on 21 April 2007
James Hilton (Goodbye Mr Chips, Lost Horizon) described "The Devil Rides Out" as "The best tale of its kind since Dracula" and I don't think he was far wrong. Many believe it to be Wheatley's finest work and it's a classic of its kind. I first read the book many years ago and on reading it again, it has lost none of its power to grip.
The book is the second, in published terms, to feature DW's hero the Duke de Richleau, and was his first ever black magic novel. It was a huge bestseller in the 1930s when it first came out, and continued to be a bestseller until he went out of fashion in the 1980s/1990s. Fortunately DW is now experiencing something of a resurgence, and well done Wordsworth for bringing this out in a cheap but elegant reprint (a good first edition would cost you several thousands of pounds !).
It's full of 1930s atmosphere, skilfully written and well researched too - although Wheatley never practiced magic himself, he met with many of the most famous occultists of his day (Aleister Crowley, Rollo Ahmed etc) in his endeavour to make the book as authentic as possible.
In The Devil Rides Out, the Duke and a friend find that one of their number (Simon) is missing from a reunion, and it turns out that he has fallen under the influence of a black magic sect. At first disbelieving the Duke, his friends soon discover that he is right when he says that magic still exists and that the powers of darkness are still alive and very real, as they fight a series of terrific earthly and occult battles to save their friend's soul.
The book was filmed in the 1960s with Christopher Lee taking the lead role as the Duke in one of his few appearances as a `goodie', and while Lee was first rate, for my money the book is superior to the film.
If you're grey haired and read it in your youth, it's worth reading again. If you're about to read it for the first time, I envy you. You're in for a treat !
Widely regarded as one of the finest occult thrillers ever written, and almost certainly his most famous work, the Devil Rides Out is a rollercoaster of an adventure, set in post WW1 England, and chronologically the third in sequence to feature "Those Modern Musketeers", De Richleau, Simon, Richard and Rex.
Concerned with their friend's absence, The Duc and Rex pay a visit to Simon's house in North London, where they come across a bizarre gathering of strangers. Suspecting foul play, the Duc ignores Simon's claims that he has joined an astrological society, and quickly discovers that he has in fact, joined a satanic sect, led by the powerful Mocata. What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Simon is pulled between the powers of light and darkness in a battle of the astral plane. Dinner at the Ritz, fine wines, brandy, cigars and vintage sports cars are all part of a rich backdrop in what amounts to a phenomenally well researched and gripping thriller. Stand out scenes include the sacrifice to Satan on Salisbury Plain, the car chase, the mesmeric words of De Richleau and of course, the infamous night in the Pentangle, where the friends encounter the Angel of Death himself.
The book was to inspire the sixties Hammer version, and though the film was not quite up to the quality of the original, it did feature a great performance from Christopher Lee, and of course, the most chilling line captured on film by the powerful Charles Gray: "I won't be back, but something will."
on 14 July 2009
It must be close to forty years since I last read one of Wheatley's novels and cannot now remember if this was one. Certainly, 'They Used Dark Forces', 'The Satanist' and several Roger Brook novels come to mind but not this one. Therefore, it was a good reintroduction to the author. The writing really does seem dated now but then it was published three-quarters of a century ago and, on that premise, is still entertaining. The locations have to be seen in the context of a country without motorways; indeed, with remarkably few motor-cars on the road and it, therefore, useful in conjuring an image (no pun intended) of what the Home Counties and Wiltshire was like in the early thirties.
Being under 30, I had heard of the Devil Rides Out and Dennis Wheatley without really knowing what it was all about, so finding that such an inexpensive edition of the work was now available from Wordsworth's excellent line of supernatural stories, well I had to buy it, didn't I?
What surprised me is that once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down. The tale is of the Duc de Richleau's battle for the soul of his friend Simon Aron, the fate of a young girl, and ultimately the fate of the world, as he takes on satanist Mocata and his entourage. Having read a biography of Aleister Crowley, we can see that he was the touchstone for Mocata, although it is only a surface representation as Mocata is presented as a villain, rather than as a human being. As far as I know, the representations of magic are well researched, with Wheatley representing both white and black magic and the will to power.
Because of the era it was written in, there are no shades of grey in the story, just as the magic used in the tale is black or white, so is the morality and Wheatley is clearly from the same stable as the other great British adventure writers like Buchan, Sapper and Ian Fleming. It also reminds me of the excellent Carnacki stories by Hodgson. As such you may feel that some of the views are a little dated. I didn't notice anything that I thought was necessarily objectionable as I do with Fleming. But the story is written at such a rollicking pace that it is impossible not to get swept up.
