Harry Price Ghost Hunter ~ Paul Tabori (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 7 (Sphere, 1974))

Number 7 of The Dennis Wheatley Library of The Occult is Harry Price: The Biography of a Ghost Hunter by Paul Tabori. As you would expect, this is indeed a biography of the psychical researcher and investigator, Harry Price.

harry price gost hunter, paul tabori, dennis wheatley library of the occult 7, whenchurchyardsyawn

The quality of a biography obviously rests upon the biographer. In this case we have Paul Tabori, author, psychic researcher and third choice literary executor of Price’s estate. I must admit to having certain preconceived ideas about this book and they were met within the first few pages when I read this paragraph:

“It must be admitted that while he was alive Harry Price was far more appreciated outside these isles than at home. But is this not the fate of practically every prophet whatever his mission and message?”

So, right from the start, Price is raised to the level of prophet but, thankfully, the style settles down after the first chapter and becomes a little less adulatory. What we are left with is a rather mediocre series of tales which serve as a synopsis of Price’s work, the reader learns nothing of the man behind the work.

I’m left with the question of how to write a post about a rather mediocre biography. The answer, of course, is to go off on a tangent and talk about something far more interesting.  Let us talk about one of Price’s most fascinating cases, which Tabori does briefly include in his biography, and expand upon it. And so we have:

Nigel Kneale, Familiar Spirits and Gef the Talking Mongoose

We’re going back to the Autumn of 1931, to a remote, hilltop farmhouse in an area called Doarlish Cashen on the Isle of Man. This is the home of Mr. James T. Irving, his wife Margaret and his teenage daughter, Voirrey. It seems that Mr. Irving was a European representative for a Canadian piano manufacturer but, after hitting hard times, the family decided to move to the Isle of Man which was Mrs. Irving’s birthplace.

james irving, voirrey irving, doarlish cashen, whenchurchyardsyawn

One evening, Mr. Irving and Voirrey encountered a creature at their home. It was described as the size of a large rat but with a yellow face and a flat snout. This creature took up residence behind the hollow matchboard walls of their home and began to keep the family awake with its skittering and growling. Voirrey tried to lull the creature by singing nursery rhymes to it but, to her surprise, it repeated them to her in a high pitched human voice. And once the creature had discovered the power of speech it wouldn’t stop; and not just mimicking either, it would engage in conversations with the family, calling Mr. and Mrs. Irving by their first names, Jim and Maggie. Soon after this the creature took to travelling the island to eavesdrop on the locals and bring back news to the Irvings, it would also regularly hunt rabbits for them.

News of this strange occurrence soon spread around the island and the story was picked up by the local press. By January 1932 the story had reached mainland Britain and the newspapers of the day were all running the story of, what had become known as, The Talking Weasel.

The Irving’s initially called their strange interloper Jack, but he soon put them right and told them he preferred the name Gef, claiming to have been born near Delhi, India in 1852 and that he was a Mongoose.

Of course, Mongooses (Mongeese?) are not native to The Isle of Man but there is a story which suggests that a local farmer introduced Mongooses to the island in 1914 to control the rabbit population and it appears they bred and went feral. It was reported that a Mongoose was shot and killed on the island in 1947 and it’s alleged that locals still see them occasionally to the present day. However, on discussing this with a friend who was born and bred on the Isle of Man and lives just five miles from the site of the Irving’s house, it appears that although there are feral ferret/polecat hybrids at large in the countryside, the feral Mongoose theory may be a rather fanciful concoction.

Gef’s activity continued and developed in the Irving household. As well as talking to the family he became a mischievous presence, throwing stones at people, stealing items from neighbours and shouting abuse at the family; always unseen by everyone except the three members of the Irving family.

In 1932, Harry Price received a letter from a Miss Florence Milburn of Peel, Isle of Man. Miss Milburn wrote to Price to inform him of the activities of the strange creature, ‘somewhat like a weasel’, at the Irving’s farm. Price sent his friend and colleague, Captain MacDonald to investigate. MacDonald witnessed the voice of Gef but his report was inconclusive. It wasn’t until three years later, in 1935, that Harry Price paid his own visit; again, his findings were inconclusive, which may strike us as odd. As we know, Price was not averse to debunking psychic fraudsters so, if this was a hoax perpetrated by one or more of the Irvings we may think that such a simple case would be easily seen through by Price. And it wasn’t that Price simply dismissed it as unworthy, he found it sufficiently interesting to write a book on the case, ‘The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap’.

Gef’s activities continued over the years until, in 1945, James Irving died. The family moved away from the house and a new tenant took possession who poured scorn upon the idea of Gef the Talking Mongoose.

In 1970 a magazine caught up with Voirrey in an interview and she still claimed the story was true. Voirrey died in 2005.

The Irving’s house at Doarlish Cashen has since been demolished, so it is unlikely that any more evidence will come to light.

I have given a very brief overview of the full story here to whet your appetite; there is no shortage of information about the case online and, if you haven’t already, I can recommend diving in.

Now, what are we to think of this strange case?

There are perhaps three prominent theories we can put forward.

1: Hoax

2: Poltergeist

3: Familiar

And with all three of these theories we need to consider whether it was a single member of the Irving family responsible, or whether it was a combination of two or three members.

HOAX

If it was an out and out hoax, and by hoax I mean a conscious deception, then for what reason would it have been conducted? Monetary gain seems unlikely, although Mr. Irving told Harry Price that he intended to write a book about his experiences this never came about and would have been unlikely to sell in sufficient quantities to make Irving his fortune. Perhaps boredom and a sense of mischief could be an explanation, Mr. and Mrs. Irving were used to travelling the world before settling down to life in the lonely farmhouse. Voirrey had known little else other than the farmhouse, she was an isolated child living with her aging parents. We must assume that it would be highly unlikely that a single member of the household would have been able to dupe the other two for the fifteen or so years that Gef was with them so, if it was a hoax perpetuated by a single person, then it is likely that the other two would have become willing participants.

POLTERGEIST

The story certainly bears all the hallmarks of a classic poltergeist haunting. Harry Price himself had a particular fascination for poltergeist activity and investigated countless cases. In his introduction to his 1945 publication Poltergeist Over England, Price states that poltergeist are:

“mischievous, destructive, noisy, cruel, erratic, thievish, demonstrative, purposeless, cunning, unhelpful, malicious, audacious, teasing, ill-disposed, spiteful, ruthless, resourceful and vampiric”

He also suggests that poltergeist differ from ghosts in that they infest a location rather than haunt; they prefer company to solitude. This all fits in with Gef’s modus operandi; however, Price continues by suggesting poltergeist are ‘invisible, intangible and inarticulate’ – none of which Gef are.

