The Mind Parasites
by Colin Wilson

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Arthur Barker: London; 1967

222 pages February 2005

In the depths of the mind

I think that The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson fails as a novel, but it fails in some interesting ways, and my first reading of it years ago left me with one clear and lasting image. I give away no surprises to tell you that the title is descriptive, that the book deals with the discovery of parasitical entities in the depths of the human mind, active and inimical; and the subsequent secret and then overt struggle against these parasites.

The parallels with Eric Frank Russell's Sinister Barrier (1939/1948) are very strong; but Russell's external Vitons are shown more vividly, and feel more competently dangerous.

Sidelines in archaeology and astronomy

Colin Wilson's fascination with fantasy master H.P. Lovecraft became evident with his first book, The Outsider (1956), a literary-psychological study whose title comes from a Lovecraft story. But The Mind Parasite's Lovecraft-like archeologists' camp and the miles-deep diggings to a dead city of prehistoric Great Old Ones, unlike in Lovecraft, provide only happenstance locations for some of the mental explorations and mental battles which are the meat of the novel. The story easily could do without the archaeology; it is a red herring, an Innsmouth herring if you like, dragged several times across the plot-line.

Why the exotic archaeology, then? It is a career for the narrator and brings in unintegrated background. Fans of Lovecraft won't find much here. I wonder if the Lovecraftian element serves a supra-plot purpose, to attract the appropriately weird-minded sort of readers for Wilson's mentalist speculations. An exemplar is Friedrich Nietzsche's The Antichrist attracting "free spirits" whose whetted curiosity then may draw them on to Beyond Good and Evil and Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

The archaeologist narrator, like his delving to the dead city, feels disengaged. Thanks to this pedestrian first-person viewpoint, Wilson does not bring to his story anything like the suspense of Russell's Sinister Barrier, with its traumatic discoveries and headlong action. The Mind Parasites does not convey much human-interest in its characters. Nor do we have the scariness of Lovecraft's slow ancient menaces or contemporary ghoulish minglers.

In the latter part of The Mind Parasites, there is a foray into space, beyond the Moon. The space travel is better integrated into the main plot than is the archaeology. Wilson brings in the mystical succession-of-moons theory: that our Luna is the seventh moon to orbit Earth. He is aware of the catastrophes that such transitions would wreak on Earth's oceans and crust, but by the end of the novel he has forgotten it.

Unlike Lovecraft's fascination with astronomy, Colin Wilson seems uncomfortable with the space-travel or basic science-fictional physicality of his story, rather like C.S. Lewis in his Perelandra novels, and for a similar reason. Lewis and Wilson are immersed in studying the universal ocean of existence, and are not interested in boats.

What possibilities of mind

Unfortunately the grand possibilities of mind, once liberated from parasites, are only talked about in The Mind Parasites, or presented as dull as dishwater. In contrast, Eric Frank Russell gives us both an astro-mystical vision in Sentinels from Space, and a man-in-the-street practical utilization in Call Him Dead. Edward E. Smith's Lensman novels are built around visionary mental potential; and in that tradition, James H. Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon series provides entrancing detail in believable settings.

In an era of computer viruses and self-propagating patterns from glider guns on up, mental parasites may receive and deserve a new lease on pseudo-life. There are some striking analogies in The Mind Parasites, which may prove as fruitful toward overall explanation as do the fashionable concepts of our selves being some kind of bio-mechanical chess-players or computer operating systems. But I recommend reading Sinister Barrier and Telzey Amberdon instead.


© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson

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