This is not a horror story, I doubt that unless you're under the age of ten and sensitive (as I once was) you will find anything chilling in the book, but there certainly is atmosphere and the midnight vigil inside the pentacle, when Mocata sends the Angel of Death to our heroes, is as tense as can be. It's a supernatural adventure - a predecessor to the X-Files and Buffy, and as good a supernatural adventure as I've read. The ending seems like a bit of a copout at first, but the final page makes it all matter again and I can't recommend it enough.
So why not five stars? Well, there are a few typographical errors in the book, errant speech marks and punctuation, but that shouldn't dissuade you from buying this book!
on 1 December 2010
Enjoyable, fast paced romp. It is not always consistent and the writing sometimes seems a bit rushed. The magic elements are done quite well and are not too silly. The 1930's atmosphere is interesting as well.
I've been a major fan of horror and supernatural fiction for most of my life and it's probably The Devil Rides Out that gave me a taste for the macabre and magical. One of the first novels I read and I'd forgotten just how good it is.
Yes, it's true, the novel's aged and does seem naive compared to modern, contemporary horror fiction but I still find the ritualistic elements extremely well written and that's possibly because Wheatley was so determined to get it right he spent time with some of the most infamous occultists of the age to deepen his own understanding.
So, what's it about? The principle character of Duke de Richleau, wealthy nobleman, discovers his friend Simon has gone missing and over time it's revealed Simon may well be under the influence of a particularly nasty Black Magic sect. It's here the plot really begins to move along with some great scraps, physical and magical, being fought over Simon's soul. The subplot of someone really unpleasant being conjured up from the depths adds even more tension and intrigue.
Packed with atmosphere and the 1930's are wonderfully evoked in the clipped, polite dialogue and the general 'niceness' of the characters who are such a mix of the wealthy and the downright eccentric.
I would recommend any fan of the supernatural to read this classic. It's neither particularly scary or unnerving by today's standards but it's beautifully written with wonderfully descriptive passages concerning magic, deception and the fight for good over bad. Once you've finished with this story you might feel tempted to try 'To the Devil a Daughter' - I was.
So happy to have had the opportunity to revisit.
on 7 July 2008
Having read all of Wheatley's books in my youth (I am now 64)and loved them all, this one is THE best.
I believe that it was written in the 1930's so the style is a little different from modern books but the story is excellent and has stood the test of time.
Wheatley researched deeply into all things esoteric and always gave a warning in his foreword to his books on black magic, 'not to get involved'.
Good advice, I think, as if you read this book, you will see what he means.
Read it, I know you will love it. Also, 'To the Devil a Daughter' by him is another excellent read in the same genre.
on 8 December 2008
Growing up in post-war Britain one inevitably encountered the ubiquitous paperbacks of the novels of Dennis Wheatley, which were read then and happily once again, with much avidity. A fabulous supernatural thriller, 'The Devil Rides Out' on its publication in 1934 was hailed as the best thing of it's kind since Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' and the comparison is entirely justified. This classic tale of devilry might also be said to have been strongly influenced by the ripping occult tales of Sax Rohmer as well. Set amidst the dashing world of the wealthy in 1930's England, Wheatley conjures up an amazing yarn of satanic horrors and hidden diabolism lurking amid the shadowed mansions of St.John's Wood and in luxurious West End hotels, of midnight car-chases through the English countryside in Hispano limousines and bottle-green Bentleys - we are transported into a glamorous era of aristocratic manners, exotically beautiful women, regally-appointed apartments, burgundy smoking jackets, fine aged cognacs, Veuve Cliquot champagne and Hoyo de Monterrey cigars. The narrative is fast-paced and truly thrilling with many episodes of chilling terror and laden with a genuinely dark atmosphere of oppressive supernatural evil. The eternal struggle, the world-old conflict between the transcendent forces of Light and the Ahrimanic powers of Darkness is epitomised in the battle between the elegant connoisseur the Duc De Richleau and the suavely malevolent Satanist Mocata, repugnant, bulging-eyed and effete, who has Simon Aron in his clutches. Wheatley researched the occult elements in this book to quite an impressive degree , garnering many details and esoteric data from the libertine Aleister Crowley, the Old Catholic prelate Montague Summers and the Jamaican occultist Rollo Ahmed whom he knew in the 1930's. 'The Devil Rides Out' is certainly far superior fare to much of todays etiolated, depressing and confused horror fiction and in no small part this is due to the almost mediaeval or Zarathustran dualism which pervades Wheatley's mindset (In 'The Devil & All His Works' Wheatley comments favourably on these ancient Persian religious doctrines.)Who didn't read those solemn warnings prefixed to Wheatley's novels advising the reader against involvement with the Black Arts without experiencing the frisson of the forbidden !
