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Review – Strange is Normal: The Amazing Life of Colin Wilson (DVD)

Title: Strange Is Normal: The Amazing Life of Colin Wilson
Genre: Documentary, Biography
Production Company: Reality Films

Most of us have heard of the British author Colin Wilson. While not quite a household name, those who haunt bookstores and love fringe topics will know that he writes about the occult and other esoterica.

So when Strange is Normal: The Amazing Life of Colin Wilson came in the mail, I almost knew in advance that I’d enjoy learning more about this fascinating, well-rounded character.

And that I did. This DVD interview gives an entertaining account of Wilson’s life and ideas, as told by the author himself.

Wilson is a prolific writer. And his accumulated work explores an eclectic mix of topics—from murder, magic and science, to literature and science fiction, to name a few.

I first encountered Wilson or, rather, wrote about him while studying Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity. In his book, C.G. Jung: Lord of the Underworld, Wilson says that a healthy mind, not a sick one, should regularly encounter synchronicity.

Wilson’s emphasis on the link between the paranormal and psychological health is a refreshing and much needed antidote to a society that, for the most part, shuns intelligent discourse about anything that can’t be bought, seen or sold.

For example, once while talking with a mental health worker, I was told that those deemed mentally ill often go into religion, as if to imply that the religious impulse is rightly associated with illness. This approach seemed to regard spirituality as a symptom instead of a solution to psychological disorders and social deviance.

Now, Wilson is no great supporter of organized religion. In fact, he trashes both the Church of England and Catholicism. But in my view, religion and spirituality need not be separate, and Wilson is to be commended for emphasizing the positive aspects of spirituality.

In addition, he provides a delightful analogy by likening right and left brain integration to a good tennis match. Here, he stands in direct opposition to the arguably more pessimistic Arthur Koestler, who believed that the human brain is naturally contradictory.

If I were to find a weakness in Wilson’s approach, it might have something to do with his already mentioned bias against organized religion. On this score, his firm convictions possibly limit his inner experience. This seems evident in his discussion of Abraham Maslow’s concept of the “peak experience.”

Wilson talks about the peak experience without really delving into its philosophical and theological complexities. On the social level, he does say that those who’ve had peak experiences tend re-experience them when talking about the phenomenon among themselves in a group.

Be that as it may, no mention is given to the fact that numerous mystics – within organized religion – write about varying levels, qualities, and degrees of numinous experience (numinous is a more nuanced term that accounts for the peak experience, and is used by Rudolf Otto and C. G. Jung, among others, to describe spiritual phenomena).

Possibly Wilson is dumbing things down for a general audience. And if so, that’s fine. But I think some passing mention could have been given to the potential intricacies of the inner life.

On second thought, maybe I’m being a bit too tough. After all, Wilson does note the sinister possibility of mind control. And this darker side of interpersonal affairs could involve numinosity or, at least, some weird kind of charisma.

These subtle and hard to prove dynamics aside, Strange is Normal definitely is a great interview. Wilson tells his life story from his own home, and in the process we discover a candid, articulate, and immensely colorful personality—certainly not the dry British intellectual that some might expect.

Anyone even vaguely interested in parapsychology and the supernatural should see this film. Wilson’s unconventional life experience and witty ways help to make the unusual usual, which surely is a good thing.

The DVD also features an interview with Wilson’s wife, Joy, who epitomizes the charming and insightful lady standing alongside her better known husband.

—MC

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