, ,

Who Fears The Devil?(1963, Arkham House)

my copy: Dell mass market, February, 1980

John The Balladeer(1988)

my copy: Baen mass Market, July, 1988

Owls Hoot In The Daytime and Other Omens(2003, Night Shade Books)Volume Five of The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman

Manly Wade Wellman was born in 1903 in Africa in the country known today as Angola and spent the first six years of his life there. His father was a British physician at a medical outpost. He grew up and was educated in the United States, was a newspaperman early on, then moved to New York City during the depression when work grew short. His first story was published in 1927, based on African tales of magic and the spirit world he’d heard as a child.
Wellman wrote for the pulps, every type of story, western , space opera, horror, mystery, nonfiction. In 1946, he won an Ellery Queen short story contest, beating out no less a personage than William Faulkner, who was reportedly upset at finishing second to a mere “science fiction” writer.  He also won an Edgar for a true crime book about North Carolina murderers. Other awards include British Fantasy award, lifetime achievement, and two World Fantasy  Awards, for lifetime achievement and short fiction.

He worked in the comics field, writing the first issue of Captain Marvel comics for Fawcett, later testifying for DC Comics in the plagiarism trial. He wrote one of the Captain Future pulp novels.

During his education, he’d toured the Ozarks with a friend and began a lifelong fascination with folk music. After WWII, he moved his family to Pine Bluff, NC(pop. 300) to be near and learn from those country folk about which he wrote so well. Later, in 1951, they moved to Chapel Hill, where they spent the rest of their lives.

Though he had several characters that dealt with magic, John is the most well known. The young man who traveled back and forth in the Great Smokies, learning many folk songs and helping people he met out of their troubles with all sorts of magical creatures, a sort of latter day Paladin with his silver strung guitar.

The first story appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 1951, where he encountered Mr Onselm, the hoodoo man, and his familiar, a vulture-like bird. The world Wellman created is populated by such creatures as the Bammot, described as huge, hairy, big ears, with a snake-like nose and curling teeth coming out of his mouth, the Toiler, the Skim, the Culverin,  the Flat, and the Behinder. No one knows what the Behinder looks like for the obvious reason. Here’s a brief passage:

” The Behinder flung itself on his shoulders. Then I knew why nobody’s supposed to see one. i wish I hadn’t.”

John meets an animated skeleton, ghosts looking for lost loves, participates in a dumb supper, and crosses paths with the One Other who lives in Bottomless Pool atop Hark Mountain. John’s silver strung guitar and his ability to remember old folks songs or make up lyrics on the spot, not to mention his common sense, enable him to deal with all manner of deviltry.

The stories never look down on the country folk. You could tell Wellman loved these people. The voice is correct, as so many stories about us southern folks aren’t. A North Carolina boy myself, I can attest the man knew about what he wrote.

In 1963, Arkham House published Who Fears The Devil?, all the John stories at that point. Vignettes were placed between each story, which were rewritten, much to Wellman’s chagrin, to give it all a  novel-like coherence. They aren’t exactly as Wellman wrote them, though in reading both versions back and forth, I didn’t think they were badly done. Ballantine put out a mass market edition in 1964.

My copy is a later Dell paperback. Each story is accompanied by an illustration by Tim Kirk. Those are copyright 1980, so they must be new to the book. I’ve never seen either of the 1960s editions, so I don’t know whether they had illustrations.

Baen Books published John The Balladeer in 1988. It contains all the John short stories and vignettes, all grouped together, as Wellman wrote them. It has a forward by David Drake and introduction by the late Karl Edward Wagner, both Chapel Hill writers.

Night Shade Books published Owls Hoot In The Daytime and Other Omens as book five of their Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman series in 2003. It has all the stories as well, again with those vignettes grouped together, plus the Wagner introduction from John The Balladeer. It’s my favorite of the three I own. Hardcover, dark brown with the title and a head and shoulders of Wellman in gold leaf.

All versions are available on the internet at reasonable prices, with exception of a first edition Arkham House, which can run to several hundred dollars. Worth looking up if you’ve never read any of the stories.
There are also five John novels, the fifth being a bit expensive. I don’t think there has ever been a mass market paperback of that one.

A side note: a movie was released titled Who Fears The Devil?, reedited then released as John The Balladeer. Neither version did well. Never seen it, but have heard it was pretty bad.

Also, Joe Bethancourt released an album of traditional folk songs called Who Fears The Devil in 1994 that John might have known, many using Wellman’s lyrics from the stories.