Diener der Finsternis (The Devil Rides Out);
Taschenbuchreiche Phantastiche Literatur 72 030, 1983
A (very) loose translation

In Great Britain today, there is no lack of interest in the occult.  Witch cults and ritual magic are a not particularly unusual hobby for many English people, and for some a profitable business too.  This interest has generated a good deal of literature.  Occult thrillers were almost a genre in their own right, long before the present popularity of novels such as “The Exorcist” and “The Shining”.

These occult stories are not always truly ‘fantastic/fantasy’ literature.  Much of the time the fantastic is only used within a crime or secret agent story, in which, to make a change, the villain is a magician or devil worshipper.  Or sometimes the authors try to discuss their own conceptions of occultism in fiction form.

Only a few occult novels are genuinely ‘fantastic’ writing, in the sense that the supernatural questions our rational, scientifically-oriented world.  And The Devil Rides Out – a book which can be considered a classic among occult novels, because of its great success in England and its countless imitations – is among them.  Within the thriller plot Wheatley describes the existence of a secret occult reality, which stands behind our everyday life and world, aiding and menacing it.

By his own account Wheatley was firmly convinced of the existence of the Devil.  But in the novels he gives a mixture of esoteric teachings, often with a sensationalistic treatment, on the basis of their rituals.  At the centre is always the never-ending struggle between light and darkness, in which the eternally hidden erupts and suddenly reveals itself so Wheatley’s heroes can get a glimpse of it, as if a curtain had suddenly opened and then shut again just as quickly.  Quickly, because in Wheatley, magic practices represent the tip of the supernatural iceberg, which is allowed to keep its mystery within the atmosphere of the fantastic.

After the success of “The Devil Rides Out” Wheatley went on to write a number of further novels with occult backgrounds, but they are not, for the most part, much better than those of his many imitators.  They are usually just crime or war novels, in which one or other side uses magic power.  “To The Devil–A Daughter” is an exception to this, and among other things it contains a literary portait of England’s best known Satanist, Aleister Crowley(*).  Like “The Devil Rides Out”, this novel was in the “Horror Library” series some years ago, and as classics of the occult both books are now presented once more.

Michael Gorden, Bonn,
June 1983.

*Not quite true.  According to Francis King in his foreword to the Century Hutchinson edition of To The Devil—A Daughter Canon Copely-Syle is an amalgam of the Rev. Montague Summers and Aleister Crowley.  The book also contains a vignette (a word picture) of Rollo Ahmed as the black who opens the door, appropriately in a chapter called ‘The Black Art’ – the title of Ahmed’s own book.