Colin Wilson’s unforgivable sin

I was sitting  just now, reading Colin’s much derided science-fiction novel The Space Vampires, admiring how he was weaving into the plot information (specifically, Lethbridge’s dowsing materials) that he had learned and written about. Suddenly I realized what it is about his work that divides people so. More than most authors, he had – has, I should say – a core group of strong admirers and another of vehement deriders. And now it is clear to me why.

He takes these things seriously.

Beginning nearly half a century ago with his initial researches for The Occult: A History, he began reading up on subjects that conventional academics and critics consider beneath contempt. Go down the list of things Colin investigated – just go down the list of his book titles – and you see not one, not half a dozen, but literally countless numbers of taboo topics. Magic. The afterlife. ESP in all its manifestations. Poltergeists. Witchcraft. It’s a long list.

And how to people respond to someone who takes all this seriously?

Well, if they’re like me, they get tremendously excited sometimes, to see someone investigating these reports, associating this and that, questing about for what it can all mean, yet at the same time doing it in what I can only call a non-woo-woo way. Since 1970 when I came across the first of his books, I have never failed to be interested the information he displayed and the connections he made, and I never cared whether I came to the same conclusions he did. (Indeed, once I began having firsthand experiences, I could see how misleading were some of the things he read. But I could never convince him to actively pursue the abilities he wrote about.)

Excitement, interest, a respect for the passionate inquiry and the bold speculation. That’s one possible reaction to the man.

But, reading The Space Vampires just now, I realized why these same qualities may produce a very different reaction. Certain kinds of people have a strong investment in thinking themselves “scientific” or “realistic,” and when they see someone seriously investigating subjects that they just “know” are not worthy of consideration, it sometimes sends them spare, as the British say. They go ballistic, as Americans say. Like confirmed atheists who, as the man said, “believe in no-God, and worship him,” they carry their worship of “rationality” and “science” to the point where they are ready to lead witch-hunts!

Colin Wilson’s unforgivable sin is that he combined voracious curiosity, tremendous energy, widespread reading, extensive networks of interesting friends and acquaintances, and put the resulting mixture at the service of something that – so certain critics say – clearly does not deserve a serious man’s attention. They know this (of course not having examined any of the material themselves) and so therefore they know that Colin Wilson’s work must be rubbish – and it infuriates them to see how many people, all around the world, decade after decade, insist on taking him as seriously as he took the data and the ideas the data suggested.

Some sin. Wish we could bottle it.


6 thoughts on “Colin Wilson’s unforgivable sin

  1. I love this post, Frank. Colin Wilson was also courageous,
    but not in a way the “realists” could fathom. He made olympic
    leaps with his ideas and upset other’s belief systems.

    I know I could have said this better, but the words do not come quite as fast as they previously did.

    Thanks for the post:-)


    1. I think, too, that there’s another aspect to it. There is logical thinking, and there is intuitive thinking, and the two often seem poles apart. But the people who are mired in merely-logical thinking (though they would never call it that!) are sometimes disturbed, sometimes contemptuous, sometimes angry at what i would call associative thinking, of which Colin was a master practitioner. That is, he would consider something, and associate it with something else, and consider them together for the light one might shine on the other, and then he would draw a logical (though not necessarily the inevitable) conclusion and proceed to associate some more things.

      VERY inspiring to those who could follow that kind of thought process. Very disturbing, as i say, to those who can’t.

  2. Frank, when you wrote about Colin’s death and the book that first inspired you, I ordered it from the public library and got it today. The main text is in English, but for some weird reason all the notes and commentaries are in Russian, which no doubt will contribute to making my experience even more interesting than I anticipated.I’m looking forward to reading it. It looks to be many-faceted indeed

    I also read a science fiction book when I was young about mind parasites that I never forgot, but I was never able to track it down in later life, perhaps it was just as well. It was not like Colin’s book, but was about some slug like parasites that attached themselves to the backs of people’s necks – and no doubt without all the philosophy and intellect that is to be found in Colin’s book. Nevertheless it fascinated me like nothing else.