But Harry Price wasn’t the only one to investigate the Irving’s visitor. Famed psychologist / parapsychologist Nandor Fodor also investigated the case and, despite some reservations, he could find no evidence to suggest that Gef was not a mischievous animal with the power of human speech. However, he later revised his conclusion in favour of the idea that, rather than an independent creature/spirit, Gef was an external manifestation of the inner turmoil within the mind of one of the family members. This theory for poltergeist activity, the unconscious telekinetic activity of a troubled mind, garnered strength over the following decades to become the prominent explanation for the phenomenon in the post-Freudian 20th century. We may think that Voirrey would be the main suspect for this, poltergeist are most commonly thought to attach themselves / emanate from a teenage girl; but Fodor thought that James Irving was the cause.

Hoax or poltergeist? The former suggests a conscious decision, by one or more of the family, to deceive; the latter suggests and unconscious deception by a single member of the family. But let us consider another alternative.

FAMILIAR

A familiar spirit is said to be a demon or, in some cases, a fairy which has taken corporeal form to do the bidding of a witch. More often than not, this spirit takes the form of a domestic animal; we’re all aware of the archetypal witch’s cat but, historically, they have supposedly taken the forms of all manner of beasts – toads, cockerels, pigs, goats, ferrets, dogs, lambs, etc.

The familiar assists the witch / sorcerer / cunning-man / wise-woman (choose your terminological favourite) in his or her magical practises. In animal form they can travel undetected, sometimes even invisibly, to eavesdrop on neighbours, steal items and cause sickness and death to people and livestock. In return, the witch will allow the familiar to suckle from her, usually the offering is a drop of blood.

It doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to think about Gef in these terms. The Isle of Man has a strong history of folklore relating to witchcraft and fairies so perhaps we can consider Gef to be a fairy in animal form, if not in reality then in the mind of one of the Irving family.

Most of the information we have today on traditional witchcraft and animal familiars is handed down to us through the witch trials of the 16th and 17th century and, considering the persecution which occurred at this time, we may consider these records as somewhat unreliable source material. But what if there is some truth in the psycho-spiritual concept of familiars? After all, the witches of Western Europe were not the only ones to utilise animal spirits; we can see a strong similarity in Siberian shamanism. The Russian folklorist G. V. Ksenofontov conducted research among the Tungus people of Siberia where he observed:

“Every shaman must have an animal-mother or origin-animal. It is usually pictured in the form of an elk, less often as a bear. This animal lives independently, separated from the shaman. Perhaps it can be best imagined as the fiery force of the shaman that flies over the earth. It is the embodiment of the prophetic gift of the shaman, it is the shaman’s visionary power, which is able to penetrate both the past and the future.”

“The shamans tell us that they have two dogs who are their invisible assistants. In the séance they call them by their names, ‘Chardas’ and ‘Botos’. The dogs of a blood-thirsty shaman possessed by evil spirits will kill cattle and people.”

Compare this with excerpts from British witch trials, in this case from the St. Osyth trial of 1582:

“This examinate, beeing asked howe shee knewe the names of mother Bennets spirites, sayth, that Tyffin her spirite did tell this examinate that shee had two spirites, the one of them like a blacke Dogge, and the other redde like a Lyon, and that their names were Suckin and Lyerd , and sayeth that Suckin did plague Byettes wife unto death, and the other plagued three of his Beastes whereof two of them dyed.”

“The saide Ursley bursting out with weeping, fel upon her knees, and confessed that shee had foure spirites, whereof two of them were hees, and the other two were shees: the two hee spirites were to punishe and kill unto death, and the other two shees were to punishe with lamenes, and other diseases of bodyly harm: and also to destroy cattell.

And she this examinate, being asked by what name or names shee called the sayde spirits, and what maner of thinges, or colour they were of: confesseth and saith, that the one is called Tittey, being a hee, and is like a gray Cat, the seconde called Jacke, also a hee, and is like a blacke Cat, the thirde is called Piggin, being a she, and is like a blacke Toade, the fourth is called Tyffin, being a shee, and is like a white lambe.

This examinate being further asked, which of the saide spirites shee sent to punishe Thorlowes wife and Letherdalls childe, confessed and sayed, that shee sent Tyttey to punishe Thorlowes wife, and Pigen Letherdalls Childe.

And this examinate, without any asking of her owne free will at that present, confessed and saide, that shee was the death of her brother Kemps wife, and that she sent the spirite Jacke to plague her, for that her sister had called her whore and witche.”

“And casting her eyes aside, shee saw a spirit lift up a clothe lying over a pot, looking much lik a Ferret. And it beeing asked of this examinate why the spirite did looke upon her, shee said it was hungrie.”

Note the ferret familiar being kept in a pot. Another ferret familiar appeared in the 1589 Chelmsford witch trial when Joan Prentice was accused of killing a child by witchcraft. Joan was reported to have described how a ferret appeared to her and said “Joan Prentice, give me thy soul.” Joan refused as she believed her soul was not hers to give, so they reached a compromise when the Ferret, who was named Bid, replied:

“I must then have some of they blood”, which she willingly granted, offering him the foreginger of her left hand; the which the ferret took into his mouth and, setting his former feed upon that hand, sucked blood thereout…

~

In 1932, at the height of Gef the Talking Mongoose’s fame, there was a 10 year old boy living on the Isle of Man. He was the son of the owner/editor of one of the local newspapers and his name was Thomas Nigel Kneale. In later life he became better known as Nigel Kneale, author and screenwriter.

We spoke about Kneale in my last post when we discussed his adaptation of the Norah Lofts novel The Devil’s Own for the 1966 Hammer film, The Witches. You can read it HERE.

As I mentioned, Kneale had a remarkable knack, which can be seen in much of his work, in juxtaposing the mythic and the folkloric with the scientific and the psychological. We all know Kneale from his work on, among many others, the Quatermass cycle, his BBC adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 and the magnificent 1972 supernatural drama The Stone Tape. But when we are discussing Gef the Talking Mongoose we must talk about his 1976 drama series, Beasts.

Beasts was a series of six supernatural tales exploring the relationship between humanity and animals and we must wonder whether, as a 10 year old boy living on the Isle of Man, Kneale picked up some influences from the stories he must have heard concerning Gef and the Irving family.

In the second episode of the series, During Barty’s Party, we have a middle-aged couple trapped in their own home by a horde of rats. It may be fanciful, but perhaps echoes of Gef can quite literally be heard with the unseen rats scratching and skittering behind the woodwork.

Nigel Kneale, Beast, Baby - whenchurchyardsyawnIn the fourth episode, Baby, a young couple move into an old farmhouse and during renovation they discover a large urn bricked into a cavity in the wall. When they crack open the seal they discover inside the dry remains of an unidentifiable creature. This sets into motion a tale of ancient witchcraft and a familiar spirit. Interestingly, W. Walter Gill published a book concerning the history and folklore of the Isle of Man called A Manx Scrapbook; this was published in 1929, two years before Gef appeared, and in it Gill relates a tale which occurred at Doarlish Cashen:

“Some men digging here many years ago unearthed a flat stone covering a funerary urn which contained black ashes. They buried it in the hedge-bank. A long time afterwards, and not extremely long ago, a young man hunting rabbits with his dog (” Paddy,” whose name, in the interests of historic accuracy, shall be placed on record), thought he saw a rabbit bolt into the hedge. He began pulling away. the stones and soil, and while doing so he felt something invisible pushing him back. When this happened a second time a sudden fear took him and he ran down the hill-side till he reached his home. A white stone in the hedge still marks the spot where the urn was buried.”

