Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Voice of the Mountain

For some time, the wandering Balladeer known simply as John has heard tales of the voice of Cry Mountain. Now he's made his way to the mountain to learn, if he can, the source of the eerie wailing cry, and despite the warnings of the Appalachian folk who live in the shadow of the mountain, John climbs to the summit.
   There he finds the strange "witch man" Ruel Harpe, a smooth mannered sociopath with dreams of being a god and just maybe has the power to make it happen. He wants John to join him as one of his disciples. Trapped in Ruels's rustic commune, John will have to use all his knowledge of backwoods magic to stop Ruel Harpe's scheme.
   This was the last of Manly Wade Wellman's five novels about John the Balladeer. He planned one more, The Valley So Low, but a serious injury led to his death before that one could be completed. The Valley So Low came out as a collection of Wellman's mountain themed short stories edited by his friend Karl Edward Wagner.
   I think that Wellman was more comfortable writing short stories about John than novels. In fact this one reads much like one of the shorts that has been padded out to novel length. Not that it's a bad book. Wellman was a good enough writer to hold my interest until the end. It has all the trademarks of classic John the Balladeer stories. Folksy background. True love. (not for John though) Weird supernatural goings on and dark magic that seems scarily authentic. In a short forward, Wellman mentions that all the grimores mentioned in the story are real books. I'm familiar with a couple of them from other Wellman stories, and yeah, they're for real. Wellman knew his stuff.
   He mentions several real people in the book too. There's a funny bit where a woman mentions that she worked in the special collections section of the library at Miskatonic University, and among the seekers of arcane knowledge who came there were men named Fritz Leiber, Bob Bloch, and Frank Belknap Long. I think Wellman had fun with this one, throwing in references to earlier adventures and plenty of old mountain folk songs. Though this was the last John the Balladeer novel, Wellman wasn't quite though writing about John. There would still be a couple of short stories about what had become Manly Wade Wellman's signature character. All the stories, both short and long are worth your time.


Paul R. McNamee said...

From my Amazon hunting, this one never got the paperback treatment, either. The other four John novels did.

I wouldn't be surprised if they lack the punch of the short stories - so many novels do.

But, I'll still read them someday.

Keith West said...

I don't think it appeared in paperback. I was fortunate to find a copy in the remainder bin when I was in college.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Paul, it's definitely worth a read. All the novels are, but yeah, like sword & sorcery, John the Balladeer seems to work best in a shorter form.

Keith, I don't think there was a paperback of this one either, and the hardback is usually the hardest to find at a decent price because of that, I think.