The Curmudgeon


Monday, December 10, 2007

Poring Over Toby Jugg

Like Ellis Sharp, I too once read Dennis Wheatley's The Haunting of Toby Jugg. I may have been a bit older than twelve when I did so, which might account for the fact that it was the last Wheatley opus I ever got through. The first was probably To the Devil A Daughter, which pits a middle-aged female pulp novelist, her son and her Secret Service boyfriend against a Satanist named, rather splendidly, Canon Copely-Syle, in a story even less frightening than the 1976 screen adaptation which brought Hammer Films to their overdue and sadly ignominious ending. Aside from those two, the only other Wheatley book I read was The Devil Rides Out, an amusing thriller which was also filmed by Hammer. That one is among their better efforts, thanks to director Terence Fisher, a Richard Matheson script, and star Christopher Lee, who brought to the side of Christian virtue the impressive presence and aristocratic bearing which make his Dracula so effective. I'm not sure how far I was aware of the racism observed by Ellis, though it's certainly clear enough in the film: the evil Mocata's coven looks like a gathering of the United Nations, with dark skins much in evidence, while the virtuous and the redeemable are white to a man, woman and servant.

What I remember about The Haunting of Toby Jugg is the account our hero gives of his schooldays. Toby, if I recall correctly, was given a very free and easy education; possibly along the lines of A S Neill's notorious Summerhill, although I'm not entirely sure it was quite as free as that. Certainly he was given an awful lot of leeway to learn as he pleased. To me, then in the middle of the tedious, uniformed, psychologically brutalising misery that was secondary education in the 1980s, it sounded paradisal; it impressed me so much, in fact, that little as I remember of Toby's education, I remember nothing at all of the horrors that later haunt him. As far as Wheatley is concerned, however, a liberal education is nothing more or less than a corruption of the innocent; Toby notes particularly that he was never subjected either to sexual repression or to Christian doctrine, and during the course of the story it becomes clear that it is partly this lack of authoritarian faith-schooling that has placed him in supernatural peril. I don't think I'll be giving much away if I say that, as far as I remember, the imperfections resulting from his non-Blairite education are eventually purged from his soul, and brave, British Toby emerges purified, victorious and, as Ellis observes, white through and through.

I was thoroughly annoyed at Wheatley; The Haunting of Toby Jugg easily ranks among the most disheartening literary experiences of my bibliomaniac youth, somewhere between Ian Fleming's slimy Casino Royale and John Buchan's inane The Thirty-Nine Steps. Many years later I exacted a terrible, highly satisfactory revenge.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home