Nigel Kneale, Beast, Special Offer - whenchurchyardsyawn

The first episode, Special Offer, concerns a girl called Noreen who works in Briteway, one branch of a small supermarket chain. Noreen doesn’t fit in with anyone, she is an outsider; her boss and the rest of the staff dislike her. Briteway has a cartoon mascot, an indeterminate yellow rodent name Briteway Billy which, strangely enough, fits the Irvings’ original description of Gef – about the size of large rat with a yellow face and a flat snout. When Noreen’s latent telekinetic abilities come to the fore in a fit of pique they take the form of, what appears to be, poltergeist-like activity; cans flying off the shelves, bags of flour bursting, bottles exploding, etc. Crucially, Noreen does not appear to realise that it is her that is causing the disturbances, instead she blames the seemingly invisible rodent when she declares the perpetrator to be Briteway Billy.

If we take a look at this excerpt from Kneale’s script of Special Offer we will see a resemblance to the Nandor Fodor poltergeist theory we were discussing earlier. In this, we have the boss of Briteway, Liversedge discussing the matter with the general manager, Grimley:

Grimley: A poltergeist?

Liversedge: I’m sure of it.

Grimley: You mean a spook?

Liversedge: Oh, I don’t mean like that, it’s a lot more complicated. I remember a case, it was donkeys years ago, there was a house and there were noises, there were thumps and knockings. And then furniture moving and flying about.

Grimley: Yes, I remember something about that.

Liversedge: There are thousands, but this was one I knew; and the cause of it all was a young kid, a boy this time.

Grimley: How?

Liversedge: Things happened when he was there and when he wasn’t, they didn’t.

Grimley: He knew he was doing it?

Liversedge: They sort of do and they don’t.

Grimley: She does?

Liversedge: She does now.

Grimley: But what about the animal? You heard it, scratching anf breathing.

Liversedge: That’s all part of it.

 

We may consider the similarities between Kneale’s screenplays for Beasts and the story of Gef the Talking Mongoose perhaps a little vague to truly ascertain whether there was any influence there or not. However, long before Beasts Kneale wrote a collection of short stories, Tomato Cain and Other Stories. This was published in 1949 and Elizabeth Bowen wrote the introduction to the volume. This is an excerpt from Bowen’s introduction:

“This writer is a young Manxman. He has grown up in, and infuses into his stories, an atmosphere which one can cut with a knife. He is not dependant on regionalism – not all of his work has an Isle of Man setting – but it would appear that he draws strength from it: his work at its best had the flavour, raciness, “body” that one associates with the best of the output from Ireland, Wales, Brittany, and the more remote, untouched and primitive of the States of America. He turns for his inspiration to creeks in which life runs deep, to pockets in which life accumulates, deeply queer. Is the Talking Mongoose a sore subject with the Isle of Man? That interesting animal – of which the investigations of the late Harry Price never entirely disposed – might well be the denizen of a Nigel Kneale story.”

 

~

So, was Gef genuinely a talking mongoose? Was he a spirit in the form of an animal? Was he a poltergeist? Was he the externalised manifestation of a disturbed mind? Was he merely a hoax? Whatever he was, he possibly served as an influence on the work of Nigel Kneale, which we can be thankful for.

And talking of fictional accounts of the case of Gef the Talking Mongoose, I very much like the (purely fictional) possibility that it was Mrs. Margaret Irving who conducted the whole affair. She takes a bit of a back seat in the story to her husband and daughter. It was James and Voirrey who received the most attention from the press; they were the ones to first see the creature that became Gef; they were the ones that seemed to be the most vocal about it; they were the ones who were the main suspects. But Margaret Irving? She was the one originally from the Isle of Man, that land steeped in witchcraft and folklore. As Mr. Irving stated,

“Gef obeys my wife only, and that just within certain limits.”

And what are we to think of the incident where Gef drew blood from Margaret Irving?  Where she:

“…had her fingers in his mouth and could feel his teeth.”

Perhaps we could consider this the act of a witch ‘suckling’ her familiar.

And when the reporter for the Manchester Daily Dispatch visited the farmhouse, who was it in the adjoining room conversing with Gef? Of course, it was Margaret Irving.

There’s no doubt about it, Margaret Irving was from a long line of Manx witches and, on returning to the island, regained her powers after encountering the spirit of Gef who was released after the unearthing of the funerary urn in Doarlish Cashen some years before. To divert attention away from her magical activities, she and Gef concocted this unlikely story to suggest a poltergeist hoax on the parts of her husband and daughter; that way, making sure the focus is on James and Voirrey and so leaving Margaret to dabble in her devilish deeds without persecution.

I reiterate, this is of course a purely fanciful notion…

…perhaps!

The Sorcery Club ~ Elliott O’Donnell (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 6 (Sphere, 1974))

Next up in The Dennis Wheatley Library of The Occult is volume six, The Sorcery Club by Elliott O’Donnell.

I’m sure that many of us have one or two O’Donnell books kicking about on our shelves, he was relatively prolific and his books were immensely popular in their day. Of course, he garnered his fame mainly through his non-fiction books concerning ‘real’ cases of supernatural occurrences, including his own experiences. Note the inverted commas around my use of the word ‘real’; this is not necessarily to dispute the authenticity of the cases O’Donnell researched, merely to highlight his propensity for heavily embroidering the truth.

THE SORCERY CLUB, ELLIOTT O'DONNELL, DENNIS WHEATLEY LIBRARY OF THE OCCULT 6

The Sorcery Club is not one of O’Donnell’s non-fiction works but one of his early novels. First published in 1912, it is a Faustian piece relating the story of three down at heel chaps in San Fancisco who, quite by chance, come into possession of a 17th century occult tome by one Thomas Henry Maitland which gives directions for reviving an ancient Atlantean magic which would ultimately grant the user mastery over all things.

Note the name of the supposed author of that tome, Maitland. That may ring a few bells with some of you. Excuse me while I leave The Sorcery Club to one side for a moment and take this post on a bit of a diversion to the . . .

M A I T L A N D   E N I G M A

In 1945 Weird Tales magazine published a short story by Robert Bloch called The Skull of The Marquis de Sade; this featured a protagonist named Christopher Maitland.

In 1965 Milton Subotsky adapted the Robert Bloch story for a film, produced by Subotsky and Rosenberg and released by their famed film company, Amicus. Peter Cushing played the role of Christopher Maitland.

