R.I.P. Colin Wilson, The Outsider’s Outsider
December 7, 2013 | 2:03 pm
Nelson Mandela’s death has rather drawn attention away from the passing on December 5th of one of Britain’s more original and odder modern writers, Colin Wilson (1931-2013), who after a lonely and marginalized youth, was catapulted to intellectual stardom at age 24 with the publication of his seminal study on the newly fashionable doctrine of existentialism, The Outsider (1956), one of the first English-language studies to deal with French writers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre that the Anglo-Saxon world was only just beginning to come to grips with.
According to legend, Wilson wrote the book in the reading room of the British Library while living out of a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath, which positioned him beautifully for a starring role in the “Angry Young Men” coterie of supposed UK rebels without causes in the 1950s. In keeping with the rather mystical conclusion to that first book, though, Wilson then began to explore areas of the occult and spirituality which ruled him out of continuing participation in the materialistic, socialistic movements of the Fifties. Much of his writing in this area surfaced from a stream of potboilers and more or less underground writing that kept him fed for the rest of his career but also did a lot to obscure his genuine accomplishments. Works like The Occult: A History (1971) stayed true to his core concerns, but so, for better or worse, did The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988), and much of his output concerned serial killers, sex criminals, and other louche topics. His 1976 novel The Space Vampires had the dubious distinction of inspiring one of the most lavishly silly science fiction dramas ever filmed, the 1985 Tobe Hooper movie Lifeforce. He did become a highly capable, though rather reluctant, exponent of horror stories in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft with his 1967 work The Mind Parasites, The Philosopher’s Stone (1969) and other shorter works such as the story The Return of the Lloigor.
These are the works now most readily accessible as ebooks. The Outsider itself is not currently available on Kindle. However, anyone wishing to explore his oeuvre is likely to be titillated and amused rather than enlightened, but it’s still a shame that another bizarre English eccentric and true original outsider has departed. English letters will miss him.