Invisible Ink: No 161 - Colin Wilson

Christopher Fowler
Sunday 24 February 2013 01:00

Colin Wilson, self-declared genius and misfit, remains a specialist taste, perhaps because, as one of the "Angry Young Men" of British literature, he divided opinion so much that Time magazine ran an excoriating article on his book Religion and the Rebel entitled "Scrambled Egghead". He's available in print but, like many prolific writers, this makes him hard to keep track of, and tracing a common thread through his work requires tenacity.

Born in 1931, Wilson's first book, The Outsider, was published when he was just 24. It examined the role of outsiders in the arts, suggesting that social alienation might aid creativity, and proved a touchstone volume for many nascent existentialists. Wilson enjoyed parties and courted publicity, which the papers loved until they discovered the real reason why he slept rough on Hampstead Heath; he was living with his mistress and trying to avoid paying maintenance to his wife and child.

His wide-ranging non-fiction explored occultism, spirituality, consciousness, metaphysics, psychic phenomena, and psychology, although his biography of Aleister Crowley was sceptical, and refreshingly, he considered HP Lovecraft to be little more than a halfway decent pulp writer.

Fearlessness won't get you into WH Smith, and Wilson had a more populist side. His beat novel Adrift in Soho is ripe for reappraisal, and he was drawn to science fiction and crime, both fictional and true-life. His superb Encyclopaedia of Murder introduced many to Britain's most notorious investigations. In The Mind Parasites, the brightest brains in humanity are undermined by sinister forces in the collective subconscious. His sci-fi epic The Space Vampires was fabulously travestied in the Tobe Hooper film Lifeforce, and featured a nude alien lured out of a building with the offer of a biscuit. In well over 100 books he has explored his often troubling and demanding ideas, but he says he has been forgotten by readers for 50 years. The problem, it would seem, is that his conceptually-oriented mind has kept him from mainstream popularity.

Now in his eighties, Wilson continues to rile academics by kicking the wasps' nest of received wisdom. From Atlantis to the Sphinx: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of the Ancient World was inspired by the idea that the Sphinx was weathered by water, not wind-blown sand, and therefore survives from a much earlier time than previously believed. His prodigious output is increasing; proof of the power of an active mind. He's not so much invisible as opaque.

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