In 1972 we have another Subotsky/Rosenberg film from Amicus, Tales From the Crypt, in which Ian Hendry plays Carl Maitland

In 1973, another Subotsky/Rosenberg film from Amicus, The Vault of Horror, has Michael Craig playing a Maitland.

In the same year, the same team have Guy Rolfe playing a Maitland in And Now the Screaming Starts.

And then in 1977 Subotsky gives us another Amicus style film, this time released by Rank, with The Uncanny. This one has a Mrs. Maitland played by Renée Girard.

So, why so many Maitlands? Although it’s not a particularly uncommon name, it is surely rare enough to suggest that this is not just mere coincidence. As we see on this list, the supposed Subotsky obsession with the name began with Blochs 1945 tale which Subotsky adapted in 1965. However, it gets a little more peculiar when we look at Subotsky’s 1960 Amicus film Horror Hotel, in which we have Tom Naylor playing a Bill Maitland!

Interestingly, going back to the 1977 film, The Uncanny, we see that the screenplay was written by Michel Parry. Parry, as we know, edited many horror anthologies and one of these was Christopher Lee’s Omnibus of Evil, which reprinted Bloch’s The Skull of The Marquis de Sade.

And of course, coming a little more up to date, we know that the film director Tim Burton is a huge fan of classic horror films, including British horror of the 1960s and 70s. We cannot help but wonder if this had some influence on the name of the dead husband and wife in his 1988 film Beetlejuice, Adam and Barbara Maitland. Although, Beetlejuice wasn’t written by Burton, it was written by Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson who also wrote several episodes of the 1990s US television show, Tale From the Crypt; this was obviously based on the old EC comic Tales From the Crypt which the 1972 Amicus film Tales From the Crypt was also based on! It all seems to get rather incestuous, doesn’t it?

Becoming aware of all these Maitlands does make a reader notice when a Maitland appears in a horror story and with O’Donnell’s tale being from 1912, this is the earliest appearance of a Maitland in a horror story I can recollect. O’Donnell’s has the 17th century author of the fictional tome of Atlantean magic as Thomas Henry Maitland. We do not know a great deal about him other than he was a Professor of English at a Swiss University and possibly somewhat of a seafaring adventurer; it was whilst being shipwrecked on an island that he discovered the original Atlantean documents.

So, did O’Donnell borrow the Maitland name, just like others seem to have done, or was he the progenitor of it? Well, of course, there was a relatively famous 19th Century occultist named Edward Maitland who we may consider as a source for O’Donnell’s seafaring sorcerer.

Like the fictional Maitland, the real Maitland was a well-travelled man. In the 1840s and 1850s he travelled from England to the Americas and was one of the ‘49ers in the California Gold Rush; following this he sailed around the Pacific and lived in Australia for a few years, before returning to England.

Like the fictional Maitland, the real Maitland was a man of letters; on his return to England he became an author and wrote several works of fiction and non-fiction.

Like the fictional Maitland, the real Maitland developed a fascination for occult knowledge. The fictional, as we stated earlier, discovered and translated an ancient Atlantean work of magic. The real Edward Maitland, along with his friend and collaborator Dr. Anna Kingsford, translated and published their own work of esoterica called The Virgin of the World; this was supposedly a translation of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus.

Of course, this is all purely conjecture on my part. If O’Donnell did base his Maitland on Edward Maitland then it was very loosely; the fictional having lived 200 years prior to the real. But, it is nonetheless interesting . . . or is that just me?

E N D   O F   D I V E R S I O N

Anyway, getting back to the novel in question, what can we say about it? It’s a rather workmanlike, potboiler sort of affair. As I said, it opens with three men living in poverty in turn of the century San Francisco. Wheatley states in his introduction that the action takes placed during the “…great slump of the 1930s”. As the novel was first published in 1912 this would have been particularly prescient of the author, perhaps Wheatley was over-estimating O’Donnell’s abilities.

These three men come into possession of an ancient magical tome and their desperate circumstances lead them into carrying out the practices contained therein, despite being non-believers. Of course they summon a being, which they call ‘The Unknown’, who grants them various magical abilities for trial periods with certain applicable terms and conditions tucked away in the small print. Well, we all know what sticklers for bureaucratic procedure these lesser demons can be.

So, these three ne’er-do-wells soon become extraordinarily wealthy through their nefarious magical acts and decide to hotfoot it to England, where they set up in business as The Modern Sorcery Company.

The rest of the story is then taken up with The Modern Sorcery Company’s attempt to ruin the career of the most successful stage magician in the country (which is an interesting twist on the fashion at the time of stage magicians debunking people claiming real magical powers) and a rather ridiculous love triangle; although, thinking about it, there are more than three sides to the love triangle so perhaps a ‘love pentagram’ would be more fitting.

I won’t go into the plot any further, I really dislike spoilers, but I will say that this novel has one of the most abrupt endings I’ve ever come across. It’s like O’Donnell was boring himself with it, didn’t really know where to take the plot and just thought “Sod it, that’ll do” . . .

