February 5, 2013 by Thomas Pluck
One of the lesser-known giants of the golden age of pulp is Manly Wade Wellman. He is best known for the “Silver John” tales of a folk singer with a pure heart and a silver-strung guitar who wanders the hills and hollers of Appalachia seeking “the old music,” who often runs into evil magics and “the old ones” instead.
The Silver John tales evoke the purely weird through an American folk lens, where creatures of the age before mankind leave their footprints through the hollers and hoodoo men hold sway. John has only his wits, his silver-stringed guitar and his powerful faith in good to wage battle with evil. The tales are laced with subtle humor and Wellman masterfully describes a character or a place with few sharp words, bringing you into his fantastic realm where the world may have waged two wars and split the atom, but somewhere in the mountains there still lurk creatures we cannot begin to comprehend.
There were a few movies based on them as well, but none seem to have captured the magic. Wellman’s fiction was a huge influence on my long short story “Black Shuck” in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.
Manly Wade Wellman was an American original, a stunning fabulist who painted haunted murals of the Appalachian mountains using the language of the people who live there as his handmade oils and brush. His books are mostly out of print, but Baen has graciously included a collection of Silver John stories in their free electronic library:
I highly recommend the entire collection, but especially “O Ugly Bird,” “The Desrick on Yandro,” and “Nine Yards of Other Cloth.” They are set after the second World War, but feel timeless and ancient, like the mountains themselves. He wrote several novels starring Silver John, such as The Old Gods Waken, and I purchased some on eBay. My local used bookstore didn’t have any. I look forward to seeing what John does with some room to stretch his legs in a story.