Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Old Gods Waken

This was the first of the novels about Manly Wade Wellman's most popular character, John the Balladeer and it came out in 1979. I could kick myself sometimes because in 1979 I was just a comic book geek with no knowledge of folks like Wellman and Karl Edward Wagner. Heck I probably walked right past KEW since I know now that he attended some of the same conventions I did. Such is life.
   Anyway, in this one John runs into a weird mix of Druidism and Indian (Native American) mysticism, facing off against not only two druids, but against such dangerous Indian spirits as the dreaded Ravenmockers. The druids, a couple of nasty brothers named Voth, are trying to awaken ancient spirits that predate even the Indians in the mountains. Thus the book's title, as the Voths hope to raise old, forgotten, but angry gods and use their power for no good.
   Like The Voice of the Mountain, which I reviewed a few weeks back, this book suffers mostly from being too long for its subject matter. It reads like a drawn out John the Balladeer short story, and while that's not a bad thing, it does make the pacing seem slow. Wellman does his usual amazing job of bringing the mountains of the Carolinas alive, and you can feel his love for the region, its people, and it's music and folklore.
   The descriptions of the meals John shares with the country folk are particularly vivid, making me long for the days of lunches at my grandmother's house. The ham and biscuits, corn dodgers, greens, and such. You don't have to have grown up in the rural South to enjoy the simple pleasures of a John the Balladeer story, but I think it adds something to my own love of these stories. I grew up in backwoods Georgia, and the world John travels through is much like what I remember from my childhood.
   One interesting bit from The Old Gods Waken is the inclusion of the Cherokee medicine man Reuben Manco. Manco also appears in several of Wellman's John Thunstone stories and one of the novels. Though Wellman never got around to having the two Johns onstage together, they did know one another and had mutual friends. I like that.
   Anyway, this is another good John the Balladeer book, an excellent read for a lazy afternoon. Yeah it could move a bit faster but fast pace isn't everything. Sometimes it's better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

7 comments:

Keith West said...

Your comments about food remind me of summers at my grandparents farm in southwest Mississippi. I miss those meals. Once while I was there I read a lot of Wellman stories from a stack of back issues of F&SF I found at a used bookstore. They weren't John the Balladeer stories, though.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Keith, my favorite meal made by my grandmother was cube steak, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and friend okra, served with biscuits stuffed with cheese. Man, those were the days. I have some Wellman issues of F&SF from 1969 to 1971.

Keith West said...

I don't remember many of the meat items we had. What I remember are the homemade biscuits and jellies (none like 'em)and the fresh vegetables from the garden. Corn, humongous tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, black eyed peas, snap peas, butter beans, potatoes, fried okra (fried in a cast iron skillet so it came out black, like God intended), egg plant, plums, peaches. We didn't have all of that at every meal, but we had four or five of those most of the time, and always tomatoes. I didn't care much for the beans and peas as a kid, but I would eat all of that without hesitation today.

And the F&SF copies I had at the time were from the mid 70s to early 80s.

Cromsblood said...

...fried in a cast iron skillet so it came out black, like God intended...

Awesome Keith...awesome.

donovan s. brain said...

Some indie filmmaker needs to very quietly film some of the Silver John stories, now that CGI is affordable. Someone careful and respectful, and who likes cornbread.

Jerry House said...

Donovan, a Silver John movie, THE LEGEND OF HILLBILLY JOHN was made in 1974. And, yes, it is high time someone made a decent Silver John movie.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I agree guys. I would love to see a decent movie made from one of Wellman's stories.