. . . and it ends.

~~~

As an afterword, I’ve read articles accusing O’Donnell of racism and sexism in his fiction, as was the case with many of his contemporary authors; such things were considered acceptable at the time. However, can this be the case with this novel? It is true that it has disparaging remarks about “all those born with back and red skins” and Hamar, the main villain of the piece, being Jewish, is described with all the grotesquery of a Nazi propaganda poster. It is also true that women are ill-treated in this novel, particularly those who are Suffragettes, who are invariably described as furious, hatchet-faced harridans. But, even taking these instances into consideration, can we consider O’Donnell’s writing to be racist or sexist when the whole novel is misanthropic? No one is considered worthy here; with the acceptance of the reality of magical acts making anything possible, all of humanity is revealed as stupid, greedy and selfish. The rich and the poor; male and female; the young and the old; scientists and spiritualists; politicians and the proletariat; O’Donnell treats them all with equal contempt. No matter what sort of philanthropic mask we wear to fool society, it is just that, a mask. As such, it does read as a misanthropic satire on Victorian/Edwardian society; an extremely clumsily handled one, but a satire nonetheless.

Carnacki the Ghost-Finder ~ William Hope Hodgson (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 5 (Sphere, 1974))

And so we’re onto number five of the Dennis Wheatley Library of The Occult series, William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder.

william hope hodgson, carnacki the ghost finder

If anyone had asked me, not that anyone ever has, if I liked the Carnacki tales I would most definitely have replied in the affirmative. I picked up one of the Sphere copies with a Terry Oakes illustration when I was in my early-teens and very much enjoyed it. Now, thirty five years or so later, I’ve re-read it for the purposes of this blog and, I have to say, I’m really not as enamoured with it as I expected.william hope hodgson, carnacki the ghost finder

I love the idea of the enigmatic occult detective as much as the next weirdo person; if you’re reading this blog then you probably have an interest in old horror fiction so you’ve probably, at some point in your impressionable youth, harboured a secret fantasy about being an occult detective ~ whether it’s Blackwood’s mystical cipher, John Silence; Quinn’s  Jules de Grandin; Wellman’s Appallachian folklorist, Silver John; Crowley’s slightly creepy Simon Iff; Moore’s/Delano’s more modern take, John Constantine; or any of the myriad of others who inhabit the genre; we all have a favourite.

Hodgson wrote nine Carnacki tales, all of which are included in this collection. They have a somewhat formulaic approach to them; each having the rather basic framing device of the Edwardian gent, Carnacki, inviting his four friends to his London address at 472 Cheyne Walk so that he can regale them with the story of his latest adventure. The four friends are Dodgson (!), Arkright, Jessop and Taylor. We know nothing of these four guests as Carnacki refuses to engage in any conversation other than the telling of the story at hand. And this is where the main problem lies with these tales, the refusal of any conversation means that we get no sense of characterisation from the four visitors which renders them superfluous; they only exist as a clumsy ‘in’ to the story. Once in a while they do get to speak, but only as a Q&A session at the conclusion so that Carnacki can explain the things that Hodgson missed out of the story.

Lovecraft included Hodgson in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ and infers that, although Hodgson’s imagining of unknown horrors cannot be faulted, his prose style often lets him down. And I cannot help but agree with this.

But, for all its faults, the Carnacki collection does have a few points of interest.

Amongst a handful of other fictional works mentioned, we have an early example of a fictional grimoire in the Sigsand Manuscript. Carnacki constantly refers to this 14th century work in his investigations and we have various excerpts included. Here’s a complete run of those excerpts:

On the marking of the Pentagram:

“Thee mounts wych are thee Five Hills of safetie. To lack is to gyve pow’r to thee daemon; and surlie to fayvor the Evill Thynge.”

“Theyre must noe light come from within the barryier.”

“Thyr be noe sayfetie to be gained bye gayrds of holieness when the monyster hath pow’r to speak throe woode and stoene.”

This type of being can:

“forme wythine the pentycle,”

Although the unknown last line of the Saaamaaa Ritual will protect for no  more than:

“maybe five beats of the harte.”

 

A still-born child is:

“snayched bacyk bye thee Haggs.”

 

On the use of colour in psychic defense:

“Avoid diversities of colour; nor stand ye within the barrier of the colour lights; for in colour hath Satan a delight. Nor can he abide in the Deep if ye adventure against him armed with red purple. So be warned. Neither forget that in blue, which is God’s colour in the Heavens. ye have safety.”

 

“In blood there is the Voice which calleth through all space. Ye Monsters in ye Deep hear, and hearing, they lust. Likewise hath it a greater power to reclaim backward ye soul that doth wander foolish adrift from ye body in which it doth have natural abiding. But woe unto him that doth spill ye blood in ye deadly hour; for there will be surely Monsters that shall hear ye blood cry.”

 

“Ye Hogg which ye almighty alone hath power upon. If in sleep or in ye hour of danger ye hear the voice of ye Hogg, cease ye to meddle. For ye Hogg doth be of ye outer Monstrous Ones, nor shall any human come nigh him nor continue meddling when ye hear his voice, for in ye earlier life upon the world did the Hogge have power, and shall again in ye end. And in that ye Hogge had once a power upon ye earth, so doth he crave sore to come again. And dreadful shall be ye harm to ye soul if ye continue to meddle, and let ye beast come nigh. And I say unto all, if ye have brought this dire danger upon ye, have memory of ye cross, for all sign hath ye Hogge a horror.”

 

We can recognise amongst this cod Middle English text several similarities to the Lovecraftian mythos with its references to ancient and malignant beings just a hair’s breadth away from our own world. We could be forgiven for thinking that Lovecraft was indeed influenced by Hodgson’s work, but it seems that he did not discover his work until quite late on in his own career. As Lovecraft put it himself:

“Few can equal him (Hodgson) in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities . . .”

 

Continuing into Hodgson’s Carnacki mythos, the Sigsand Manuscript also describes beings known as Saiitii and, what appears to be a lesser form, Aeiirii; no other information is given about these beings other than the names and the fact that they can manifest in our world. These, along with the protective ritual Carnacki usually employs, the Saaamaaa Ritual, may seem familiar to readers of Dennis Wheatley.

We know that Wheatley was a huge fan of Hodgson’s work and he owned a complete set of the author’s first editions. As he states in his introduction to this volume, he intended to include all of Hodgson’s novels and short story collections in the Library of The Occult series. However, as the series only ran to forty five volumes, we only have two of Hodgson’s; this Carnacki collection and his 1909 novel, The Ghost Pirates.

Wheatley also payed homage to Hodgson in his novel The Devil Rides Out. We all know the famous scene where de Richleau and his companions have protected themselves from psychic attack within the chalked Pentagram and the demonic presences manifest around them. Here is a line from Wheatley:

“De Richleau knew that it was a Saiitii manifestation of the most powerful and dangerous kind.”

. . . and from Hodgson:

“Yes, unless it should prove to be one of the cases of the more terrible Saiitii Manifestations, we were almost certain of safety, so long as we kept to our order within the Pentacle.”

There are many articles on the internet which state that Wheatley has de Richleau use Hodgson’s Saamaaa ritual during this scene in The Devil Rides Out. However, this is not the case (and the perils of copy and paste essay writing!). Although obviously influenced by Hodgson, Wheatley changes the name slightly and has de Richleau use the Sussamma Ritual. Here’s Wheatley:

“The Duke used his final resources, and did a thing which shall never be done except in the direst emergency when the soul is in peril of destruction. In a clear sharp voice he pronounced the last two lines of the dread Sussamma Ritual.”

. . . and Hodgson:

“There is, of course, the possibility of the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual being uttered but it is too uncertain to count upon and the danger is too hideous and even then it has no power to protect for more than “maybe five beats of the harte” as the Sigsand has it.”

