Thursday, April 07, 2011

Wellman's Lonely Vigils

Last year I wrote about acquiring a collection of the horror short stories of Manly Wade Wellman called Worse Things Waiting. Of the four books published by the small publishing House Carcosa Press back in the 1980s, this was the book I wanted most. However, second on the list was a companion book containing all of Wellman's Occult Detective stories, titled Lonely Vigils.
Starting in 1938, Wellman wrote stories about three different protagonists who fought supernatural evil in contemporary times. All but one of these stories appeared in the shadow haunted pages of the great Weird Tales, home of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. The exception was the single appearance of a character named Professor Nathan Enderby and that story appeared in Strange Tales, a rather unimaginatively named rival magazine.
The majority of the stories in Lonely Vigils feature John Thunstone, a burly expert on the occult who stood fast against supernatural menaces from the 1940s into the 1980s. (A new Thunstone story showed up in one of the Year's Best Horror collections I mentioned recently.) Four other stories feature a slightly less physically impressive hero, his honor Judge Keith Hilary Pursuivant. Both of these men are armed with sword canes with silver in the blades. At one point Wellman said that the judge had passed his cane on to Thunstone, but later it was revealed that there were two such canes.
In the adventures of Pursuivant and Thunstone you'll meet all manner of supernatural creatures. Vampires, demons, vengeful ghosts. There are indeed many Lonely Vigils where the protagonist must keep watch late into the night for unholy things from the outer dark.
You'll also meet Manly Wade Wellman's own creations, the Shonokins, a pre-human race who resent mankind's supremacy on Earth and scheme to take the world back for their own. (The Shonokins would return to battle Wellman's later hero, John the Balladeer.) And then there's the evil wizard Rowley Thorne, based in part on real life occultist Aleister Crowley. These are amazingly good stories, and unfortunately, all the effort that editor Karl Edward Wagner expended to resurrect them in the 1980s has gone to naught, as once again Wellman's name has sunk from the public consciousness.
The book is made extra nifty by being illustrated by George Evans, one of the legendary EC Comics artists and a fine illustrator as well. The book contains a couple of dozen beautiful black and white illustrations and quite a few spot illos as well. I'm proud to note that my copy is signed by both the author and the artist.
Anyway, the two Wellman Carcosa books continue to climb in price and collectibility, so I'd been watching for a decent copy under a hundred bucks. Spotted one at Amazon Sunday and ordered it on the spot. The dust jacket is a little dinged, but the book itself is in great shape, which is what really matters. I don't spend a lot of time admiring dust jackets. This gives me two of the four Carcosa books. The other two contain the work of Hugh B. Cave and E. Hoffman Price respectively. I imagine I'll track them down, but I have the two I really wanted. Manly Wade Wellman has become one of my favorite writers, so I'm glad to have these two impressive collections of his work.
For more on Carcosa and Wellman, see my post from last year:

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