Dennis Wheatley’s The Haunting of Toby Jugg

Toby Jugg has a major problem. Every evening, during the nights of the full moon, a thing of unspeakable evil and unnatural provenance lurks outside of his window, seeking to claim him. He cannot flee, because he was wounded in the Battle of Britain and is now bedridden, paralyzed from the waist down, living in a country house managed by his late father’s estate. He cannot ask anyone for help, because he would seem to be a madman. The force at the window preys on his nerves and saps his will, threatening his very soul.

What follows is a tense battle of wits and wills, making Dennis Wheatley’s The Haunting of Toby Jugg (1948 ) a compelling tale of supernatural horror. Some thoughts on the book and its story follow beneath the fold…

I’ve discussed Dennis Wheatley before, in particular describing his first and most famous tale of horror, The Devil Rides Out. Whereas The Devil Rides Out is to a significant extent an adventure story dressed up in horror trapping, The Haunting of Toby Jugg is a pure tale of terror.

Wheatley (1897-1977) is one of those authors, like Richard Marsh, who was immensely popular in his own time but has inexplicably vanished from the popular consciousness. I found one reference to Wheatley online that referred to him as the “Stephen King of his time”, which seems accurate: he wrote dozens of novels during his lifetime and was prolific right up to his death in 1977.

I suspect his work fell out of popularity because it was originally buoyed by one of the popular fears of the time: Satanism! Most, if not all, of Wheatley’s works involve secret societies of Satanists and their dealings with their lord and master. Broadly speaking, it seems that Satanism became somewhat passé as a bugaboo in the late 1980s, and Wheatley’s work was lost along with that fear.

It’s definitely worth a look for horror fans, though. Returning to ‘Haunting, the story is told in the form of Toby’s personal diary, which he begins to write as a catharsis for his fears. This format has its advantages and limitations: the advantage is that it makes the story much more personal, but the disadvantage is that all events described are in the past, which reduces the tension somewhat.

The biggest difficulty I had with the book was its rather overt political moralizing. A significant amount of time is dedicated to lamenting the evils of communism, so much so that for a while I started to cheer on the monster, just to make Toby stop lecturing! The moralizing does have an important point later in the story, but it is done rather heavy-handed for my taste. Wheatley himself was very much a conservative, and even an elitist, and this attitude peeks through often in his writing.

The story also seems somewhat slow-going at first, due to Toby’s detailed descriptions of his family history and past experiences with the supernatural. Again, all of these descriptions are very important later on, but for an attention-deficit reader such as myself I found the early chapters hard to get through.

Once the story does get going, though, it is absolutely compelling. Ordinarily, much of the tension of a horror story is broken when the origin of the threat is explained. In ‘Haunting, however, the explanation of the thing at the window only served to heighten the suspense. In the end, ‘Haunting is a story of cat-and-mouse maneuvering, which leads up to an excellent and satisfying, at least to me, climax.

The Haunting of Toby Jugg is another neglected classic of horror, and well-worth a look; just be prepared for a little bit of preaching!

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12 Responses to Dennis Wheatley’s The Haunting of Toby Jugg

  1. The Ridger says:

    I must stop reading your blog. I keep buying books…

  2. “I must stop reading your blog. I keep buying books…”

    But if you stop, I think that leaves only my parents, my fiancee, and my friend Personal Demon who only insults me, anyway! 🙂

  3. Terry says:

    I loved this book; the Commie stuff was quite hilarious I thought. My favorite line “Helmuth *is* a Satanist.” And I love the idea of an evil school. It would make a great TV show…

  4. Sean Keaney says:

    Uhhh… I am in the middle of the new movie: ‘The Haunted Airman,’ which is based on this novel. I have not personally read the novel myself, but would like to. I am scared because I am THE BIGGEST EVER FAN OF TWILIGHT, and naturally, I love Robert Pattinson, so I am scared because he is becoming mad, and his ‘Aunt’ has just visited and I am quite feardul because I think she might die because of that sneaky bastard that looks after him that went through Jugg’s letters.

    If you noticed a change in pattern in my writing, im sorry, its probably just because i was putting my heart back in my chest because I said that beautiful word starting with T. : ]

  5. Court says:

    I haven’t read the “The Haunting of Toby Jugg” yet. I watched “The Haunted Airman,” I wasn’t incredibly thrilled with it. I felt it wasted my time. I don’t think that everything you’ve described that plays out in the book was translated into the movie, but now I’m intrigued and feel the need to read it. Anyway, thanks for the semi enlightening summary.

    • “thanks for the semi enlightening summary.”

      Glad to help! (I try not to give too much away.) I haven’t seen ‘Airman, though I got the impression from reviews that it was an inferior adaptation.

    • Buffy says:

      I never read the book. But I watch the movie. I don’t understand the movie. Did he really kill his aunt and why? Or was he dreaming? He was drugged in the end. What was really haunting him?

      • I haven’t seen the movie myself! In the book, though, he is definitely not dreaming and is definitely being threatened by a supernatural being. The origin of this haunting, however, turns out to be rooted in the material world.

      • Buffy says:

        I watch the movie it was really good. But I could not understand the movie especially the ending. I read part of the book that I happen to find online but it didn’t go very far.

  6. midnite says:

    Well i havent read the book yet but i have seen the movie and i must say it was absolutely extrodinary, in a positive way. I liked it. But it was a bit difficult to understand. The ghost he keeps seeing and killing his aunt, did he finally lose it?

  7. Buffy says:

    Does anyone know where I can read the entire book online?

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