This is a fantastic read by the 'Prince of Thriller Writers' as he was called in his heyday and as Dennis Wheatley's friend Christopher Lee has eloquently commented, it also conveys a timely warning against injudicious incursions into the darker regions of the occult with their attendant psychic pathologies - the 1967 Hammer film of the novel is essential viewing also. The Devil Rides Out is a stylish foray into the tenebrous realms of the occult and for me it was definitely a formative influence.
And yet on a serious note the fascination this pulpish occult thriller holds may also indicate a deeper dimension of meaning - the Romanian novelist-poet Jean Parvulesco asserted that Dennis Wheatley was what he termed a 'mediumistic' writer and that his novel actually depicts the occult forces and undercurrents operating beneath the facade of the 20th century, behind the narrative we discern the great spiritual conflict underlying the modern epoch, a kind of chronicle of the final phases of the Kali Yuga. Thus we might interpret the aristocratic Monsieur le Duc with his valiant party as the representative of Sanctum Imperium and the Sacred Order and the repellent Mocata and his degraded minions in their quest for the Talisman of Set as corrupt agencies of the Counter-Initiation intent upon unleashing infra-human darkness, evil and luciferan dissolution upon the world. In the context of the final chapters of political and spiritual warning in 'The Devil & All His Works' as well as his prophetic 'Letter to Posterity' which warned of the oppression of a coming politically-correct totalitarian tyranny under the aegis of the Power of Darkness one cannot help but feel that Dennis Wheatley might well have agreed.
on 19 October 2008
Having got bored with the whole horror novel genre, I picked this book up by chance (and due to the fact it was really cheap as well), this really is a great book. The atmosphere created within the pages, as well as the superb charecters, I found I could not put this book down until I finished the last page. If only every horror author wrote as good as this, even if your not into horror novels, this is a must read for your book collection.
on 2 June 2014
It struck me early on that this would make a classic Hammer Horror Movie, with the emphasis on 'ham'. And in fact, it did, with Christopher Lee playing the hero for a change, as Duke de Richleau. That is pretty much all you need to know. However, I will make a few personal observations. It's a group of upper class rich stereotypes from a bygone era that I am not sure ever even existed. They go charging about the English country side and dashing off in conveniently fuelled and ready to take off private aircraft across Europe to foil a dreadful satanic plot in which they have unwittingly become embroiled. They are temporarily thwarted at every turn by villains, who can be readily identified by their various physical peculiarities and deformities. Obviously.
The text is littered with all manner of references to satanic practices and daft myth and legend relating to the dark arts, to the point that it just becomes very, very silly. How much bunk the author must have waded through to end up with such mish-mash of nonsense I can only imagine but he must have been overwhelmed because he certainly wasn't that discerning in the final cut and the effect is an overload that renders any reasonable suspension of belief impossible.
No occurrence or situation is so terrible it seems, not even the kidnapping of ones only child, that one cannot make the time at least, to manage a ham sandwich, if not a full 4 course meal and every venue has access to a well stocked cellar of excellent wines. Every repast is detailed. At first, I found it 'quaint' and nostalgic but I struggled to complete it because it is just so 'twee' and dated without the depth or skill needed to elevate it above this perception. No suspense, no terror, angst or pathos, oh and in the end, everyone, save the chronically obvious villain, lives happily ever after.
Does it work? No, It fails on the horror front. Just not at all frightening but it did make me laugh in a couple of places. I think the difference between a novel being described as dated and a novel really achieving classic status must be in the execution. Bram Stoker's Dracula is a classic. The Devil Rides out is just daft. Read it for nostalgia or comedy effect.
Note on the kindle copy - some errors I think but didn't pay too much attention. I was just trying to get through it.
Update July: realised I gave this 3 stars originally, which puts it on a par with some books I rate fairly decent reads. Not deserved, so have revised down to 2 stars, which is more appropriate.