Alfred Bester tells how he used to listen to Manly Wade Wellman recount many anecdotes in which Southerners would repeatedly get the better of Northerners. Bester decided that he could tolerate such stories, since the North had, after all, won the war. But there is no question that Manly Wade Wellman was unabashedly Southern-- more particularly, he was unabashedly a native of North Carolina. Many-- though certainly not all-- of his stories had Southern settings. And one of his nonfictional books, _Dead and Gone_ (1954), is an excellent historical study of North Carolina murderers. _Who Fears the Devil?_ (1963) is the first of Wellman's Silver John books and is also set in North Carolina. There are eleven full length short stories that appeared in _Fantasy and Science Fiction_ between 1951 and 1958. Seven vignettes appeared in _F&SF_ in 1962 under the title, "Wonder As I Wander". Four other vignettes appeared in the book for the first time. A vignette preceeds each of the longer stories in the collection. There are other Silver John stories, some novels and some short stories, that appeared later. But there is a kind of unity to _Who Fears the Devil?_ that makes it worth reading by itself.
For readers not familiar with this series, John is a folksy balladeer who wanders the Southern mountains with a silver stringed guitar and who helps deserving people get out of magical scrapes. His knowlege of music and magic, along with his basic decency, often saves the day. I am not going to spend a lot of time with the plots of the stories, which are actually straightforward enough. What I would like to call attention to is the style. All of the pieces are first person narrations by John. Here is a representative example:
_If the gardinel's an old folk's tale, I'm honest to tell you it's a true one.
Few words about them are best, I should reckon. They look some way like a shed or a cabin, snug and rightly made, except the open door could be a mouth, the two little windows might could be eyes. Never you'll see one on the main roads or near towns; only back in the thicketty places, by high trails among tall ridges, and they show themselves there when it rains and storms and a lone farer hopes to come to a house to shelter him._ (31)
There is not a false note in this passage. Wellman catches John's dialect without using phoney grammatical mistakes or unnatural rhetoric. There are a great many stories that attempt Appalachian dialect and fail abysmally... because the authors don't really know it. Wellman knows the language of his region, and it makes all the difference. Here is John again:
Another lightning flash, another thunder growl. Old Mr. Jay hunched his thin shoulders under his jeans coat, and allowed he'd pay for some crackers and cheese if the storekeeper'd fetch them out to us.
"I ain't even now wanting to talk against Forney Meechum," said the farmer. "But they tell he'd put his eye on Lute for himself, and he'd quarreled with his own son Derwood about who'd have her. But next court day at the county seat, was a fight betwixt Jeremiah Donovant and Derwood Meechum, and Jeremiah put a knife in Derwood and killed him dead."
Mr. Jay leaned forward. The lantern light showed the gray stubble on his gentle old face. "Who drew the first knife?" he asked. (118)
Wellman also nails the dialogue of his North Carolina characters. It is not just that the basic story ideas are good-- though they are. The style of the tales carries the day; there is frequently a poetry to it. It isn't easy to do this successfully, but Wellman does so. This book is highly recommended.