Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Black Magic Series Starter by Dennis Wheatley

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a collection of three full-length novels by Dennis Wheatley, who was a phenomenally successful writer in Britain from the 1930s to the 60's. For me, The Devil Rides Out was his best work, but the other two in this collection are also excellent reads if you're interested in the subject matter. I devoured these as a teen. Viewed as historical fiction, they hold up well, but there are some caveats.

The Devil Rides Out

I reviewed The Devil Rides Out back in January 2014 as part of a different Wheatley collection, but this one contains the same story so I will just refer you to that review for details. The basic story, set in the 1930s, consists of a group of close friends who find themselves up against the works of the Devil himself as embodied in his black magician disciple Mocata. Mocata is striving to achieve some devilish ends, and one of the friends, Simon Aaron, has foolishly got himself under the man's sinister influence. The Duc de Richlieu who is the only one of the group who has any magical experience, enters the fight along with Rex Van Ryn, who falls in love with one of the Satanic women who is also a neophyte in the Devil-worshipping group. Friends Richard and Marie-Lou Eaton also join the fray. It's a good old fashioned scary-story smothered in Christian religion mythology. I'm not a believer, but I love a good Satanic magic romp!

Strange Conflict

This is another in the Duc de Richlieu series. In it, the same people from The Devil Rides Out join forces again, to wage a battle, but this time on the astral plane. The story is set in the beginning of World War Two, with the question of how are the Nazis discovering the travel routes of British warships so successfully? Well, a magician is using the astral plane to convey intelligence, and the Duc and his pals array themselves against him. The story is replete with weird and wonderful conflicts in astral form, and also a tour of life in Haiti, with the attendant zombies - not the ridiculous ones of the modern era, but the original zombies - and they are surprising. Be warned that Wheatley is pompous, opinionated, devoutly upper-crust, rather racist, and full of British jingoism made worse by a war mentality, so if you want to enjoy this and his other works, you have to turn a blind eye to those failings. Whether he would have been a more enlightened person today, I do not know. I somehow doubt it.

The Haunting of Toby Jugg

Again set in World War Two, this novel features the improbably-named Toby Jugg, who is about to turn twenty-one and looks towards inheriting his grandfather's business fortune, since his father and mother are both dead and he has no siblings. His only relatives are his uncle, Paul and his aunt, Julia. There is one problem: he seems to be slowly losing his mind. It's not his only problem. Having been shot while flying on an air raid, he's paralyzed from the waist down and needs a nurse to take care of him. That's fine during the day, but it's at night when the nightmares come: visions of horrific creatures slithering and crawling all around him. His new nurse, charmer though she is, doesn't believe him and thinks he's just a spoiled, rich, baby. She doesn't know that his guardian, Helmuth Lisicky, is Satan worshipper who is causing his nightmares.

These stories were entertaining enough for me when I was in my young adult days, I wonder if I might find them so engaging now? If you have never read them, they do contain - aside from the irritating and offending parts, which are not overwhelming - some great occult and black magic story-telling which is untainted by modern custom and trope. It makes for a refreshing read in that regard, at least. I'd recommend these - with the above-mentioned caveats - for a change from modern reading and a different story-telling perspective.

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