Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Silver John

Who Fears the DevilWho Fears the Devil by Manly Wade Wellman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Silver John travels the Appalachian mountains, encountering all manner of strangness, with only his silver-stringed guitar for a companion...

I have a confession to make: I think 95% of fantasy stories are derivative and unoriginal. This collection is neither. Who Fears the Devil is the complete collection of Silver John short stories, 30 in number, ranging for three or four paragraphs to fifteen pages. Silver John is a wandering balladeer, modeled after a young Johnny Cash, who wanders from one strange event to the next.

The first thing I noticed about the stories were how skilled Manly Wade Wellman was at rendering Southern dialogue without making the speakers seem stupid. Once I dug in, the book was hard to set aside for too long and I'm not a big fan of short stories by any means.

The best way to describe the stories would be to call them American fantasy. The stories explore different aspects of Southern and mountain folklore, much having to do with witches, ghosts, demons, and other supernatural creatures. The line between fantasy and horror is blurred in some of them while others are pretty humorous. Silver John outwits supernatural beasties, encounters a giant, a house that's acutaly a living organism, and other things too odd to mention, all the while playing songs on his guitar and singing.

If you like fantasy that isn't derived from Tolkien, you could do a lot worse than spending a few evenings with Silver John.

The Old Gods WakenThe Old Gods Waken by Manly Wade Wellman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While Silver John is staying with his friend Creed Forshay and Creed's son Luke, odd things start happening, odd things that seem to center on Forshay's new neighbors, two Englishmen named Brummitt and Hooper Voth. Can Silver John stop the Voth's from using Druidic magic to release an ancient evil?

Silver John is back in a full length novel. If you've read Who Fears the Devil, you know what to expect. The Old Gods Waken reads like an expanded version of a Silver John short story. All the things I liked about the Silver John short stories were here: Silver John himself, his bits of lore, and ancient evils lurking just around the corners of the Appalachian mountains.

The supporting cast was a little ahead of its time. Reuben Manco could have easily been a stereotypical Indian character and it was nice to see him mocking such stereotypes. Holly was a much stronger character than most female characters of the period, back when women in pulp stories were either victims or bait. The Voth brothers were suitably creepy and I loved how Wellman wove the Raven Mockers of Indian mythology into a story about druids.

It wasn't all roses and sunshine, though. I felt like parts of the story were a little on the convenient side and I didn't think the writing was as good as it was in the short stories in Who Fears the Devil.

Really, no big complaints. It was nice to read about Silver John again. I'd give it a 3.5 if I could.

Still on Goodreads

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