Appendix N Challenge: John the Balladeer by Manly Wade Wellman.

silver-john

I wasn’t originally going to write about Wellman today. My initial plan had been to write about Almeric by R.E Howard, but after reading a great post over at Castalia House by HP (You can find it here) I changed my mind. There probably isn’t another author who has affected me on as deep a level as Wellman, almost down to the DNA if I’m honest. What really got to me was a weird synchronicity in our lives; the repercussions of an accident. HP writes “Where Did She Wander? by the way, was the last story Wellman ever wrote.  After writing it, he fell and broke his shoulder and elbow to shit.”

Back in 2008, I was working in a school, part teacher, part mentor, part enforcer. There was a fight on the school fields so I went running. A kid got in my way and rather than trample him underfoot I swerved. Lost my footing, went flying and went shoulder first into a metal gate. Broke my collar bone, shoulder, and upper left arm into so many pieces they couldn’t put it back together again. The outcome was almost amputation, and there have been times when I wish it had been truth be told. Instead, I got cold steel put into my arm and shoulder and constant pain ever since. I’m still alive though and believe me, an inch the other way and I wouldn’t be. So I guess I have an inkling just what Wellman went through. Just an inkling though, the guy was much older than I am now. In a strange way, this inspires me though. If he can go through that and still carry on writing then I’m damn sure I can.

 

I don’t remember the title of the Manly Wade Wellman book I read under the blankets of my bed in the winter of 1978. For the longest time, I couldn’t even remember the names of the stories. The memory of John, Silver John never faded though, and, unbeknownst to my waking rational mind became the yardstick against which all further heroes were judged. Random lines would return unbidden, always at appropriate times such as when I met Mark Calloway:

“Genesis giant blood,” I repeated him, remembering the Book, sixth chapter of Genesis. “‘There were giants in the earth in those days.'”

Yeah, that guy is pure Genesis blood!

I was in love with the elements that make John’s Tales before I was able to understand what they were. The biblical references for a start obviously. Then the elements of lore that reference both American and American Indian mythology. The lyrical use of dialect that never feels intrusive (anyone who thinks that Wellman had a tin ear needs their head examining!) and is a joy to read.

Good versus evil. Every single story revolves around this, the most basic dichotomy, as all honest stories must. There’s no space for shades of gray, no moral relativism here, bad is punished, good is rewarded and darkness is always pulled out into the light. Wellman does it without preaching, without forcing anything down your throat, it just underscores every word he writes. It’s refreshing, like a shower after wallowing in too much mud.

Take this next part, from The Desrick on Yandro. One paragraph long and so much horror in there. It reaches in and nestles itself in the gray matter and sets up home in your mind, ready to come out when you least want it to. I’ve bitched about this before, but too many writers think that the correct way to do this is page after page of set up. They’re wrong. Take a lesson from a master and learn the art of brevity. Wedded to the sentence structure that’s as sweet as beautifully written music, this is writing at a level that few seem capable of now.

There were mountain night noises, like you never get used to, not even if you’re born and raised there, and live and die there. Noises too soft and sneaky to be real murmuring voices. Noises like big flapping wings far off and then near. And, above and below the trail, noises like heavy soft paws keeping pace with you, sometimes two paws, sometimes four, sometimes many. They stay with you, noises like that all the hours you grope along the night trail, all the way down to the valley so low, till you bless God for the little crumb of light that means a human home, and you ache and pray to get to that home, be it ever so humble, so you’ll be safe in the light.

My last choice is from Who Fears the Devil, just a quick piece that really underscores everything I like about Wellman. The projector in my skull cinema has everything that it needs to create a Triple A blockbuster. In short, the writer isn’t treating me like an idiot, is letting me fill in whatever gaps he’s left.

Genius.

But I didn’t run. To run nair had helped me much in such a case. I’d stand my ground, fight. If I lost the fight, maybe Hallcott could get away and tell the tale. I bent my knees and made my legs springly, I hoped I could move faster and surer than those big, lumbering bones.

If the only thing you take away from anything I write on Appendix N, then let this be it. Read Wellman. Read his Silver John stories; here, I’ll even provide a link where you can read them for free. Once you’ve read those, search out his other stuff, it’s all good.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this. If you’d like to leave a comment feel free to do so, all (reasonable) opinions are welcome here.

Take care

Dean

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Author:

40+, married and a full-time father to my granddaughter (don't ask, it's complicated).

4 thoughts on “Appendix N Challenge: John the Balladeer by Manly Wade Wellman.

  1. Hey cool. We’re doing a read through of ‘Who Fears the Devil’ at the Puppy of the Month Book Club next month.

    I know what you mean about Wellman. His writing has a grace to it that I’ve seen read before. A simple smoothness that is somehow more vivid the less detailed it gets. It’s a kind of magic all right.

    Liked by 1 person

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