seemed to be perfectly in tune with the spirit of the age, enforcing the virtues of imperialism in which he totally believed, and countering the rising threat of communism.
He worked in counter-intelligence and "black operations" during WW2
. He continued writing prolifically after the war and his sales rocketed. In the UK alone he sold over 1,000,000 copies of his books a year during the 1960s.
Also in the 1960s, two of his most popular titles, The Devil Rides Out
and Uncharted Seas
(renamed The Lost Continent
) were filmed by Hammer and negotiations took place to turn some of his books into a TV series.
Wheatley's literary legacy falls into a number of distinct categories. There are the series novels, books that involve the same central character or characters more than twice. These series novels are: Duc de Richleau; Gregory Sallust; Roger Brook; and Julian Day. There are ten non-fiction titles; two collections of short stories; four crime-dossiers; and ‘out of series’ titles of which there are eighteen. Wheatley also edited two major collections of short stories for Hutchinson as well as the series of paperbacks, ‘The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult’, and wrote innumerable articles.
During the 1960s and 1970s Wheatley's work had phenomenal sales. However, forty years on, his books have all but disappeared from bookshops and public libraries. Where, W.H. Smith once displayed shelves of his titles, now there are none. Wheatley's work is firmly fixed within the white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant imperialism of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. He is adamant about the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race above all others and was sympathetic to the old South Africa
. Sadism is depicted 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) and un-natural homosexuality.
Like many members of the British establishment in the 1930's, he leaned towards totalitarianism, praising both Mussolini and Franco and referring to Hitler as His Excellency
in his pre-war book Red Eagle
. In the Gregory Sallust war stories he makes Hermann Göring a largely sympathetic character. In Göring 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.
Accusations of having fascist sympathies were levelled at Wheatley in the 1930s with some justification, but he never allied himself to the fascist cause in Britain. His political views were essentially Conservative, albeit to the right of that party. From a distance, however, he admired the tough stance of Italian and Spanish fascism, its patriotism and its pro-active anti-communism.
Proof exists that in the immediate post-war era (after 1918), Wheatley was closely associated with occultist, mountebank and self-styled Great Beast Aleister Crowley
, as well as the showman occultist Montague Summers. Initiation and association with Crowley's school of ritual magic would explain the detail he was able to pack into his occult novels. Later, he tried to downplay and even deny his association with Crowley, though it is telling that an illustration in the copiously illustrated The Devil and All His Works
clearly shows the frontispiece of an occult book signed by Crowley "To my great friend, Denis".
Wheatley's novels are capable of creating a strikingly cinematic world of luxury and excitement. (Indeed, several of his books, especially The Devil Rides Out
, have been adapted for film.) His characters all live life to the full, defeating evil at every turn, unfettered by financial concerns.
Dennis Wheatley died in November 1977.Wheatley's Black Magic horror novels:
- The Devil Rides Out
- Strange Conflict
- The Ka of Gifford Hillary
- To the Devil—A Daughter
- The Haunting of Toby Jugg
- The Satanist
- They Used Dark Forces
- Gateway to Hell
- ''The Devil And all His Works", an exploration of black magic in history, mythology and literature.
This author's works provide examples of:
- Affably Evil: the Big Bad in Gateway to Hell.
- Author Tract: he does this in just about every novel he wrote. His books often lapse into political polemic about the seductive evil of left-wing politics, and the need for Britain to be governed by a strong benevolent dictator according to rules of libertarianism and free-market economics. After all, the working classes are too docile and ill-educated, so people like us must shoulder the burden of ruling them, for their own good, of course. Alongside the politics, Wheatley also polemics his religion, a kind of cross between Christianity and Buddhism that actually does make sense.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With:
- Black Magic: As used by Them. Repeatedly.
- Fetus Terrible: To the Devil—A Daughter
- Grey Eyes: The Duc
- Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death himself, on a white horse too, turns up at the culmination of the occult attack Duc de Richleau and the gang are subjected to The Devil Rides Out.
- Lady of Black Magic: Lady Ankharet in The Ka of Gifford Hillary.
- Magically Binding Contract: The Faustian contract that has to be stolen from Satanists and burnt in order to liberate a sincerely sorry person from going to Hell.
- Also the idea of karma that informs Wheatley's books: ye reap what ye sow, defined as one of the primal laws of all being. What you say or do comes back to you.
- Man in the Iron Mask: The Prisoner in the Mask (although this particular mask is leather).
- Religious Horror: Practically all his horror novels.
- Weird Moon: so much of the supernatural weirdness is governed by phases of the moon, i.e. Hecate the goddess of insanity may only manifest at the gibbous moon.
- You Cannot Grasp the True Form: some of the creatures of Eldritch Abomination called up to vex and torment. (Gateway to Hell)