‘The shadows lengthened, night drew on, and at last darkness fell – with Tanith still sleeping. The night of the ordeal had come and they were alone in the forest’. So ends one of my favourite chapters from Dennis Wheatley’s magnificent 1934 tale of the occult – ‘The Devil Rides Out’. Wheatley called his leading characters ‘Those Modern Musketeers’. There was the wise French/Russian aristocrat the Duke de Richleau, semi retired and living quietly in Mayfair, London, the tough American Rex Van Ryn who the Duke met when Rex was in England on his fathers business and their young friend, the shy, nervous city financier Simon Aron. Simon’s quest to further his business career had led him to become entangled with a group of Satanists led by the de – frocked French priest Damien Mocata. Tanith was one of Mocata’s group, a beautiful 22 year old girl born at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and, having the gift of second sight, became his medium.
It was when the Duke and Rex went to Simon’s big old house in St. John’s Wood to find out why he hadn’t attended their re – union dinner that Rex met and fell in love with Tanith ,who he had previously seen twice in different parts of the world. Like Simon, she had not been fully initiated into the Left Hand Path and there was still time for them to be saved.
The story begins in London, moves to the Black Magic ceremony on Salisbury Plain, then to Kidderminster, to Paris and climaxes on the island of Metsovo in Greece where Mocata is finally killed and the world is saved from The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse he was about to unleash.
For me it is the greatest adventure story ever written – a colossal battle between The Power Of Light and The Power Of Darkness. Also, I believe Dennis Wheatley foresaw the coming of the second World War by setting a French/Russian, an American, an Englishman (Richard Eaton – a friend of the three who gives them sanctuary at his Kidderminster home) against dreadful evil over the soul of a Jew, Simon Aron.
I’d been a songwriter for some years and this great story inspired me more than words can say to turn it into a musical. I could hear the Duke warning Simon against becoming involved with the Occult. I could feel Rex’s anguished love for Tanith as he pleaded with her to abandon The Left Hand Path. I could see her running across the night covered fields of Salisbury Plain on her way to The Great Sabbath. And I knew what Mocata would say as he tried to hypnotise Richard’s wife into surrendering Simon. The musical almost wrote itself. I just hung on, thrilled at the ride.
I visited Dennis Wheatley’s flat at 48 Queens Gate in London where he wrote the novel and had entertained ‘The Wickedest Man In The World’ – Aleister Crowley, whom Dennis had based Mocata on. The flat was in the middle of being converted into offices and I got in one Sunday whilst the workmen where at lunch .I could almost hear the voices of Wheatley and Crowley discussing the dark world of Magick.
I recorded the thirty songs I had written for the album, wrote a stage script and then managed to track down Dennis Wheatley’s grandson Dominic who owned the rights to Dennis’ books. He, thank God, loved the music and gave me access to the original manuscript with its attendant notes, alternate story lines and unused ending. I did a few well received local productions of the show, the most notable of which starred Bernie Nolan as Tanith.
What could be a more powerful story than The Devil Rides Out? The eternal battle between Darkness and Light with a love story thrown in as well! Dennis Wheatley is a great but overlooked and vastly underrated British author. Maybe now is the time for those ‘Modern Musketeers’ to rise again and save the world once more.