Tag Archives: Fiction Occult & Supernatural

The Satanist

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Satanist [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by Dennis Wheatley, part of the Black Magic series.

Wheatley the Satanist

This novel is a sort of loose sequel — through the character of Colonel Verney — to the Wheatley book To the Devil a Daughter, which I haven’t read, though I’ve seen the Hammer film (and thought it markedly inferior to The Devil Rides Out). In fact, this was the first Wheatley I had read. Verney is perhaps the third most focal of the protagonists: the center of action oscillates between the earnest and ambitious aspiring government agent Barney Sullivan and the vengeful and comely young widow Mary Morden. 

I was somewhat surprised by the extent to which the Cold War context dominates the story. The Satanist of the title is not just a Satanist, he’s the Satanist at the pinnacle of a global cabal, and he aims to bring about the downfall of the Christian world by actualizing the mutually assured nuclear destruction of the NATO countries and the Soviet bloc. 

The book is prefaced with a caution to the reader, assuring that the author only learned about the (indisputable, he assures us) facts of modern occultism through his library study, and that actually to pursue any such thing in personal experience would lead to “dangers of a very real and concrete nature.” The London Satanic sect uses a little Theosophical circle as one of its recruiting venues. In the course of the tale, his Satanists espouse the Law of Thelema; though they don’t call it that, they repeatedly recite the Summary, “Do what thou wilt shall be the Whole of the Law” (Wheatley’s capitalization). Experimental music and modern art are classed as Satanic enterprises. Native American tribal religions worship “Our Lord Satan,” according to the Indians’ own claims. Wheatley also asserts through his most knowledgable and sympathetic characters that telepathy is scientifically proven!

The characters are vividly drawn, if sometimes reliant on stereotype, and Wheatley provides us with a great deal of their interior reflections, exhibiting a bourgeois morality which was perhaps Wheatley’s own, or at least that which he expected his popular readership would find sympathetic. One of the villains is described as being of gigantic stature, and yet having served with distinction as a US Air Force pilot, which seemed a bit unlikely. 

And so, unsurprisingly, the reward for me here was mostly limited to camp. There were, as I had hoped, a number of set pieces of diabolist ceremony, Mary Morden’s preliminary initiation being the best of them, and I could take a certain unironic pleasure in these. It wasn’t so unsatisfying that I wouldn’t perhaps pick up another of the author’s “occult thrillers,” but it was in fact a bit longer than I could justify based on the contents I did enjoy.

The Adventures of Jules de Grandin

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Adventures of Jules de Grandin [Amazon, Local Library] by Seabury Quinn, introduction by Lin Carter. (See instead: The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin series.)

Quinn Carter The Adventures of Jules de Grandin

This first volume of the 1970s paperback series reprints seven out of the ninety-three Jules de Grandin stories by Seabury Quinn, including several of the earliest. These began in the 1920s and quickly became a staple of Weird Tales, where they appeared nearly every other month. They were not a serial, however. There is no overarching plot nor development over time of the central characters, who are stock types of an occult investigator and his medical doctor amanuensis. In general, the stories rely on broadly-drawn characters and stereotypes in order to maintain a high tempo and to create a quotidian background for shocking crimes and supernatural menaces.

The sleuth de Grandin himself is an amusingly exaggerated, sword-cane-wielding, mustachioed, gallic scientist of diminutive stature. Most of his adventures take place in the hometown of his host and colleague Doctor Trowbridge, Harrisonville, New Jersey. Being a European in America allows de Grandin to make amusing asides castigating Prohibition, religious bigotry, and other forms of American provincialism. “Today your American courts convict high school-teachers for heresy far less grave than that charged against our Jeanne [d’Arc]. We may yet see the bones of your so estimable Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin exhumed from their graves and publicly burned by your heretic-baiters of this today” (53, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!).

The narrator Trowbridge maintains a naïve skepticism in the face of exotic events that grows less believable with each passing tale. One of the strengths of the stories is their use of menaces drawn from folk traditions and popular culture (vampires and werewolves, for instance) while allowing that the common lore may be inaccurate in its details. Thus the reader can see where de Grandin’s hypotheses are leading him–while Trowbridge refuses even to consider such fanciful notions–but the tension of the unknown is maintained, along with a sense of the “scientific.”

In those points where de Grandin explains or employs occultism as such, the details tend to be fairly flawed. For example, Trowbridge describes a hexagram (and the book even supplies a diagram) but de Grandin calls it a “pentagram” (182). In another adventure, de Grandin calls elemental spirits “Neutrarians,” a term I hadn’t previously encountered, but which appears to have been coined by Elliot O’Donnell in his Twenty Years Experiences as a Ghost Hunter.

These stories are not great works of literature, and it doesn’t seem that anyone has ever mistaken them for such. They are pulp paragons, and one of their attractions is their great variety, from the piracy-and-cannibalism yarn of “The Isle of Missing Ships” to the parapsychological crime mystery of “The Dead Hand.” Quinn’s de Grandin stories frequently served as the basis for the cover illustrations of the numbers of Weird Tales in which they appeared. Even reading them in this mass market paperback reprint, it is easy to spot the moments in the stories that would be chosen for this honor. They usually featured a naked woman in peril. “The Tenants of Broussac” (scene on page 67) and “The Man Who Cast No Shadow” (153-4) are the two stories in this collection that were realized as cover art in their magazine appearances, and it is easy to note Quinn offering similarly “graphic” climaxes in every tale.