Volume 0, Issue 0

John the Balladeer

In Fiction on 2012/07/17 at 10:14 am

John the Balladeer by Manly Wade WellmanMost of a hundred years ago an author named Manly Wade Wellman wrote for the pulp serials, churning out SF for the juvenile market. And then he turned his hand to things a bit more of a fantastic nature, geared toward a more mature market, and exploded. He invented a character to make central to his tales, set in Appalachian country, and wove a coherent tapestry of the supernatural that still stands to this day.

If you’re a modern consumer of pop culture horror, and have heard of DC/Vertigo Comics’ John Constantine of Hellblazer or Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden of the Dresden Files, then read a sample below to see the silver-cast prototype of the distinctly North American supernatural troubleshooter.


O Ugly Bird!

I swear I’m licked before I start, trying to tell you all what Mr. Onselm looked like. Words give out—for instance, you’re frozen to death for fit words to tell the favor of the girl you love. And Mr. Onselm and I pure poison hated each other. That’s how love and hate are alike.

He was what country folks call a low man, more than calling him short or small; a low man is low otherwise than by inches. Mr. Onselm’s shoulders didn’t wide out as far as his big ears, and they sank and sagged. His thin legs bowed in at the knee and out at the shank, like two sickles point to point. On his carrot-thin neck, his head looked like a swollen pale gourd. Thin, moss-gray hair. Loose mouth, a bit open to show long, even teeth. Not much chin. The right eye squinted, mean and dark, while the hike of his brow twitched the left one wide. His good clothes fitted his mean body like they were cut to it. Those good clothes were almost as much out of match to the rest of him as his long, soft, pink hands, the hands of a man who never had to work a tap.

You see what I mean, I can’t say how he looked, only he was hateful.

Click here to go read more.

Wellman’s take on the supernatural, weaving in, as he does, elements of local folktales and the hedge-science of home remedies and the simpler take-home religion of rurality, has a solidity that rings every bell we grew up with. Nothing needs explaining.

Do yourself a favor and go see what I mean for yourself.


— the Editor

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