Well, it was my birthday at the weekend and I received some great books. I also received a bit of birthday cash which I promptly turned into CDs and yet more books. The most exciting of these new acquisitions is definitely a volume entitled Classic Black Magic from Dennis Wheatley. I found it in the horror section of Waterstones and was immediately drawn to the dramatic red and black Satanic cheesiness of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully intend to read it and not just keep it on the shelf. It’s just that I haven’t read any of his stuff since I was about fourteen years-old when I read The Ka of Gifford Hillary. This new book reprints The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter and Gateway to Hell – the first two of which I also read back in my teen years.
The trouble for me is that being an atheistic/agnostic/skeptic type of person, the appearance of Satan in horror stories does little for me. I think that some interesting things can be done with him as a fictional character (as I’m hoping that my forthcoming novel will show), but as a character of fear and absolute evil, he adds as much tension to a book as The Grinch.
When I was a lad and still on the cusp of Catholicism, Wheatley’s version of the devil scared me witless. I had the suspicion or perhaps vestigial belief that such creatures were real and potent somewhere in the world. It was the same concept that made The Exorcist such a shocker to me at the time. Yes, I knew that it was a horror story, but was some of it based on some sort of twisted reality?
This unease was compounded by the fact that reading horror novels was discouraged both by my parents and by my school teachers. There were always tacit indications that such literature might be a gateway to – if not Hell itself – then to something more sinister.
I laugh now imagining that my reading of The Omen novels, of Stephen King and even the Armada ghost story anthologies might have been the first steps on a ladder that led to a top shelf full of esoteric tomes that might have been used to summon Lucifer himself.
I’m looking forward to looking backward; reading Wheatley’s dark stories again, just to see if they can conjure up any long-lost chills.