~

So there we have it, William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories; a series of formulaic tales with a writing style which can be described, at best, as adequate; zero characterisation; plots that gnaw away at the ropes which suspend your disbelief; and a mild obsession for equating esotericism with an over-use of vowels.

Having said that, the Carnacki tales have proved to be massively influential . . . somehow.

If you haven’t read them yet then should you read them?

Of course you should! They are a hugely important part of 20th Century occult fiction.

Studies in Occultism ~ H. P. Blavatsky (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 4 (Sphere, 1974))

As we move on from the third book in the series, in which Wheatley introduced us to one leading figure of Occult history with Crowley’s Moonchild, we move to another leading figure in that world for the fourth book, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

It seems from his introduction that Wheatley really wanted to include Blavatsky’s major work, Isis Unveiled, into his Library of the Occult series but as the series was a new venture it was deemed impractical to include such a massive two volume edition at this point; although, as Wheatley states, he did want to find a way to include it, along with other longer editions, at a later date. Sadly his Library of the Occult series ended earlier than anticipated at a total of 45 editions so this never happened.

What we have instead is Studies in Occultism; a collection of Blavatsky’s articles taken from her Theosophical magazine ‘Lucifer’.

blavatsky, studies in occultism, sphere, dennis wheatley library of the occult, volume 4

As we all know, Blavatsky was born in 1831 to an aristocratic Russian family. From a young age she travelled widely, both in the East and West, and supposedly learnt about mysticism from various personages along the way. This led her to co-founding the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. Her particular brand of pick and mix mysticism laid the foundations for much of the occult traditions of the 20th century leading to what popular thought now broadly categorises as the “New Age”.

The series of articles published in this volume are from a Blavatsky approaching the end of her life and there seems to be a bitterness underlying all of them. Let’s not forget that Blavatsky was very much a product of the 19th Century. With the rise of materialism and the glorification of the physical sciences during that period there were many, as is natural, who discarded these new-fangled ideas and returned to earlier beliefs; in the arts we saw the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement. People rejected the modern and resorted to Medievalism; and Blavatsky was no different.

In these articles Blavatsky calls out pretty much everyone who doesn’t follow her creed as Black Magicians, especially those within the scientific community. Perhaps she was tired of all of her detractors, she had been deemed as a fraud and a plagiarist many times, and these articles were a last ditch attempt at her defense of Theosophy.

To sum up the tone of the book let’s have an excerpt from the article entitled ‘The Dual Aspect of Wisdom’ which takes the form of a reply to a letter sent in to the magazine from a detractor suggesting that the movement is “. . . too fond of the dim yesterday, and as unjust to our glorious present-day, the bright noon-hour of the highest civilization and culture”. Blavatsky states in her eleven page reply (or, what we’d probably term now ‘rant’):

“No true Theosophist, in fact, would consent to become the fetish of a fashionable doctrine, any more than he would make himself the slave of a decaying dead-letter system, the spirit from which has disappeared for ever. Neither would he pander to anyone or anything, and therefore would always decline to show belief in that in which he does not, nor can he believe, which is lying to his own soul. Therefore there, where others see “the beauty and graces of modern culture”, the Theosophist sees only moral ugliness and the somersaults of the clowns of the so-called cultured centres. For him nothing applies better to modern fashionable society than Sydney Smith’s description of Popish ritualism: “Posture and imposture, flections and genuflections, bowing to the right, curtsying to the left, and an immense amount of male (and especially female) millinery”. There may be, no doubt, for some worldly minds, a great charm in modern civilization; but for the Theosophist all its bounties can hardly repay for the evils it has brought on the world. These are so many, that it is not within the limits of this article to enumerate these offspring of culture and of the progress of physical science, whose latest achievements begin with vivisection and end in improved murder by electricity. Our answer, we have no doubt, is not calculated to make us more friends than enemies, but this can be hardly helped. Our magazine may be looked upon as “pessimistic”, but no one can charge it with publishing slanders or lies, or, in fact, anything but that which we honestly believe to be true. Be it as it may, however, we hope never to lack moral courage in the expression of our opinions or in defense of Theosophy and its Society. Let then nine-tenths of every population arise in arms against the Theosophical Society wherever it appears — they will never be able to suppress the truths it utters. Let the masses of growing Materialism, the hosts of Spiritualism, all the Church-going congregations, bigots and iconoclasts, Grundy-worshippers, aping-followers and blind disciples, let them slander, abuse, lie, denounce, and publish every falsehood about us under the sun — they will not uproot Theosophy, nor even upset her Society, if only its members hold together.”

 But the most interesting thing about this book, for a collector such as myself, is not something the author intended, nor the publisher and not even Wheatley himself. Most collectors favour volumes in as pristine a condition as possible. Perfect little packages which look as though they’ve just come fresh from the printers, unread. For myself, I say, bring me your ragged, dog-eared editions. The books that have lived. The books that have been loved. The ones that have suffered from being stuffed into back-pockets or rucksacks to be read on journeys. I love the ones that have been scrawled in, where previous readers have been so impassioned that they’ve highlighted sections or added their own footnotes. Books that have been claimed by the owner writing their name on the flyleaf. Phone numbers written on the cover when that was the only paper they had on them at the time of a chance liaison. The makeshift bookmarks found in them, train tickets, theatre tickets, shopping lists, photographs! Even the marginal doodles.

This edition holds possibly my favourite reader addendum in my collection. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the volume; on the inside of the back cover we have a draft of a letter from a disgruntled Thelemite to his or her bank. Isn’t this just wonderful? I’ve included a typed version beneath for ease of reading.

blavatsky, studies in occultism, sphere, dennis wheatley library of the occult, volume 4

Dear Sirs,

Do What Thou Wilt . .

Thank you for confirmation of my

It is only by thro honesty and truth that men and women can achieve their full potential. It is the Law of Life, which is Love, Spirit and Light.

I believe in all truthfulness that this affair has not been closed and that certain employees of Barclays Bank will must face the forces in which they  you yourselves they themselves have invoked. So that all men may see the Light which is the (???) Intelligence.

Love is the Law, Love under Will.

How can you see this Great Love that sustains even the smallest particle of dust floating in Space when all you can think of is money?

May this Light lead you into correct action because character is the foundation, the base of the pyramid which reaches up to the stars.

Yours in Thelema,

Moonchild ~ Aleister Crowley (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 3 (Sphere, 1974))

And so we move onto the next book in the series with Crowley’s occult novel, here called Moonchild but also known as The Butterfly Net and, of course, Liber LXXXI.

In his brief foreword Crowley states that he wrote this book in 1917. It wasn’t published until the short-lived Mandrake Press put it into print in 1929 and, even then, it was only given a relatively short run. I can’t help wondering whether the book published in 1929 was the actual final draft from 1917 or whether there were additions made; it’s just that certain parts do seem quite prophetic (but then I suppose that was the author’s stock-in-trade). It wasn’t until 1970 that it was picked up and put into paperback by the famed New York occult bookshop-cum-publisher, Samuel Weiser. With the occult counter-culture boom of the 1970s Sphere reprinted it several times and included it as the third entry in our Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult series.

