Dennis Yates Wheatley (8 January 1897 – 10 November 1977) was a British author who was both popular and very prolific in his time, producing dozens of novels alongside short stories and a few non-fiction books. He is today remembered primarily for his interest in the occult, particularly Satanism; his best known work is the 1933 novel The Devil Rides Out, which was adapted into a film in 1968.
Born in London to a family of wine merchants, Wheatley went on to serve in both World Wars. Between the wars he began his career as a novelist, his first published book being a thriller entitled The Forbidden Territory. He continued writing into the 1970s, until he died of liver failure in 1977.
Views on the supernatural
Although his political views were conservative, Wheatley had eclectic religious views. During World War I Wheatley befriended a soldier named Gordon Eric Gordon-Tombe, who regarded Jesus Christ, Lao-Tzu, Buddha and other holy figures from history as sages of equal standing. Wheatley took a shine to this idea, and was persuaded by Tombe to read various holy texts such as the Vedas, the Qu'ran, the Tao Te Ching and the Popul Vuh of the Maya. Wheatley claimed to have had a number of seemingly supernatural experiences, although in many cases he did not write about them until decades after the alleged incidents, casting some doubt on their veracity. These include feeling a malevolent presence while staying in a chateau which had once been a German field hospital; and hearing the dying sister of a fellow officer remark "hello, daddy" before passing, with news that her father had previously been killed in action arriving the next day (this incident, says Wheatley, convinced him of the existence of the afterlife).
Wheatley was interested in the concept of reincarnation, his thoughts influenced by the contemporary author Joan Grant. He believed that reincarnation had been suppressed by Judaism, but had previously played a major role in all great religions; pointing to the Gospel's claim that "the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son", he argued that even Jesus Christ believed in reincarnation. In his later life he argued that the existence of people born into poverty or with disabilities is evidence of reincarnation, since the world could not be so unfair as to place people into such situations unless as punishment for sins in a past life.
Despite his interest in exotic religions, Wheatley described Vodou as "one of the vilest, cruelest and most debased forms of worship ever devised by man... the Negro has carried its foul practices with him to every part of the world which he inhabits". This obviously bigoted viewpoint was tempered somewhat in his later writings, when he described the "cruel and bestial" practices of Vodou as the tragic result of poverty among black people.
Wheatley genuinely regarded black magic as real and held that there were cabals of Satan-worshippers influencing world affairs: "Is it possible that riots, wildcat strikes, anti-apartheid demonstrations and the appalling increase in crime have any connection with magic and Satanism?" he asked in his non-fiction book The Devil and all his Works. This belief in the reality of Satanism was possibly influenced by the writings of his acquaintance Montague Summers, who insisted on the existence of black magic, vampires and other supernatural phenomena, and argued that the infamous witch hunts were entirely justified attempts to stamp out devil-worship.
Wheatley's novels were primarily straight thrillers with few or no supernatural elements. His output as an occult writer consists of several novels a few ghost stories, a non-fiction book about the Devil and the "Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult", which reprinted books by various authors such as Bram Stoker and Helena Blavatsky. Unsurprisingly, given his views, Wheatley seems to have drawn little if any distinction between his novels about Satanism and his non-fantasy works. Many even shared the same characters, with a Wheatley hero rubbing shoulders with genuine historical figures in one book and battling demons the next.
After the publication of his first occult novel, The Devil Rides Out, Wheatley claims to have been contacted by a woman who told him that one of her parents sold her to the Devil, and as a result felt sick whenever she entered a church and sometimes accidentally placed curses on people who made her angry. This incident inspired Wheatley's later novel To the Devil - A Daughter.
From 1951 the Sunday Pictorial tabloid began a series of lurid reports on occult groups in Britain. The first of these was written by Wheatley's associate Rollo Ahmed under the pseudonym of "Mr.A". In 1955 a figure known simply as "Mrs. Jackson of Birmingham" also contributed her experiences of black magic ceremonies. Her descriptions echo Wheatley: Phil Baker notes that her remark that "at ceremonies lasting into early dawn orgies were practiced while everything decent in life was mocked" is similar to a passage from Wheatley's 1953 novel To the Devil - A Daughter - "They were all horrors and menaces to everything decent in life".
Wheatley often used his occult fiction to condemn political movements with which he disagreed. The Satanist portrays the Trade Union movement as being manipulated by Satan himself. The villain of the story, an Indian Satanist, also approves of modern art and music: "Musicians, painters, sculptors, have broken away from tradition [and] no longer follow slavishly tastes set by bourgeois society", he says. The heroine Mary, meanwhile, believes that such art "could bring pleasure to few people other than those with twisted minds". In The Haunting of Toby Jugg, the villain Helmuth gives the following summary of his Communist-Satanist philosophy:
Communism is the perfect vehicle for the introduction of the return of Mankind to his original allegiance. It already denies Christianity and all the other heresies. It denies the right of freewill and the expression of their individuality to all those who live under it. Communism bows down only to material things; and my real master is not Stalin but the Lord of Material Things; Satan the Great, the Deathless, the Indestructible... He has taken the very word Communism as his new name, and he even mocks those who no longer believe in his existence by having them demonstrate in favour of rule by the Proletariat on the first of May. Have you never realised that that is his anniversary, and that it is born of May-day Eve — Walpurgis Nacht — on which we celebrate his festival?
(Note: this list is restricted to Wheatley's occult novels, along with books which share the main characters of his supernatural stories)
- The Duke de Richleau series:
- The Forbidden Territory (1933)
- The Devil Rides Out (1934)
- The Golden Spaniard (1938)
- Three Inquisitive People (1940)
- Strange Conflict (1941)
- Codeword – Golden Fleece (1946)
- The Second Seal (1950)
- The Prisoner in the Mask (1957)
- Vendetta in Spain (1961)
- Dangerous Inheritance (1965)
- Gateway to Hell (1970)
- The Gregory Sallust series:
- The Roger Brook series:
- The Launching of Roger Brook (1947)
- The Shadow of Tyburn Tree (1948)
- The Rising Storm (1949)
- The Man Who Killed the King (1951)
- The Dark Secret of Josephine (1955)
- The Rape of Venice (1959)
- The Sultan's Daughter (1963)
- The Wanton Princess (1966)
- Evil in a Mask (1969)
- The Ravishing of Lady Mary Ware (1971)
- The Irish Witch (1973)
- Desperate Measures 1974)
- Other occult novels:
- A Century of Horror (1935; edited by Wheatley)
- Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts (1943; short stories)
- The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult (edited by Wheatley)
- The Devil and all his Works (1971; non-fiction)
- Baker, Phil.The Devil is a Gentleman (2009)
- Dennis Wheatley: An Introduction - DennisWheatley.info
- Wheatley, Dennis - Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
- Baker (2009): pp.108-112
- Baker (2009): pp.133-4
- Baker (2009): pp.374-5
- Baker (2009): p.563
- Baker (2009): pp.552-4
- Colin Wilson on Denis (sic) Wheatley - The Spectator Archive
- Baker (2009): p.306
- Baker (2009): p.337
- Baker (2009): pp.525-527
- Baker (2009): p.529
- Baker (2009): p.533
- Baker (2009): p.454