Sunday, 23 January 2022

The Devil Rides Out

One of those books you grew up hearing about in popular culture, but never read. 

A classic of the horror genre, Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out pits the powers of good against the forces of evil as the Duc de Richelieu wrestles for the soul of his friend with the charming but deadly Satanist, Mocata. Mocata has the power to summon the forces of darkness and - as the Duc and his friends will find - is willing to call upon ever-increasing horror until thundering hooves herald the arrival of the Devil Himself. The book was also made into a classic cult horror film in 1968, starring Christopher Lee and Charles Gray.

I'm a horror fan, so I knew I'd get around to this eventually, but I'm not quite sure what I expected going into it. I guess something a little James Herbert, perhaps. 

I found it a little tough going, and I think maybe it's one of those books best read in tree format on a dark winter's evening in an attic. The audible version was all right, but seemed a smidge caricaturish. I cringe slightly when male narrators do an overly dramatic, high-pitched female voice. It distracts from the story. 

You can certainly see where he got his inspiration from, using Aleister Crowley as research. Crowley the person was interesting, there's a good biography on him by Martin Booth titled A Magick Life, but as a fiction author (Diary of a Drug Fiend) he wasn't a thrill a minute. I admit I'm a bit biased on this subject. I have a modest but fairly good quality occult book collection, so I'm fairly immune to the sensationalism surrounding it. The books on High Ritual Magic and Thelema are truly bedtime reading, full of long lists, tables and charts. I was very briefly a neophyte in the OTO in my teens, but kept forgetting the Hebrew and couldn't stomach sitting uncomfortably for hours.

This, by the way, wasn't Satanism. It's strongly based on Judeo-Christian religion and Qabalism, with invocations and evocations, but, in itself, it isn't Satanism. And Pagans and Heathens generally aren't Satanists because in order to be a Satanist you have to believe in God, the Christian version, very ardently. That tends to rule out British Pagans, although every polytheist religion has some form of dark ritual, even Buddhism. But Satanism is specific to Judeo-Christian practices, or hybrid practices such as African-diasporic religions and Chaos Magic. As you'll know from my novel Rosy Hours, the word shaytan is actually Middle Eastern, from Iranian folklore, meaning a form of jinn or hungry ghost. Christianity stole wholeheartedly from ancient Mesopotamian folklore, right down to the dimensions of Noah's ark

Anyway, splitting hairs, but... there was just nothing particularly chilling about this book. It was so melodramatic and over the top that it didn't hook my imagination. I enjoy graphic, blood-spattered horror when it's done well, but psychological thrillers are even better. The quiet type of horror that creeps up on you in the dark. The spider watching from its web. The stuff that's believable, and subtle and inescapable. This was less Stephen King and more the film adaptation of Rosemary's Baby. (I haven't read the novel of Rosemary's Baby, so I can't comment on that). But it's very much of an era. Nothing subtle about it. 

I drifted a bit towards the end and can't fully recall what happened, but one thing sticks with me like a vivid dream. Very early on, de Richleau (great name, by the way) and his companion break into their friend's house through the cellar. To silence their footsteps, de Richleau suggests that they take off their socks and pull them over their shoes. At first, this sounds like a genius idea, but it's been going round and round in my head ever since. Can you fit the average pair of socks over your shoes? If you can, how do they stay up when you're wearing them? Did everyone wear wool socks back then, and were they particularly stretchy? 

Answers by psychic message, or drop a comment below...

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