Who Fears the Devil Paperback – Jan 1980
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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.
a. `Manly and John' by Mike Resnick
b. `Just Call Me John' by Karl Edward Wagner
a. O Ugly Bird!
b. The Desrick on Yandro
c. Vandy, Vandy
d. One Other
e. Call Me From the alley
f. The Little Black Train
g. Shiver in the Pines
h. Walk Like a Mountain
i. Old Devlins Was A-Waiting
j. On the Hills and Everywhere
k. Nine Yards of Other Cloth
l. Trill Coster's Burden
m. The Spring
n. Owls Hoot in the Daytime
o. Nobody Ever Goes There
p. Can These Bones Live?
q. Where Did She Wander?
r. Sin's Doorway (although I don't consider it as a Silver John story)
s. Frogfather (this inclusion is also questionable, but I accept it).
a. John's My Name
b. Why They're Named That
c. The I Wasn't Alone
d. You Know the Tale of Haph
e. Find the Place Yourself
f. The Stars Down There
g. Blue Monkey
h. I Can't Claim That
i. Who Else Could I Count On?
j. None Wiser for the Trip
k. Nary Spell
It has been stated by numerous critics that Manly Wade Wellman was unique in the way he had morphed American folklore and Biblical stories into proper old-fashioned good-v/s-evil stories, and in the process had shown such storytelling skills that can't be measured even by the horde of awards that he had won. But I recommend this volume to you so that you yourself can get a measure of these wonderful tales, and in the process gift the jewel of an author the best possible posthumous gift: remembrance.
In the very first story, "O Ugly Bird" a link is implied between our hero and John the Baptist: "It was foretold about you in the Bible," said Winnie, her voice soft again. "'There was a man sent from God, whose name was John...'"
Of course, like any true hero would, John manages to `aw shucks' his way out of that accolade. He sings "Lady, I never loved witchcraft,/ Never dealt in privy wile,/ But evermore held the high way/ Of love and honor, free from guile..." Then like the Lone Ranger, he is off to another mountain valley to do musical combat with yet another aspect of Evil.
These stories are rich in Appalachian tradition and folklore. There is even a tale about the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys: "Old Devlins was A-Waiting." Many of the songs John sings are authentic as well, although Wellman did introduce some original music to fit his story themes.
A complete list of novels and short story collections featuring John:
"The Old Gods Waken" (1979)
"After Dark" (1980)
"The Lost and Lurking" (1981)
"The Hanging Stones" (1982)
"Voice of the Mountain" (1984)
Short story collections:
"Who Fears the Devil?" (1963)
"John the Balladeer" (1988)
"Owls Hoot in Daytime and Other Omens" (2003)