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Literature / The Haunting of Toby Jugg

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The Haunting of Toby Jugg (1948) tells the story of Toby Jugg, a young RAF pilot who is shot in the back and suffers a spinal injury during a mission, and is now confined to a wheelchair, something which Toby finds frustrating and demeaning. On the advice of his family and doctor he is sent to one of his many family’s homes to recover (did we mention that Toby is heir to a vast fortune from the family industries?) and that is when the haunting of Toby Jugg begins.

The story is written as the diary of Toby Jugg, from the beginnings of his troubles until the very end. The first-person diary narrative allows for the ratcheting up of the psychological tension, while at the same time slowly unraveling the reason for the haunting. The ambiguity remains: , is it really all in Toby’s mind? Is it just an after affect of his war experiences, what might today be called PTSD? Toby questions himself but at the same time knows what he is seeing, which of course frustrates him even more when the over-powering Helmuth (a family friend), Deb (Toby’s nurse), his Uncle Paul and his Aunt Julia (his only family) do not believe him. Toby feels more and more isolated as no one believes what is happening to him. The best part of the diary is the fact you learn about Toby’s background which makes interesting reading.

At times Toby is very funny, but his diaries are somewhat let down by racist comments which do not even seem Fair for Their Day.

Dennis Wheatley plays to his strengths - excellent at writing good old fashioned psychological thrillers with overtones of supernatural and horror. The book begins slowly but builds up to a true pitch of tension.

The book was adapted into the 2006 film, The Haunted Airman. The film only loosely follows the book. The plots are similar, focusing on a paralyzed WWII RAF pilot named Toby "The Juggler" Jugg (Robert Pattinson) who is recuperating at a facility in Wales (the book's Llanferdrack Castle was one of the family estates; the movie's Llanferdach is a military convalescent hospital) where he is attended by a mysterious doctor (Helmuth Lisicky in the book; Hal Burns (Julian Sands) in the movie). The biggest difference is that the novel was written to feature satanic and occult influences (Wheatley was a popular writer of both occult-themed novels and nonfiction works on magic and occultism). The movie, however, downplays those aspects. Instead, it becomes a psychological thriller focusing on what may or may not be going on in Toby Jugg's mind.

Examples of tropes from the book and the film: