Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who Fears the Devil? The Complete Tales of Silver John (Planet Stories # 24)

Who Fears the Devil? collects all of Manly Wade Wellman's short stories about a character named Silver John.  The stories feature an interesting and original setting for folkloric/supernatural fantasy (contemporary Appalachia) and a character that's more memorable than the traditional swordsman/gunslinger.  Silver John is a wandering collector of backwoods songs, and travels from place to place with only the shirt on his back and a silver-stringed guitar.  He is more of an archetype in some ways than a character with real depth and history, but for short stories that are plot-focussed, that's okay.
The stories are well-written and avoid formula, but usually involve some sort of supernatural menace that Silver John's pure heart and guitar can banish.  Unlike most stories published in SF magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, there's a degree of continuity between the Silver John stories which I noticed and appreciated.  According to the editor's introduction, Wellman also published a handful of novels about Silver John, and, fascinating, there was a motion picture featuring the character (it flopped).

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