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Wheatley, Dennis

Entry updated 5 February 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1897-1977) UK author who served in both World War One and World War Two, in the latter conflict with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 1941-1944. He was a prolific and extremely popular author of many espionage thrillers and historical romances, although the best of his work – and since his death the only category of his large oeuvre to be read at all widely – consists of a number of black-magic tales in which contemporary political knots are unravelled through occult means. Characters tend to appear and reappear from book to book, genre to genre, throughout his work, some of them sufficiently linked so that they can be thought of as series. The first of these is the Duke de Richleau sequence, beginning with The Forbidden Territory (1933), filmed as The Forbidden Territory (1934), continuing with his best-known novel, The Devil Rides Out (early version appeared 31 October-?? 1934 The Daily Mail; 1935), filmed as The Devil Rides Out (1968), and ending with Gateway to Hell (1970) [for further titles and omnis see Checklist below]. It is closely (if crudely) modelled on the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, though laced with constant infusions of the occult, most vividly evocative in World War Two volumes of the sequence – like Strange Conflict (1942), in which the Germans, having sterilized the entire population of Poland, make use of supernatural aid in the Blitz – where de Richleau and his confreres must frustrate Nazi compacts with Dark Forces.

Further titles with similar material include Such Power Is Dangerous (1933), an early Media Landscape thriller in which a cabal of film-makers plots to create a monopoly over all movie releases – aided by the Invention of a 3D camera – using the resulting control over Meme-dissemination to rule the world, but the plot is foiled; some of the stories assembled in Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts (coll 1943; rev 1963); The Haunting of Toby Jugg (1948), which involves Satanism, as do both To the Devil – A Daughter (1953), in which a Mad-Scientist Communistic Satanist attempts to animate deadly homunculi with captured souls in order to destroy democracy, and The Satanist (1960); and The Ka of Gifford Hillary (1956), which subjects its titular protagonist to a period as a disembodied observer in the Afterlife [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], though one which proves temporary. Wheatley's black-magic novels are neither short nor amusing, though an intermittently powerful story-telling gift, even in later years when his stamina had begun to flag, can sustain readers through passages of political and racial abuse.

Of more direct sf interest are three Lost World novels: They Found Atlantis (1936), in which an expedition discovers Atlantis a mile Under the Sea (the tale is dedicated to William Beebe [1877-1962] who had made a deep descent in 1934 in the bathysphere designed by Otis Barton [1899-1992]); Uncharted Seas (1938), in which an Island is discovered in the Sargasso Sea, and which was filmed as The Lost Continent (1968); and The Man Who Missed the War (1945), featuring a clement land at the heart of Antarctica. Though the long Gregory Sallust sequence is only intermittently of fantastic interest (for full list of titles see Checklist below), it begins with the first of Wheatley's explicitly sf novels, Black August (1934), set in the then Near Future of around 1960, a period mainly registered through advances in Transportation, with private helicopters taking off from the roof of Selfridges department store and high-speed monorails; Britain is meanwhile beset by the collapse of the rest of Europe into something like World War Three, a huge conflict centring on Germany's Invasion of Poland. Starvation and anarchy loom as the cast escapes London, ending up in East Anglia where Sallust establishes a tiny armoured retreat near Orwell, though starving Communist hordes soon invest it; in the end, a palace coup – led by the Prince Regent – topples what's left of the old decadent democracy, picking up the reins of power on a "temporary" basis, to universal acclaim. The influence of H G Wells's The Shape of Things to Come (1933) is detectable in the depiction of post-Disaster chaos, and the establishment of tiny dictatorships run by "mayors". But the odd mix of ingredients of the tale – from social comedy through scenes of congested panic and death in East London to the use of the monarchy as a deus machina – anticipates nothing in the literature except, perhaps, fairly remotely, and minus the Wheatley racism, Half a Crown (2008), the last volume of Jo Walton's Small Change trilogy. A similar focus informs the otherwise unconnected Board Game Invasion: Attack and Defence by Land, Sea and Air (1938), where the Invasion of Britain is the central issue. Some later Gregory Sallust titles evoke the supernatural; and The Island Where Time Stands Still: A Gregory Sallust Story (1954) is a Lost Race tale of some interest, set in nether China.

Further titles of sf interest include Sixty Days to Live (1939), focusing on scenes of chaos in London as the Comet approaches which will destroy human civilization and the cast flees a suddenly frozen Britain; and Star of Ill-Omen (1952), a thriller featuring flying saucers (see UFOs). Though of little literary import, Wheatley's work as a whole comprises a remarkable set of exercises in the power of story, and his influence as an sf writer, especially in the 1930s, should not be scanted. Phil Baker's The Devil Is a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley (2009) is an enjoyable biography. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; James Lovegrove.

Dennis Yates Wheatley

born London: 8 January 1897

died London: 10 November 1977


Selected. Individual nonfantastic titles are not listed; some nonfantastic titles within series are listed for convenience.


Duke de Richleau

  • The Forbidden Territory (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1933) [Duke de Richleau: hb/Joan Wheatley]
  • The Devil Rides Out (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1935) [short version appeared 31 October/?? 1934 The Daily Mail: Duke de Richleau: hb/Diana Younger]
  • The Golden Spaniard (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1939) [/ Duke de Richleau: hb/Diana Younger]
    • Three Modern Musketeers (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1938) [omni of the above three plus "Three Inquisitive People": Duke de Richleau: hb/Diana Younger]
      • Those Modern Musketeers (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1954) [omni: cut version of the above, cutting The Devil Rides Out: Duke de Richleau: hb/Diana Younger]
  • Strange Conflict (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1941) [Duke de Richleau: hb/Frank Papé]
  • Codeword – Golden Fleece (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1946) [Duke de Richleau: hb/uncredited]
  • The Prisoner in the Mask (London: Hutchinson, 1957) [Duke de Richleau: hb/Sax]
  • Vendetta in Spain (London: Hutchinson, 1961) [Duke de Richleau: hb/Sax]
  • Dangerous Inheritance (London: Hutchinson, 1965) [Duke de Richleau: hb/Edward Mortelmans]
  • Gateway to Hell (London: Hutchinson, 1965) [Duke de Richleau: hb/Edward Mortelmans]

Gregory Sallust

individual titles


  • Total War (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1941) [nonfiction: chap: pb/nonpictorial]
  • The Devil and His Works (London: Hutchinson, 1971) [nonfiction: hb/various artists]

works as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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