'25 År Med Dennis Wheatley' by Uno Asplund, Aktiebolaget Skoglunds Bokförlag, Stockholm, 1958;
translation by Iwan Morelius, 19 Jan 2006
25 Years with Dennis Wheatley
Dennis Wheatley has been called “The Worlds’ Thriller Writer No. 1” – an honourable title he richly deserves.
His talent for telling a story is built on imagination and a richness of invention, which means you have to go back to the great masters to find authors to compare with, to find intrigues filled with basic knowledge of great worth. Wheatley is a real researcher in history, not the least in the military history of war. He has researched history deeply to be able to give the readers a believable story, although not all true, to get the frame of his thrilling stories. He has himself been personally active in the last Great War and has been in the centre of military-strategically events.
Some have compared him with Alexander Dumas. I think that’s right, as Wheatley has the gift, although a true Englishman, to think as the French Musketeers Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan did when they were fighting for the honour of their Queen. And with such a great imagination as Dumas had he lets his hero Roger Brook go to war seeking adventure and love.
He has also been compared with Edgar A Poe. Not wrong there either. Drawn to the occult and his interest for spiritual phenomena is a side of Wheatley which the readers will find in many of his occult novels. In this respect he is also an author who could be compared with Arthur Conan Doyle.
Yes, I will also draw a parallel with H Rider Haggard and Jules Verne. Haggards’ classical trio, who went to the then unknown Africa to find Solomon’s treasure, the old hunter Alan Quatermain, the blond giant Sir Henry Curtis and the man with the monocle Captain John Good. Of course they are soul-mates to the very fit old epicure Duke de Richleau, the Jewish very sharp banker Simon Aron, the big American Rex van Ryn and the English sportsman Richard Eaton? Even they went for great adventures into the unknown – the modern jungle of politics.
Jules Verne and Wheatley finally have two things in common – the unlimited imagination and the ability to fully research their technical details. Doing that they have created stories which are believable and that includes even the most thrilling science fiction stories.
Dennis Wheatley can this year celebrate his 25th anniversary with his Swedish readers. It was 1934 that he first made headlines with his novel The Forbidden Territory, the colourful political adventure story in the Russian wilderness, and since then he has continued to give us a yearly adventure.
The latest novel this year is his 35th in a Swedish translation – in fact his 34th as his novel The Man Who killed the King (1952), because of its many pages, was published in two parts (Stormen Rasar and Bortbytingen). With this one can really say that the crème de la crème of Wheatleys’ production had reached the Swedish readers. Not yet translated are Strange Conflict, Star of Ill-Omen, To the Devil – A Daughter, a short story collection Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts and the historical novels A Private Life of Charles II and Red Eagle (deals with the Russian revolution). Under work is Traitor’s Gate, a new Gregory Sallust adventure.
Who is this man, unique as a writer? Well, if you try to get information about Mr Dennis Wheatley it is not easy to get any facts, because he is a very shy man, but if you really try hard it is worth it, because behind the author’s name a very important person is hiding, a man who well deserves the epitaph “the Fighting Britain”, deserving to be in the little crowd of “those few who did so much for so many” – to travesty Churchill’s famous words.
Dennis Wheatley, who was born in London 1897, studied both in Worcester and in Germany. Before he became an author he was a wine merchant, a job he suspended when the 1st World War started. Wheatley was one of many who took the trip over the Channel to serve as a young artillery officer during the whole war. Those experiences made a great impression on him and his adventure interest plus the fact that he at that time found he had a talent for telling stories. He gave up the wine business and started to write. With his first novel, The Forbidden Territory, he began a shining career in the book industry and his books found at once an enthusiastic public.
When the Second World War started in 1939 he could not be used for active duty because of his age – a thing that annoyed him very much. By this time he had written around a dozen novels and had reached his position as an adventure writer con amore. And facing the greatest adventure of all he just didn’t want to stay there as an observer.
He offered the Ministry of Information his services, but they said no with both hands [a Swedish saying]. An amateur and above all a writer in the honourable group of leading men – unthinkable! So Wheatley continued to write his novels in order to satisfy his readers. But he waited patiently for his chance and it came in May 1940. At that time the British were afraid of an invasion and it was necessary to prepare for that. All units were to be put together. How would the Germans do it? The answer could only come from people with great imagination and a constructive talent. And suddenly someone – obviously an intelligent person – “Intelligence Officer” thought about Dennis Wheatley. So Wheatley got the mission to let his imagination go free and try to find different ways to protect England from an Invasion.
