Friday, December 21, 2012

WHO FEARS THE DEVIL? (and its variations) by Manly Wade Wellman

This book has been addressed previously, in one or another of its various editions, in the "Forgotten" Books roundelay by at least two reviewers, but I haven't taken my informal but discrete swipe at this wonderful book, yet, which among other things includes one of the three stories I first think of when I think of Christmas horror fiction...the other two being, unsurprisingly, A Christmas Carol and Donald Westlake's "Nackles"...but "On the Hills and Everywhere" might be even more triumphal than the Dickens...as well as as much rooted in folklore and as seamlessly integrating its original elements as the "Curt Clark" short story.
Some tiny bits of this are sf... 

(the Contento index:)
Who Fears the Devil? Manly Wade Wellman (Arkham House, 1963, $4.00, 213pp, hc) [John]
  • · John’s My Name · vi *
  • · O Ugly Bird! · ss F&SF Dec ’51
  • · Why They’re Named That · vi *
  • · One Other · ss F&SF Aug ’53
  • · Then I Wasn’t Alone · vi F&SF Mar ’62; Wonder as I Wander, gp
  • · Shiver in the Pines · ss F&SF Feb ’55
  • · You Know the Tale of Hoph · vi F&SF Mar ’62; Wonder as I Wander, gp
  • · Old Devlins Was A-Waiting · ss F&SF Feb ’57
  • · Find the Place Yourself · vi F&SF Mar ’62; Wonder as I Wander, gp
  • · The Desrick on Yandro · ss F&SF Jun ’52
  • · The Stars Down There · vi F&SF Mar ’62; Wonder as I Wander, gp
  • · Vandy, Vandy · ss F&SF Mar ’53
  • · Blue Monkey · vi F&SF Mar ’62; Wonder as I Wander, gp
  • · Dumb Supper [“Call Me from the Valley”] · ss F&SF Mar ’54
  • · I Can’t Claim That · vi F&SF Mar ’62; Wonder as I Wander, gp
  • · The Little Black Train · ss F&SF Aug ’54
  • · Who Else Could I Count On · vi F&SF Mar ’62; Wonder as I Wander, gp
  • · Walk Like a Mountain · ss F&SF Jun ’55
  • · None Wiser for the Trip · vi *
  • · On the Hills and Everywhere · ss F&SF Jan ’56
  • · Nary Spell · vi *
  • · Nine Yards of Other Cloth · ss F&SF Nov ’58
 

Lee Brown Coye's cover
for the Arkham House 1st edition
John, or John the Balladeer, or Silver John, a wandering collector of folk songs (and as such, a deft recasting of the minstrels of the past and various sorts of historical fiction) in Appalachia, also spends more than a little of his time and effort in confronting supernatural (and some natural) evils and injustices, and helping the people he meets, in the mountain communities he passes through, vanquish, when possible, these troubles. The stories thus cast John, whose surname is never given, as a sort of psychic detective and troubleshooter, a knight errant as well as minstrel, in the often isolated communities of the mid-century present day in which the stories were set and written...albeit communities where not too much has changed since, say, West Virginia separated from the Old Dominion during the Civil War, to stay with the union and Not make common cause with the would-be aristocrats of the eastern and southern counties.  The magical properties of silver, as in the strings of his guitar, play no small part in many of  the stories collected here.

John was not the first series character of his sort Wellman wrote about...to Weird Tales (and its short-lived competitor Strange Stories),  Wellman had contributed fiction about the not too dissimilar Judge Pursuivant and John Thunstone, and when Wellman toward the end of his career began writing short novels about John the Balladeer (five were published), he also wrote two about Thunstone. But it was John, who began his adventures in the pages of the then-new The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (after two sort-of proto-John stories for Weird Tales, which the "Planet Stories" edition includes), wherein Wellman was most elegantly able to bring together his passion for history, folklore (and particularly that dealing with the supernatural), music and the culture of his adopted homeland of North Carolina (albeit he was a fixture of Chapel Hill, not, on balance, the most Appalachian of NC cities).  I haven't read all his work (I particularly look forward to some of his folklore-collection and historical nonfiction), but these are masterpieces among his contributions, which also included further fantasy (folkloric and otherwise), historical fiction (western and otherwise) and science fiction.

