Dennis Yates Wheatley (8 January 1897 – 10 November 1977) was an English author whose prolific output of thrillers and occult novels made him one of the world’s best-selling writers from the 1930s through the 1960s. His Gregory Sallust series was one of the main inspirations for Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories.
His work is fairly typical of his class and era, portraying a way of life and clubland ethos that gives an insight into the values of the time. His main characters are all supporters of Royalty, Empire and the class system, and many of his villains are villainous because they attack these outdated ideas.
Dennis Wheatley was born in South London. He was the eldest of three children of a family who were the owners of Wheatley & Son of Mayfair, a wine business. He admitted to little aptitude for schooling, and was expelled from Dulwich College. Soon after his expulsion Wheatley became a British Merchant Navy officer cadet.
Following WW1, in 1919 he assumed management of the family wine merchant business but in 1931, after a decline in business due to the Great Depression, he sold the firm and began writing.
His first novel published, The Forbidden Territory, was an immediate success when issued by Hutchinson in 1933, being reprinted seven times in seven weeks. The release the next year of his occult story, The Devil Rides Out – hailed by James Hilton as “the best thing of its kind since Dracula” — cemented his reputation.
Wheatley mainly wrote adventure novels, with many books in a series of linked works. Over time, each of his major series would include at least one book pitting the hero against some manifestation of the supernatural. He came to be considered an authority on this, Satanism, the practice of exorcism, and black magic, to all of which he was hostile. During his study of the paranormal, though, he joined the Ghost Club.
By the 1960s, Hutchinson was selling a million copies of his books per year, and most of his titles were kept available in hardcover. Three of his books were made into films by Hammer, of which the best known is The Devil Rides Out (book 1934, film 1968). The others are fantasy adventure The Continent (1968) and To the Devil a Daughter (1976). Wheatley reportedly disliked the latter because it did not follow his novel and he found it obscene. Wheatley apparently told Hammer that they were not to make another film from his novels ever again.
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He edited several collections of short stories, and from 1974 through 1977, he supervised a series of forty-five paperback reprints for the British publisher Sphere with the heading “The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult”, selecting the titles and writing short introductions for each book. These included both occult-themed novels by the likes of Bram Stoker and Aleister Crowley (with whom he once shared a lunch).
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