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Colin Henry Wilson (26 June 1931 – 5 December 2013) was a prolific English writer who first came to prominence as a philosopher and novelist. He also wrote widely on true crime, mysticism and the paranormal. Wilson called his philosophy "new existentialism" or "phenomenological existentialism".
Wilson was born and raised in Leicester, England. His father worked in a shoe factory. Wilson left school at 16. He worked in a wool warehouse (a job he hated), and read in his spare time. He then returned to school to work briefly as a lab assistant, but found that he had lost his passion for science. He then worked as a civil servant. He was then called up for national service, spending six months working as a clerk for the Royal Air Force; he managed to get thrown out by falsely claiming that he was a homosexual. Wilson then moved to London attempting to establish himself as a writer. For a time he lived in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath.
Gollancz published the then 24-year-old Wilson's The Outsider in 1956. The work examines the role of the social "outsider" in seminal works by various key literary and cultural figures – such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William James, T. E. Lawrence, Vaslav Nijinsky and Vincent van Gogh – and discusses Wilson's perception of social alienation in their work. The book became a best-seller and helped popularize existentialism in Britain.
The inside cover of a late-1990s edition reads:
The Outsider is the seminal work on alienation, creativity and the modern mind-set. First published over thirty years ago, it made its youthful author England's most controversial intellectual.
Life and works after The Outsider
Wilson became associated with the "Angry Young Men" of British literature. He contributed to Declaration, an anthology of manifestos by writers associated with the movement, and was also anthologised in a popular paperback sampler, Protest: The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men. Some viewed Wilson and his friends Bill Hopkins and Stuart Holroyd as a sub-group of the "Angries", more concerned with "religious values" than with liberal or socialist politics. Critics on the left swiftly labeled them as fascist; commentator Kenneth Allsop called them "the law givers".
After the initial success of Wilson's first work, critics universally panned Religion and the Rebel (1957). Time magazine published a review, headlined "Scrambled Egghead", that pilloried the book. By the late 1960s Wilson had become increasingly interested in metaphysical and occult themes. In 1971, he published The Occult: A History, featuring interpretations on Aleister Crowley, George Gurdjieff, Helena Blavatsky, Kabbalah, primitive magic, Franz Mesmer, Grigori Rasputin, Daniel Dunglas Home, and Paracelsus (among others). He also wrote a markedly unsympathetic biography of Crowley, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast, and has written biographies on other spiritual and psychological visionaries, including Gurdjieff, Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Rudolf Steiner, and P. D. Ouspensky.
Originally, Wilson focused on the cultivation of what he called "Faculty X", which he saw as leading to an increased sense of meaning, and on abilities such as telepathy and the awareness of other energies. In his later work he suggests the possibility of life after death and the existence of spirits, which he personally analyzes as an active member of the Ghost Club.
He has also written non-fiction books on crime, ranging from encyclopedias to studies of serial killing. He had an ongoing interest in the life and times of Jack the Ripper and in sex crime in general.
Wilson explored his ideas on human potential and consciousness in fiction, mostly detective fiction or science fiction, including several Cthulhu Mythos pieces.
Like his non-fiction work, much of Wilson's fictional output from Ritual in the Dark (1960) onwards has concerned itself with the psychology of murder — especially that of serial killing. However, he has also written science fiction of a philosophical bent, including the Spider-World series.
In The Strength to Dream (1961) Wilson attacked H. P. Lovecraft as "sick" and as "a bad writer" who had "rejected reality" — but he grudgingly praised Lovecraft's story "The Shadow Out of Time" as capable science-fiction. August Derleth, incensed by Wilson's treatment of Lovecraft in The Strength to Dream, then dared Wilson to write what became The Mind Parasites — to expound his philosophical ideas in the guise of fiction. In the preface to The Mind Parasites, Wilson concedes that Lovecraft, "ar more than Hemingway or Faulkner, or even Kafka, is a symbol of the outsider-artist in the 20th century" and asks: "what would have happened if Lovecraft had possessed a private income - enough, say, to allow him to spend his winters in Italy and his summers in Greece or Switzerland?" answering that in his opinion "e would undoubtedly have produced less, but what he did produce would have been highly polished, without the pulp magazine cliches that disfigure so much of his work. And he would have given free rein to his love of curious and remote erudition, so that his work would have been, in some respect, closer to that of Anatole France or the contemporary Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges" Wilson also discusses Lovecraft in Order of Assassins (1972) and in the prefatory note to The Philosopher's Stone (1969). His short novel The Return of the Lloigor (1969/1974) also has roots in the Cthulhu Mythos - its central character works on the real book the Voynich Manuscript, but discovers it to be a mediaeval Arabic version of the Necronomicon - as does his 2002 novel The Tomb of the Old Ones.
Tobe Hooper directed the film Lifeforce, based on Wilson's novel The Space Vampires. After its release, Colin Wilson recalled that author John Fowles regarded the film adaptation of Fowles' own novel The Magus as the worst film adaptation of a novel ever. Wilson told Fowles there was now a worse one, the film adaptation of Lifeforce.
Illness and death
Colin Wilson suffered a stroke in June 2012 and lost his ability to speak. He died in December 2013.