The Haunting of Toby Jugg Critical Essays

Dennis Wheatley


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Dennis Wheatleys mother was Lady Newton, and his father, Albert, was in the family wine business. He was educated at Dulwich College, aboard HMS Worcester, and privately in Germany. He served in the British army from 1914 to 1919. In 1926, he inherited the family business, but he lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in the stock market crash and worldwide depression.

Wheatley was a prolific author, with more than sixty novels to his credit and translations into more than twenty languages. His literary output includes historical romances, police adventures, spy novels, and books involving satanism and the occult, along with nonfiction books. Political themes are common. Wheatley was what is now termed a wet conservative, basically in favor of the class system and private enterprise but in favor of a social safety net for the disadvantaged. He reveals a staunch anticommunist attitude, equating communism with the devil.

The supernatural often figures in his books, and those featuring the occult have proved to have the most lasting influence. He was interested in such matters as telepathy, hypnotism, and ESP. He was not above using sex to keep the reader engaged and displays a troublesome attitude toward it, as a conflict never quite resolved in himself. An uneasy mix of prurience and hypocrisy therefore stains the “sex is healthy” surface of some passages. The Haunting of Toby Jugg, for example, contains a scene with healthy, upright young Sally, a flower of English womanhood, spread-eagled and naked on a Black Mass altar as Helmuth, naked from the waist down, with a pair of female devotees kneeling on either side of him, prepares to have his way with her.

Wheatley is a master of suspense, his strong suit being plot. His characters seldom rise above the stock. In this book, Toby Jugg’s situation is gripping in the extreme. He is in a paranoid nightmare, unable to move and tormented by mighty figures both natural and supernatural. No sooner does he persuade or entrance one or another servant into helping him escape than his antagonist discovers the scheme and thwarts the attempt. Readers identifying with Toby ride a roller coaster of hope and despair.