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, Volume 3

How do we talk about this novel? It’s such a curate’s egg of a thing that it’s difficult to know where to start. On the one hand we have an occult thriller yet, on the other hand, we have a primer on magical thinking. On yet another hand we have a biting satire on the major occult figures of the day and, on another hand still, we have an alternate(?) history of the early 20th Century.

Let’s start off by stating where I’m reading this book from. Obviously, I have a love of 20th century horror/occult fiction; that goes without saying. I would say that I have a grounding in what can be broadly categorised as Western Esotericism, including Crowley and Thelema, but I’m certainly no expert on the subject. I’ve read and studied the major Taoist texts, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and the I Ching but, again, I would not call myself an expert. I say this because, with a book such as this, any discussion is going to be coloured by the reader’s own preconceptions; a casual reader expecting a thriller about battling wizards is going to get a very different reading than, say, a dyed in the wool Thelemite.

So, what’s it about? The central plot concerns two factions of warring magicians. On one side, we have the ‘white’ magicians attempting to bring about a new age to humanity by bringing into being by magical means a homunculus. This homunculus would be the vehicle for a spirit possessing the astrological qualities of the moon and would become a Messianic figure, the Moonchild of the title. Of course, the ‘black’ magicians do all within their powers to bring an end to this working and there we have the premise of the novel, the interaction between the black and the white.

The world Crowley creates for Moonchild is not too distant from the one in which he inhabited, as such, it could be classed as a Roman à clef. All those we encounter in Moonchild are thinly veiled characterisations of Crowley’s own friends, acquaintances and enemies . . . and he certainly goes to town on them. Let’s have a look at some of the major players in the novel and their real-life counterparts:

1: Cyril Grey

young aleister crowley, cyril grey

A feisty young adventurer/magician, brave, handsome, connected, witty, charming, devastatingly intelligent and a powerful occultist. Yes . . . this is Aleister Crowley’s very own alter-ego (with the emphasis on ‘ego’). This being a character that is practically perfect in every way we cannot help but think there is an element of wish-fulfilment going on. Most people grow out of this sort of writing by their late-teens but old ‘Mary-Sue’ Crowley was a chap in his early forties when he wrote this.

2: Simon Iff

old aleister crowley, simon iff

A close friend, mentor and associate of Cyril Grey. A mysterious and exceptionally wise old Taoist and another powerful magician. Yes . . . this is another of Crowley’s alter-egos, himself as an older man – the man Grey wants to be.

3: Lisa la Giuffria

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, Mary 'd'Este Sturges, Lisa la Giuffria

Lover of Cyril Grey (Crowley) and intended mother of the Moonchild. She is based on Mary d’Este Sturges, one of Crowley’s ‘Scarlet Women’. The real Sturges was the wildly bohemian mother of film director Preston Sturges, she met Crowley through their mutual friend Isadora Duncan (who also briefly appears in Moonchild as ‘Lavinia King’) and went on to co-write some of Crowley’s most important work.

4: Douglas

samuel liddell macgregor mathers, Douglas, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

The chief antagonist of the piece, the head of The Black Lodge, is none other than the real life co-founder and head of the The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Douglas, also known as S.R.M.D., hates our young hero Cyril Grey with a passion and will stop at nothing to destroy his work. Being enemies in real life, Crowley writes a truly repulsive character for his one time associate, a vile and debauched magician who thinks nothing of pimping out his devoted wife to fund his own addictions.

5: Edwin Arthwait

A E Waite, Arthwait, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

The Black Lodge Magician who Douglas puts in charge of the mission to destroy the Moonchild project. Crowley barely even bothers to disguise the name of this one; it is, of course, the famed occultist, co-creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck and real life enemy of Crowley, Edward Arthur Waite. Crowley paints him as a tedious, pedantic, prolix buffoon whose bungled attempts at destroying the Moonchild project form a broad comedic relief in the middle of the book.

6: Gates

w b yeats, Gates, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

Arthwait’s second-in-command in the mission to destroy the Moonchild project. This is the poet W. B. Yeats and he doesn’t come across quite as badly as the others. Crowley portrays Yeats as a skilled magician with a keen intellect who only joined The Black Lodge as a romantic fantasy.

7: A.B.

annie besant, A.B., Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

This character doesn’t actually appear in the novel, they are only briefly mentioned as the mysterious ‘silent partner’ head of The Black Lodge; a woman of such evil depravity that even Douglas answers to her. Bizarrely, this is Crowley’s interpretation of the Victorian social reformer and leading light in Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, Annie Besant. Interestingly, the real Besant was famously involved with her own ‘Messiah’ project several years before Crowley wrote Moonchild.

These are just a handful of the main players in the novel. There are, of course, countless other important personages from the late 19th/early 20th centuries portrayed and if you don’t recognise them yourself then don’t worry, most editions have Crowley’s friend and secretary, Kenneth Grant, to guide us through with his copious footnotes.

So, that’s the background, we have an occult Roman à clef based around the characters revolving around the famed split, and ensuing fallout, of The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn. But how does it read as a novel? What if the reader has no prior knowledge of, or couldn’t care less about, the background of the novel?

Pretty poorly, I would imagine.

Crowley’s prose is flat and unimaginative for the most part with the occasional flourish of purple prose which only serves to highlight both failings. Even though the characters are mostly two dimensional Crowley has trouble controlling them, if there are ever more than three characters in a room Crowley completely loses control of them, thankfully larger group scenes are kept to a minimum. As a satire, Crowley’s venting of past grievances, although fascinating to those interested in the subject, can come across as back-bitingly juvenile. In fairness, the central plot does move along quite nicely, and we do encounter some genuine surprises within it, but the casual reader may find it an annoyance that the plot is being continuously derailed by the philosophical discourses which Crowley has Cyril Grey and Simon Iff expound upon.

Of course, these discourses are a major part of the novel which give it a second life as a primer on magical thinking. With Lisa la Giuffria being a newcomer to the group and an eager student it gives Crowley the opportunity, under the guise of Cyril Grey and Simon Iff, to guide the reader through the basics of his Thelemic tenets. This Crowley does exceptionally well, explaining in layman’s terms his philosophies in a Socratic dialogue sort of a way. Along with these magical dialogues we also have detailed descriptions of various magical rites, especially those within the realm of sympathetic magic, but there is one branch of mysticism that overrides all others in this novel.

Essentially, if we strip back Crowley’s book, if we silence the bells and whistles, it is a novel about Taoism. Crowley had a fascination for Taoism and wrote his own interpretation of the most important Taoist text, Lao Tsu’s ‘Tao Te Ching’. The appearance of Simon Iff as a Taoist mystic reinforces this theme. Within Taoism lies the concept of Dialectical Monism, understanding that the dualistic nature of reality only exists as part of a monistic whole; therefore, for example, good cannot exist without evil, and vice versa. Nothing actually exists, all is a result of the interaction between what we see as opposites. The entire plotline exemplifies this; imagine the Tai Chi Tu (more commonly known as the Yin/Yang symbol) and think of the interaction between those two forces, the Yin and the Yang, the black and the white, at once opposite and complementary; the novel dances along the invisible line that connects and divides them. Our hero, Cyril Grey (the young Crowley), is a man seeking The Way of The Tao and his friend, Simon Iff (the old Crowley), is a man who has attained it.

