FORGOTTEN BOOKS: JOHN THE BALLADEER BY MANLEY WADE WELLMAN!
Manly Wade Wellman was one of the most successful fantasy and SF writers of the '30s and '40s. His SF was generally of a juvenile nature, popular at the time but of limited interest today. His fantasy, however, was thoroughly adult. While Lovecraft and Howard were writing, Manly was in the second rank of Weird Tales authors; after they died, he became one of the magazine's mainstays.
Despite the high quality of his earlier fantasies, Manly didn't really hit his stride in the field until in 1949 appeared The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction—a digest magazine which would publish fantasy of the highest literary quality. For F&SF Manly created John the Balladeer, drawing on his existing knowledge of folk music and folklore and his growing love of the North Carolina mountains. – David Drake
The stories of John the Balladeer are some of the best American fantasies ever written. This collection of short stories is filled with the delights of the namesake guitar slinging ghostbuster. A backwoods wandering minstrel, who is always happy to follow where trouble leads him, helping where he can while asking for little in return.
The time of the stories is never explicitly given, but can be taken as the middle of the twentieth century since John, is a veteran of the Korean War. Resembling a young Johnny Cash, he has an implied mystic link of some sort to John the Baptist, and much of his personal philosophy can be traced to a primitive, Gospel-based, Christianity
Despite being one of the great sci-fi/fantasy/horror pulp writers, the creator of Silver John, Manly Wade Wellman, is far from as well known as he deserves. His stories are unique, drawing upon the rich vein of southern Appalachia folklore mixed with Cherokee myths and Scots-Irish ballads.
The stories are full of the customs and lore of the region and many of the folk songs John sings are authentic. Wellman did introduce some original songs and legends, but his creations blend seamlessly with the traditional material.
On a different note, Wellman also contributed to the writing of the comic book The Spirit while the franchise's creator, Will Eisner, was serving in the US military during World War II.
Wellman’s best known character, John, wanders the mountains with his guitar strung with silver strings, thwarting all manner of supernatural threats with his wits, common sense and knowledge of the old ballads. Along the way he encounters hoodoo men, witch-women, ghosts, raven-mockers, familars and all kinds of other horrors living in the backwoods.
In John The Balladeer, all of the Silver John short stories are collected together. However, there are also five novels featuring the character – The Old Gods Waken, After Dark, The Lost and Lurking, The Hanging Stones, and Voice of the Mountain.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Wellman's fiction is that it does draw upon uniquely American themes. John is very down-to-earth, a hero of the common people. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re appreciate Lovecraft, Shaver, Blackwood, and the like.
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