As demonstrated here, there have been a number of editions of this volume (many augmented by the addition of later or earlier stories or related matter), after its initial publication by Arkham House in 1963.  The first paperback, Ballantine's, ludicrously plasters "science fiction" across the cover, in the hope in those days before the consistent popularity of Tolkien and Stephen King that some readers might take a flier on a collection of horror and dark fantasy stories.  That's the first edition I picked up, as well, in the late '70s, since even though the amateurish if well-intentioned film Who Fears the Devil? (aka The Legend of Hillbilly John) had been (barely) released in the early '70s, the book had not yet been given the relatively consistent in-print status it has achieved since.  The shortlived Dell Fantasy line got it out not too long after I picked up my copy, and Karl Edward Wagner, who became a great friend and editor/publisher of Wellman, wrote the introduction to the first "augmented" edition (newer stories added), from Baen Books, John the Balladeer.

Owls Hoot in the Daytime and Other Omens (Night Shade, 2003)  was the final book in John Pelan's five-volume selected short fiction set of Wellman's work, published after his death and furthering what Wagner and his fellow Wellman acolyte David Drake had done with their 1973 Carcosa House omnibus of Wellman short fiction, Worse Things Waiting and, in 1981, Carcosa following that with Lonely Vigils, which collected stories of Pursuivant, Thunstone and one about another such explorer, Nathan Enderby.  Owls is the volume devoted to the stories of John, and includes Karl Wagner's introduction and an afterword by Wagner's predecessor as editor of The Year's Best Horror Stories, Gerald W. Page.

In the comments after George Kelley's FFB entry for this edition, Paizo Press editor Pierce Watters notes that this volume of the "Planet Stories" series of reprints (named after, and using the last logo from, the important sf adventure magazine of the 1940s and '50s), this was his favorite...of course, it was also the one with the least to do with that magazine or its legacy, as well, though Wellman did write some space opera and other sfnal adventure fiction during his career; his most famous sf work being the novella "Twice in Time".  Wagner's introduction to John the Balladeer is reprinted here, with a new intro by Mike Resnick.

(Not entirely out of chauvinism, I omit the hideous UK paperback edition's cover.)

Randy Johnson's fine review of several of these editions.
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.
Charles Rutledge's photo of a copy Wellman autographed for Karl Wagner's father.
Bill Crider's photo of the back cover of Find My Killer.

10 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I really love the Silver John stories. They're among my favorite fantasies.

Todd Mason said...

They are brilliant, at their frequent best, and good fun at their infrequent worst. Wellman was able to shake off any self-imposed limitations (occasionally evident in, say, the Thunstone stories) when he turned to John.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

They are some of my favorite fantasy stories of all time. Haunting and original and just plain nifty.

Todd Mason said...

You might be surprised how much resistance I've found in encouraging folks interested in folklore, very much including that of the Appalachians, in taking up this book.

Thanks for posting your photo, btw.

Randy Johnson said...

I have the third Who Fears The Devil? and the John The Balladeer books as well as the Nightshade volume.

I'm likely one of the two previous posters you mentioned.

Todd Mason said...

I was pretty sure you were, Randy, but didn't take the time to check. Harried weeks.

Michael E. Stamm said...

I have had all of these except the Arkham House hardcover (and hope springs eternal even there) and may still have even the Dell edition with the Rowena Morrill cover and that (aptly labeled) ghastly British paperback. The John the Balladeer stories are something I would require in any "one hundred books to have on a deserted island" list; I never tire of re-reading them.

Todd Mason said...

And yet I still need to read the last two novels. Life is like that.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I've had this one on the shelves for ever it seems (well, it's a fairly unimpressive 1975 UK edition from the the 'Star Books' imprint - you can see the cover here: http://bit.ly/ViHFZ1) but have never read it - clearly time to - thanks as always Todd.

Todd Mason said...

Yeah, I posted a link to that inept cover in my text, as well, Sergio. Don't let that deter you at all. And thank you.