John the Balladeer by Manly Wade Wellman

(Baen, 1988; ISBN 0-671065418-7). Some of these stories appeared in Who Fears the Devil? (Arkham, 1963). Both these collections are out of print. Night Shade Books is supposed to reprint them in volume five (yet forthcoming) of their Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman.

I recollect that some years ago I read a wonderfully haunting little story called "Vandy, Vandy" in a Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction anthology, and hadn't seen any other stories by the author, Manly Wade Wellman, in all the time since; so I was mightily pleased to find John the Balladeer at a used bookstore a few months ago. I made the stories last awhile, reading not more than one in a few days; you'll probably want to do the same, for a couple of them bear a strong resemblance to one another, though none is redundant.

There are several things about these stories that make them unusual and good. The most obvious is Wellman's use of Appalachian folklore for story material. Creatures like the gardinel and the Behinder are, if nothing else, a relief from such overused fauna as rocs and centaurs; and if this were the only outstanding point about them, these stories would still be worth a mention. Another is the mountain dialect in the mouths of the narrator and most of the characters; it's well done, as far as I can tell, and it makes the stories and characters more real and convincing. Another is the music. John, with his silver-stringed guitar, travels about looking for songs or searching out the places and people mentioned in them. Old folk songs and hymns and ballads are mixed together with a few that Wellman wrote himself, and I can't always tell them apart. Lastly there is John himself; his speech, his manner, and his humility make him a fellow worth associating with through the course of twenty-eight stories.

Wellman also wrote five novels about John: The Old Gods Waken (1979), After Dark (1980), The Lost and the Lurking (1981), The Hanging Stones (1982), and The Voice of the Mountain (1984), all published by Doubleday. I've only read The Old Gods Waken yet; it's also worth reading.

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