It’s difficult to say who Crowley was aiming this novel at. He wrote it at a particularly impecunious period of his life so, was it an attempt to make a bit of quick cash by writing a pot-boiler? Was it an attempt to give his philosophy a wider audience by disguising it as a mainstream thriller novel? Was it just a bit of a jape to annoy his detractors?

Who knows?

(Incidentally, if anyone does know then please feel free to comment!)

So, there we have it. Moonchild is at once a poorly written pot-boiler of an occult thriller and a possibly quite brilliant treatise on magical thinking with an emphasis on Taoist tenets. Either way, it’s a fascinating piece, synthesising the thoughts of one of the most important figures in 20th century occultism.

The Werewolf of Paris ~ Guy Endore (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 2 (Sphere, 1974))

So, Dennis Wheatley gave us Dracula as his opening gambit for the series; a bold move starting off with the most famous Vampire novel of all time. How could he follow that for the second book in his Library of the Occult, you may ask? By giving us the most famous Werewolf novel of all time, that’s how.

Endore’s 1933 novel is a fascinating thing; part Gothic romance; part horror; part historical fiction; it successfully intertwines factual events and people with the fictional protagonists to give us a bleak metaphorical discourse on the nature of humanity.

As you can see from the back cover blurb, this is being sold as a rather tawdry affair. It was very loosely adapted to film twice, by Hammer in 1961 and by Tyburn in 1975, both times being given the standard ‘creature feature’ treatment, which is a shame as this novel really is a long way from that.

The Werewolf of Paris, Guy Endore

Like all good Gothic novels Endore begins with a framing device to set the stage; this takes the form of a young American man living in contemporary Paris while diligently working towards his Ph.D. This unnamed young man is visited by Eliane, a friend from America, who convinces him to take her on a debauched tour of the Parisian nightlife. Here the central theme of duality which runs through the novel is introduced, he is reading Lucretius’ Epicurean text ‘De Rerum Natura’, she is reading the 1920’s sensational flapper novel ‘Flaming Youth’. He is sobre and serious, she is wild and intoxicated. He is guided by rationality, she is guided by instinct. He is decidedly human, she is rather wolfish.

It’s during this brief introductory chapter that our narrator discovers an old manuscript in a pile of litter. The manuscript turns out to be a report, written by Aymar Galliez, in defense of one Sergeant Bertrand Galliez for a court-martial dated 1871. Fascinated by this text, our narrator forms the body of our novel from his fleshed out investigations into the case.

The opening sequence of the main body of the novel gives us two castles, one on either side of a river, the great families of which are at constant war with each other. Now, there’s an image for the constant theme of duality. It’s about the battle between science and superstition, cruelty and kindness, savagery and civilisation, the rich and the poor. It’s to this violent world that is born Bertrand, the bastard son of an innocent 14 year old serving girl and the brutal priest who raped her during a thunderstorm. Of course, Endore has young Bertrand as the linch-pin of the novel; a character which, being both man and wolf, exists in a constant liminal state between these extremes.

We follow Bertrand and his adoptive uncle, Aymar, through that mid-19th century period of massive Gallic political turmoil. Beginning with Aymar’s injury in the brief 1848 revolution, through the Franco-Prussian war to the rise and fall of the Paris Commune, culminating in the terrors of the Bloody Week.

This is a true horror novel, in all senses. Endore appears to know his subjects well; the atrocities we become witness to during the battles for Paris, the battles between the new and old orders, are truly horrific and horrifically true. The wholesale slaughter, the executions, the paranoia led proletariat, the baying mobs, neighbours turning against neighbours, the wealthy corruptibles using the situation to their own advantage. The 20,000 or so people brutally killed during and following The Bloody Week. This is where the horror is and Endore, famously being a politically aware author, pulls no punches in depicting it.

Although this is a tale about a werewolf, the activites of the cursed Bertrand pale into insignificance when compared to the horrors surrounding him in a Paris at war with itself. In fact, the relationship between Bertrand and his lover Sophie, although marred by physicality, acts as a point of purity and sanity in an otherwise broken world. Bertrand’s wolfish behaviour is merely an instinctive need to feed, he becomes an innocent within the artifice of the political machinations surrounding him.

Ultimately, in the extraordinary bleakness of this novel, all pretence of duality is lost. Whether considered good or evil, a follower of science or superstition, rich or poor; we are all as one at heart. As soon as the thin veneer of civilisation has crumbled, we are all vicious beasts ready to rend and tear one another. We all have a vestigial beast within us.

We are all werewolves.

Dracula ~ Bram Stoker (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 1 (Sphere, 1974))

As I’ve said in previous posts, I started collecting these old horror paperbacks when I was a boy in the late 1970s. I was well aware of Dennis Wheatley at this time as I had his book ‘The Devil and All His Works’ on a semi-permanent loan from our local library (remember that wonderfully atmospheric Goya cover of the Devil in his guise as a Black Goat dancing in the middle of a witches’ Sabbath?). I also had several of Wheatley’s paperback novels as they were so plentiful at the jumble sales and junk shops I purchased my books from with my meagre pocket money.

Far more difficult to acquire at the time were the mysterious series of books under the title of Dennis Wheatley’s Library of the Occult, these were the ones that set my imagination racing. These were books I would only catch rare glimpses of, and I only managed to nab a few of them in my younger days, but they did always contain a list of other books in the series. All those wonderful titles and each with an introduction from Wheatley himself. I was convinced that if I managed to find and read the entire series I could indeed become a master of occult forces. However, knowing what I was like as a 10 year old, it was probably for the best that the whole series, and thus the mastery of Magick, eluded me.

Over the years I have continued to collect them and I thought it was about time I included the whole series of 45 books here in the Churchyard. One book at a time, of course.

As can be seen in the wonderful image below of the promotional pamphlet for the series, 400 books were in consideration for the ‘Library’ and it was intended to continue into the 1980s. Sadly, Wheatley passed away in 1977, so we have just the 45 books published between 1974 and 1976. Still a wonderful legacy though.

Many thanks to Charles Beck who runs the wonderful resource for all things Dennis Wheatley at www.denniswheatley.info for the loan of this image.

Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult

So, starting at Volume 1 in the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, we have that classic of vampire literature, Dracula. Do I need to say that it’s by Bram Stoker?

There’s really not much that I can say about this novel that hasn’t been said a hundred times before, which is why I’m conveniently using it for the introduction post to the series.

What does strike me about this novel is that I can’t think of a novel prior to this one which is built around a small band of adventurers, each with their own particular skill set. This is something we’re very used to today, it’s a staple of films and tv series (just look at that other great work of vampire fiction ‘Buffy’), but was there anything similar before Dracula? Obviously we have individuals or pairings, like Holmes and Watson for instance, but were there any other small bands of disparate characters coming together to battle the forces of evil before Stoker? Obviously we have older tales such as those of Robin Hood or the Arthurian cycle but I’m struggling to think of any ‘modern’ novels. I’m sure there must have been, but none spring to mind at the moment.

So, here it is . . . Dracula. If you’re reading this blog and there is any chance that you haven’t read it, perhaps you think you already know the story as it’s so famous so why bother, then just read it. It certainly wasn’t the first vampire tale ever written, it’s perhaps not even the best vampire tale ever written, but it was undoubtedly the most influential vampire tale ever written and a splendid piece of Victorian Gothic to boot!

dracula