Manly Wade Wellman: Writer of the Weird
September 18, 2010 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Manly Wade Wellman is probably best known for his eerie tales of Silver John, stories of a traveling balladeer and the weirdness he encountered in the southern Appalachians. Wellman was also an avid student of southern folklore and mountain music. His associations with Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Obray Ramsey served as inspirations for the Silver John character. In addition to his macabre tales of the American South, Wellman was an award-winning mystery author (beating William Faulkner for the prize) and ghost wrote Will Eisner's The Spirit while Eisner was in the army.

Biography of Wellman by Karl Edward Wagner.

O Ugly Bird!, the first Silver John story from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1951.

An excerpt from Sin's Doorway, a Weird Tales story from 1943.

Both at Project Gutenburg: The Devil's Asteroid (1941) and The Golgotha Dancers (1973).


Wellman was descended from Confederate General Wade Hampton. He wrote a biography of Hampton and lots of history books for young adults, usually with a Lost Cause slant. Read about it in Confederates and Vampires: Manly Wade Wellman and the Gothic Sublime. [pdf]

And...I can't do this post without a shout-out to Lee Brown Coye , who did some really creepy illustrations for Worse Things Waiting, a 1973 collection of Wellman's stories for Weird Tales.

Thanks to puny human for his post on Obray Ramsey (and the participants in the post) which inspired this post.
posted by marxchivist (24 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to try to dig into this! I am a sci-fi fan, and have lived near the Appalachians for the past three years, first on the Northern side in Kentucky and now on the Southern side in North Carolina. I am also a big fan of Appalachian storytellers, like Jesse Stuart. I have heard of Wellman, but I had no idea that he ghost wrote the Spirit, too. Thanks!
posted by Slothrop at 4:11 PM on September 18, 2010

I got a virus warning from loading the 'the weirdness' page. that an affiliate link to Amazon?
posted by zylocomotion at 4:34 PM on September 18, 2010

No virus warning for me, and that link was in the previously cited Ramsey post. AKIAK, all Amazon links from Metafilter get automagically made into some deal where Matt/Metafilter get any proceeds from sales on clickthroughs.
posted by marxchivist at 4:41 PM on September 18, 2010

I think I've been waiting all my life for this author.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:44 PM on September 18, 2010

RE: Amazon - didn't know that.

I just tried again. I again got a trojan alert from Microsoft Security Essentials, evidently it's from the picture of Shonokins at the top of the page. MSE says it's Win32/jpgiframe.A ?

Anyway, I'll go back to lurking now. Sorry to interrupt an otherwise excellent post.
posted by zylocomotion at 5:01 PM on September 18, 2010

Wellman ghosted for Eisner. On a strip maybe about a ghost. I fucking love this. It was news to me until this post. Awesome.
posted by mwhybark at 5:26 PM on September 18, 2010

The cover of that Planet Stories paperback is great. It looks like Planet Stories is a paperback-format golden-and-silver-age pulp reprint line edited ("presented") by industrious hack Mike Resnick, is that right? I'm thinking sign me up, that guy KNOWS his pulp.
posted by mwhybark at 5:30 PM on September 18, 2010

Wellman is terrific, thanks for this. Here in Oz his books are devilishly hard to find, but well worth for their backwoods otherworldliness.
posted by smoke at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2010

Planet Stories. Contracted intros, reprint line, looks like some truly wonderful, reprehensible stuff.
posted by mwhybark at 5:33 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I loved those Silver John stories, and I thought I'd read them all, but your links are making that seem highly doubtful, thank you very much! Those juveniles sound like they're worth a look, too, and I know I haven't read those.

And I am amazed how much that 1943 Weird Tales story, That’s Just Like A Martian, from the bottom of your O Ugly Bird! link, parallels the Olivia Presteign/Gully Foyle and the asteroids subplot of The Stars My Destination.

If Bester didn't take it directly from Wellman's story, that must have been a hell of a common trope in those days.
posted by jamjam at 5:51 PM on September 18, 2010

Wellman ghosted for Eisner. On a strip maybe about a ghost. I fucking love this.

Yeah, and most of Wellman's Spirit stories have a macabre theme.

He also wrote the first few issues of Captain Marvel for Fawcett Comics. Wellman was later a witness against Fawcett when DC sued them for them for copyright infringement. Wellman testified he was told by the Fawcett editors to rip off Superman. Since writers weren't often credited in the comic books back then, Wellman spelled out his name with the first letters in a series of word balloons in issue #1. He used that to prove to the court he wrote the story.

Wellman also got a Edgar Award for Dead and Gone: Classic North Carolina Crimes.

It's really hard to stop when you start relating cool stuff about this guy.
posted by marxchivist at 5:54 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


A clue in my morning crossword was "Will _ _ _ _ _ _, who wrote The Spirit"
posted by timsteil at 6:26 PM on September 18, 2010

Great post. I will be taking some time to soak this all up.
posted by Artw at 7:02 PM on September 18, 2010

I'm sorry, but is definitely passing on the Jpegiframe.A trojan.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:47 PM on September 18, 2010

Thanks for the post, marxchivist. When I visited my grandmothers in Mitchell County, one of them had an old copy of Wellman stories on her shelf. I think I picked up mostly because I thought Wellman had the best name ever. (I still do think that, actually.) It was a wonderful introduction to the weird, old South of my grandparents' era.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:03 PM on September 18, 2010

Oh wow! Oh crap! I totally forgot about that thread. You were asking what would be good to read. Well, the John The Balladeer book compiles many of the short stories about that most musical character. It used to be part of the Baen Free Library so I'd start there. If you like that you should eventually read all of the other Silver John works. They are consistent without being repetitive. His other series' don't deal with music as much but rural settings are the norm from what I remember. John Thunstone is sort of like The Saint. All I remember about Cahena is that it seemed very unlikely when I read it. I read everything of his I could find pre-internet and liked them all.

Great post! I can't tell you how happy it made me to see Wellman's name in my rss feed. Thanks for this marxchivist
posted by irisclara at 8:29 PM on September 18, 2010

Sorry, you weren't asking. puny human was.
posted by irisclara at 8:34 PM on September 18, 2010

I forgot to mention the Joe Bethancourt cd again. This guy in Arizona with a lot of banjos recorded a John The Balladeer album. According to he's mostly an SCA filker but I respect him anyway.
posted by irisclara at 9:20 PM on September 18, 2010

Wellman is one of those authors I've always heard good things about and never gotten around to reading. Clearly it's time for me to change that, starting with this excellent post.
posted by immlass at 9:43 PM on September 18, 2010

I'm favoriting this hard...
posted by sfts2 at 10:48 PM on September 18, 2010

I first encountered this guy via a short story collection, the Dark Descent, if I recall correctly.
posted by rodgerd at 12:01 AM on September 19, 2010

He died shortly before I was in graduate school ar UNC. I tried (and failed!) really hard to convince them that their Southern section needed to buy his papers. Sigh.
posted by inkwench at 1:27 AM on September 19, 2010

Brilliant post. I loves me some Wellman.
posted by Splunge at 7:43 AM on September 19, 2010

rodgerd: "I first encountered this guy via a short story collection, the Dark Descent, if I recall correctly."

You do recall correctly, I just picked up The Dark Descent, which I hadn't finished reading, and read his story "Vandy, Vandy", which was quite good. I like his understated, folksy style.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:28 PM on September 19, 2010

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