The Works of Colin Wilson


Wilson burst onto the world with sensational praise with his first book, The Outsider (a title deliberately borrowed from Camus). Wilson was no academic, but a self-taught man, writing about the lives of philosophers and intellectuals, with the professionalism of a University professor. The Outsider argues that 20th century intellect and creativity go hand in hand with pessimism, citing along the way the madness of Nijinsky, the existential despair of Sartre, and more besides. The Outsider recognizes that his life is meaningless and sees things in a way he knows is true, but which he cannot convey to his peers, and so he becomes alienated, angst ridden, and also creatively dynamic. 


The Outsider is a powerful thesis; and was immediately heralded as such. Wilson was the darling new kid on the publishing block. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of writing another book; in fact he has written hundreds. A few are good; his encyclopaedia of murder was an innovative, and useful work, much repeated since (especially by Wilson) listing the world’s most notorious killers in alphabetical summaries of their lives, motivating factors, victims, captures, escapes, and punishments. They are a sobering read, and useful reference works, but the main bulk of Wilson’s work is his Occult material. He wrote a mammoth history of The Occult, and a sequel Mysteries, the reading of which, while never boring, makes it clear that Wilson likes to believe in every little green man story and has little doubt about the things that went bump in the night. His books are devoid of any kind of healthy scepticism. Despite the fact that such work has spawned countless sequels from him (many of which simply rehash the same material) he still claims to be adopting a scientific open-minded approach. Pull the other one Colin. 


His fiction ranges in quality from the clever mystery (The Schoolgirl Murder Case (a chilling look at the mind of a child molester) to the Quatermass derivative tripe like The Mind Parasites. In this gem of how not to write SF, the hero begins to think that humanity has been slowly getting less intelligent over the centuries. (Wilson tries to cite genuine evidence for this by giving us lots of textbook banter out of context, making this a very preachy novel). The hero ultimately discovers we have a psychic parasite that has fed off our intellect for centuries, and increasing our brainpower defeats this. By the story’s end the hero is actually able to telepathically shift the Moon to a new orbit (an act that actually destroys the parasite). Entertaining drivel, but also propaganda for the beliefs Wilson promotes. His more recent Spider World novels see psychic people living in a World overrun by giant insects. They’d be more impressive without the occult obsession taking over from ordinary people struggling in an alien environment. An early and quite good Wilson novel, The Space Vampires was filmed badly as Lifeforce.


Arthur Chappell