    In the same way I remember vividly a strip from a comic book with the figure “Mandrake, showing a space ship with strange colours in it that has also stayed with me, though it was just some crude illustration meant for the entertainment of young kids. Small things can trigger big thoughts and I understand how you feel about Colin Wilson, who must have been a very interesting man indeed.He didn’t deserve to be categorized and labelled as was the case. But he did challenge literary reviewers, there’s no denying that. He probably scared them 🙂

    It takes an act of will to go beyond labels that put you off as vulgar and populistic. I for one would never have been attracted to or read a book called Space Vampires for instance, because I have always been strongly against any fascination with vampires, a fascination that has now captivated a whole generation of young people. But I would have read Colin’s book had I known of its value. I have enjoyed science fiction books and also halfheartedly enjoyed reading Lovecraft when a student of mine chose to write a major assignment on his books.It was a fascinating universe revealed there.

    I recall how when I was a teenager a Danish teacher gave me a bad grade and a rude remark about how the book that I had written about had no literary value when I had handed in an essay about Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach” from 1957 that had made a strong impression on me. Most people are biased in some way and it’s not so easy to determine where our true personal reactions and preferences end and where the part of us that has been brainwashed by public opinion begins, is it?

    It’s interesting that Colin himself was put off by Monroe’s books because of the coined words he made use of in his desription of the OBE process, as can be seen in the preface to your book that you reprinted here today. We can all learn and benefit from taking on the unfamiliar, and perhaps the reward is the greater if some obstacles have to be overcome. But we have to be inspired to take that step, as you were inspired when you first felt drawn to buying Wilson’s book.

    I’ll start reading The Mind Parasites tonight but save the Russian comments for some other time.I did start learning Russian nearly 50 years ago, but now I’m lucky if I can spell out the words 🙂

    I noticed that Colin’s books are also available as e-books. So he’s still on the market and in modern guise, too 🙂

    By the way, there were so many ridiculous mistakes in the British newspaper review/obit that it made me wonder about what we lost when we skipped the oldfashioned printers and had to make do with the writing talents of many young journalists of today passed on to us without any critical proofreading eyes. But that’s the old teacher in me speaking, and hopefully I made some mistakes myself here so I can learn not to be so judgmental 🙂


    1. A couple of points.
      1. I totally agree with you about the dismal state of journalism in the age of people editing their own material. I have to do that here (for lack of a split personality that could at least catch typos) and i know. Everybody needs to be backstopped, and those who think they don’t are the ones who need it most.
      2. The story you read about slugs attaching themselves to the back of people’s necks. Are you sure that wasn’t a journalist report about Congressmen and lobbyists? 🙂
      3. Yes, Colin probably made some enemies among the academics and critics, because he didn’t hide his impatience and contempt with the clubby atmosphere and the low level of true intellectual curiosity he found.
      4. What i find interesting is that everybody knows the term “outisde” and yet few people seem to know what Colin meant by it. He did NOT mean someone who was protesting against, or victimized by, society. The journalists jumped to that conclusion, so they lumped him in with the Angry Young Men, with whom he had almost nothing in common except that he used a typewriter. He was referring to people who felt there was something wrong, not with society, but with themselves, or rather, with life. And, as he said, when they begin the long effort of self-transformation that this dissatisfaction produces, they may end up as saints. By all means, if you haven’t read The Outsider, do give yourself that treat. It has been the entryway for many a person.

  3. Have always loved Colin Wilson. Just because he had imagination doesn’t mean he wasn’t a”serious” researcher. I have enormous respect for those who go out on limbs! Love, Katie

  4. I’ve just discovered your fascinating, intelligent ‘site. I was gathering info on the Monroe Institute. In 1986 I interviewed Colin for a (very!) small-press magazine, THE GATE, and found out my mother was born in Cornwall, where Colin lived. Here’s a link to the interview, if you’re curious:

    Again, superb site. I’ll keep coming back!

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