The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - Researching the Occult
Researching the Occult
As DW wrote in his autobiography, "After finishing The Fabulous Valley, I tried very hard to think of a subject for my next book that would hit another high spot. It then occurred to me that, although in Victorian times there had been a great vogue for stories of the occult, in the present century there had been very few; so I decided to use the theme of Black Magic".
He continued :
"The fact that I had read extensively about ancient religions gave me some useful background, but I required up-to-date information about occult circles in this country. My friend, Tom Driberg, who then lived in a mews flat just behind us in Queens Gate, proved most helpful. He introduced me to Aleister Crowley, the Reverend Montague Summers and Rollo Ahmed."
DW's four novels to date had all had completely different subject matters - Soviet Russia, the Hollywood film industry, a future England where law and order had broken down and the diamond fields of South Africa, so his decision to write an occult thriller was a further new theme.
DW's comment that there had been very few novels about the occult published in the twentieth century was not entirely accurate - M R James' celebrated 'Ghost Stories of an Antiquary' had been published in 1904, and both Somerset Maugham and the less well known William Hope Hodgson had written occult stories before the First World War. His comments were perhaps more true of the period between the end of the First World War and the early 1930s.
What is certainly true is that DW was unusually well qualified to write such a book. As he said, and as is exemplified in Room Three (See for example Exhibit Three) he had read extensively concerning ancient religions and comparative religion.
That this encompassed an interest in the occult is shown by the fact that his mistress Gwen bought him a sumptuous copy of 'Malleus Malleficarum' in the late 1920s (Blackwells Catalogue Number 1279), and he had a copy of Montague Summers 'History of Witchcraft and Demonology' apparently autographed to him in 1926 (Blackwells Catalogue Number 2010).
In preparation for writing the book - and in a manner he was to follow when writing all his future novels - he did copious research, reading not only 'factual' books on the subject but also novels with occult backgrounds that might give him ideas.
As DW was fond of saying, this research was enhanced by his conversations with the likes of Crowley, Summers and Ahmed, and apart from any assistance they gave, this element of 'personal research' certainly helped give publicity to the book.
The novel was serialised by the Daily Mail beginning on 31st October 1934, and published in book form by Hutchinsons on 12th December 1934.
Not only did it sell well from the outset, but it became the principal book, and Black Magic the principal theme, on which DW's fame now rests.
Now firmly established as a major best seller, DW settled down to write a further eight novels, a biography of a Russian Field Marshal, four Crime Dossiers (with J.G.Links) as well as setting his hand to various other tasks (such as doing a spell of three months writing 'Personality Pages' for the Sunday Graphic) between the start of 1935 and the outbreak of World War Two.
His novels during this period included a further outing for The Duke de Richleau in 1938, but he was not to return to the theme of the occult in a further novel until 1941.
DW's final book before the War was 'Sixty Days to Live', and he noted in his own copy that his thirteenth novel proved unlucky - it was published only a week before the outbreak of War and - in retrospect - had the most unfortunate of titles. It was his only book which did not immediately recoup his publisher's advance.
DW need not have worried however ... the war was to bring him distinction of a different kind, and afterwards he was to continue to be one of the world's most successful authors.