Sunday, July 24, 2011
Hang Your Head Over
I always think of Manly Wade Wellman as a Southerner. Though he was born in west Africa in 1903 (where his father was a doctor at a British medical outpost), his family moved to America while he was still a child and he attended grade school in Washington DC. He became fascinated with the backwoods culture of the Ozarks around the time he was in college and began traveling and studying folklore, music and legends. This would eventually lead him to excursions throughout the Appalachians and in 1951 he moved to Chapel Hill North Carolina, where he remained until his death in 1986. Since he spent over three decades in SC and since he talked and wrote about and loved the mountains of the South, and since he wasn't technically born in any region of America, I think we can grandfather him in as a Southerner.
While I was doing a little research on the vampire story Chastel, which I reviewed in the previous post, I learned of a Wellman book that I didn't own, 1987's The Valley So Low: Southern Mountain Stories. The title was originally meant to be used for a novel featuring Wellman's best known character, John the Balladeer, but Wellman died before that book could be written. So The Valley So Low became a collection of Wellman's last burst of Southern based fantasy and horror stories (written between 1973 and 1985) edited by Wellman's good friend, Karl Edward Wagner.
If Wagner seems to be popping up at Singular Points with surprising frequency it's because I've been studying his work again recently and the time and people which surrounded it. For a while there, Chapel Hill was home to three writers of the Macabre, Wellman, Wagner, and David Drake. The first two have passed away and the third writes mostly heroic fantasy and Military SF these days but Drake's early career is steeped in horror and sword & sorcery. Shadow haunted Chapel hill was home to a sort of mini Weird Tales revival in the early 1970s.
The Valley So Low contains the last adventures of Wellman's series characters, new and old. Old friends like John Thunstone and Judge Pursuivant show up for final battles against evil, along with newer characters Lee Cobbett and Hal Stryker, who I had not encountered until recently. And of course John the Balladeer is there. Never called 'Silver John' as later editors and anthologists would dub him. To Wellman he was simply John or John the Balladeer.
Many of the titles of the stories are evocative of the South. Along About Sundown. Where Did She Wander. The Beasts That Perish. Owls Hoot in the Daytime.
Some of the stories are folksy. Most are scary. All are worth reading. Like Joseph Payne Brennan, Wellman had a knack for coming up with ideas no one else seemed to have thought of before. The ghosts of sacrificial animals come back for vengeance. Ancient malignant spirits haunt an abandoned textile mill. Something unseen waits and hungers within a discolored circle of grass in a suburban back yard. And through it all runs the music and voice of the mountains.