And Wheatley had a lot of good ideas. He wrote a long paper which really pleased the high ranking officers in the Joint Planning Staff. Then they wanted a paper about what he would have done if he was a high ranking German officer. Wheatley’s heroes – especially Gregory Sallust – hadn’t been known to give humanitarian service when dealing with the Nazis so Wheatley gave all he had to act like a brutal Nazi officer. –“I tried to think like a gangster”, he said.
The result was far more than expected. The senior officers read it and were amazed what Wheatley had found out. There were leaks in their defence lines that they hadn’t imagined or dreamed of. They started at once to deal with it. The English General Staff had got a bloody tooth. They wanted more of the same sort and asked for another 20 papers from Wheatley.
During the following 18 months Wheatley wrote ½ million words for the defence staff, some of which he thought was nonsense, as he was without any special information. But other people found out that most of it was useful and well worth thinking about. They finally tried to find a special post for Wheatley. Still it was a big problem as the older officers didn’t want “a cat among the ermine”. They didn’t like to have a civilian among them.
But in the autumn 1941 a special news unit was founded inside the “Invasion staff” and there Wheatley came in “disguised” as an Air Force Colonel. At that post he was able to play his role – “his small role”, he said – at the planning of greater strategically missions and he was able to work directly under Churchill.
The author Wheatley had no time over for writing novels. In case his fans should forget him – which was no risk at all – he collected some older short stories and let his publisher Hutchinson publish them in two short story collections, Mediterranean Nights (in 1945 published in Swedish under the title Skälmar och charmörer vid Medelhavet) and Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts.
After the Invasion was completed and victory was in sight Wheatley decided he had nothing more to give the military and asked for permission to go back to a civilian life, which was given.
He went back to write books again, filled with facts about the second world war, which is given to only one who has had the privilege to go behind the military and diplomatic scenes. Everything lay in front of him to write a great war-series, which should be one of the cornerstones in his production.
His flat at St. Johns Wood Park in London had suffered during the “blitz” and was now not fit for living in. His new home was in the countryside where he had bought a Georgian house dating from 1680 in Lymington. In this very idyllic surrounding he wrote, not only many Gregory Sallust novels, but was also inspired to his second great adventure-series about the English secret agent Roger Brook and his thrilling adventures during the French Revolution.
One can place Dennis Wheatley’s writings into four categories.
The first one could be called “The Duke-series” which deals with Duke de Richleau and his three musketeers. This series includes The Forbidden Territory (1934), The Devil Rides Out (1935), The Golden Spaniard (1939), Three Inquisitive People (1944) and Codeword- Golden Fleece (1946). Add to that two volumes dealing with The Duke’s youth, The Second Seal (1951) and The Prisoner in the Mask (1958). Note! The years in ( ) are the Swedish publishing years.
“World War series” with the young Gregory Sallust, the beautiful German baroness Erica von Epp and the tough Gestapo-officer Obergruppenfuhrer Grauber as main characters forms another category and contains The Scarlet Impostor (1943), The Black Baroness (1943, “V” For Vengeance (1943) and Come Into My Parlour (1947). Note that Gregory Sallust also appears in other novels such as Black August (1935) Contraband (1937) and The Island Where Time Stands Still (1955). Also in this Second World War category are Wheatley’s productions The Sword of Fate (1942) and The Man Who Missed the War (1946). The last one is built around one of Wheatleys’ excellent and so typical Wheatley-ideas, which made the Joint Planning Staff really wake up. It deals with a convoy with a whole armada of floats put together in a chain.
A category on its own is of course “The Roger Brook-series”, which starts when the hero is sent to France as a secret agent. It is a story that reminds the reader of The Scarlet Pimpernel. To date this marvellous series takes the reader to that moment when Napoleon takes the over the power of France. So the readers can be looking forward to many more Roger Brook adventures. So far six volumes: The Launching of Roger Brook (1948), The Shadow of Tyburn Tree (1949), The Rising Storm (1950), The Man Who Killed the King (1952) and The Dark Secret of Josephine (1956).
Another category of books is of course the one dealing with the occult. In “The Duke series” there is The Devil Rides Out (1935), The Haunting of Toby Jugg (1949) and The Ka of Gifford Hillary (1957) plus the so-far-not-translated Strange Conflict, Star of Ill-Omen and To the Devil-a Daughter.
Well, then we have all those thrilling and exciting "separate" novels, where the readers, thanks to the author’s great imagination are taken to Atlantis, collide with a comet, go right into The Sargasso Sea, hunt for diamonds in the Valley of Diamonds. Yes, to fly from the normal and routine days and life into the unknown. You can say anything about Mr Dennis Wheatley – he can really write adventure stories – that’s what he can really do!