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.