Manly Wade Wellman is well-steeped in the folklore of many cultures, as are his protagonists. These protagonists are contemporary sojourners in the an...moreManly Wade Wellman is well-steeped in the folklore of many cultures, as are his protagonists. These protagonists are contemporary sojourners in the ancient hills of Appalachia: a curious mixture of folklorist, anthropologist, scientist, poet, truthseeker, and hero. They come to research and bear witness. Where there is mystery, they investigate, often with the help of hill neighbor and kin. Where there is evil, they vanquish, usually in the name of the Lord. Evil comes in many forms in these stories: ghost, witch, Satan, pagan tree-spirit; some ancient Grendel of the mountains, some would-be succubus; perhaps even an evil, ancient corruption that haunts the ground, reminiscent of the swamp thing of comic-book lore. Wellman's stories have the ring of truth, though of a truth that requires the reader to suspend disbelief, allowing for evidence of things unseen. This is due to his story-telling method, which is traditional and straight-forward. He makes only rare use of the familiar suspense buildup to a plot twist at the end. "The Petey Car," "Along About Sundown," and "Rock, Rock" might appear in any Hitchcock collection. The other stories almost defy categorization, but they are powerful and strong. Wellman will appeal to readers of the "old-fashioned" ghost story, to people who like ballads, perhaps. His prose is deep and rich, his stories are strange.(less)
The short review? Quite honestly, I hardly knew what to make of this novel, and still am not quite sure. It might be described as a quest, performed b...moreThe short review? Quite honestly, I hardly knew what to make of this novel, and still am not quite sure. It might be described as a quest, performed by a modern-day King Arthur or a very quiet, unassuming Indiana Jones. The narration is simple and direct. If the protagonist, John Thunstone, were not so likeable, there simply would not be a novel here. Or would there? There is a good bit of complexity well hidden in its very simple lines. So... the long review:
Perhaps the categorization of this book as a "novel" is at fault, for this is, simply put, a story. Wellman's forte is as a storyteller. His roots encompass Africa and Appalachia, but in this book, he takes a foray into England, as seen through the eyes of his protagonist, John Thunstone. Thunstone goes on a pilgrimage to Claines, England, in order to explore certain antiquities in search of answers. As both scholar and brawny he-man, he is well equipped to do so.
When this big, broad-shouldered hero goes out to vanquish evil, one feels quite confidently that he will do so. If Armageddon came, I would want him on my side. His effectiveness is not characterized by dashing bravado, but by quiet strength, honesty, and goodness.
He traverses an ancient, primitive land, to do battle with a special sword forged by Saint Dunstone -- a sword that senses and warns of evil. Through a bit of research, that saint may be identified as Saint Dunstan. Wellman's spelling of the name is probably not coincidental. The author perhaps wants us to see Thunstone as a modern-day Saint Dunstan. While I had sensed that Saint Dunstone was symbolic and significant to the psychology of the story, I thought this would be brought out in the text itself. Not so. The saint is merely hinted at, and it is left to the reader to know or determine any allusion that might exist.
Interesting, some insight came to me in a visual key that had nothing to do with the text of the story. There is a stained-glass window of Saint Dunstan [Wikipedia], portraying one of the most serene faces that I have ever seen. Serenity is an over-riding quality in Wellman's story, and in the character of Thunstone. Other allusions exist. John Thunstone's magic sword is reminiscent of King Arthur's sword. Foreshadowing suggests that Thunstone will be tasked with pulling the sword from a stone -- perhaps the dream rock, but he is challenged by a slightly different task of stone and weapon.
A quick search of King Arthur's sword expands the legend. There was, earlier, a Norse sword, "Gram" (meaning wrath). The name, Gram, appears in this book, doubly; not as a sword, but as a dual antagonist--a wealthy townsman and his spiritual doppelganger, a pagan god.
Although Thunstone does take part in some physical battles, it is not blood, sweat, or the hot flash of steel that characterizes the action of the story, but Thunstone's intellectual, spiritual, and anthropological search for the roots of humanity and the nature of God, time, life, and existence. For me, the buildup was much too long, the conclusion, somewhat wanting. Maybe, with more research, I could glean more from the story.
If my description makes the work seem too complex, never fear: it is simple beyond simplicity for the casual reader who has no background in the study of antiquities, or of the legend of King Arthur, or of Saints, or of Norse gods or pagan lore. Here is simply a brave and good modern (or post-modern?) man who goes out to confront, and if possible, vanquish, evil.
I don't think that this would appeal to readers of modern sci-fi per se, but might appeal to fantasy/folklore fans, anthropologists, truth seekers, and idealists. This novel fits into a larger trend of sci-fi/fantasy stories that seek to disintangle the myriad layers of human existence and start fresh, at the beginning. But careful... there is some Christian allegory involved, and it may be Humanism that is vanquished. (less)
This is a wry satire of the human race and its potential for self-destruction. In this case, it is not war, but the arrogance of species and a natural...moreThis is a wry satire of the human race and its potential for self-destruction. In this case, it is not war, but the arrogance of species and a natural tendency to laziness that leads to despair. Two great puzzles have inspired the text: the archaeological search for the roots of civilization and the scientific search for the nature of humanity. Here, the evolutionary tables are turned as the apes take their turn in the chain of ascendancy. The scientific establishment takes a hit, being classed as orangutans, and one suspects that the author intended a truth-in-jest comparison. The book is written in the tradition of George Orwell, H.G. Wells, or William Golding, and will appeal to a reader of classics, though not so much to a fan of modern sci-fi. It is a short, fast-paced, easy read.(less)
I made "doing a review" my excuse for re-reading this delectable little book, though truly I need no excuse save the book itself. My sister and I had...moreI made "doing a review" my excuse for re-reading this delectable little book, though truly I need no excuse save the book itself. My sister and I had one old copy that we traded between us for thirty-plus years, each panicking if we thought the other had lost it. Now we each have a copy. My favorite story is "Where Angels Fear" by Manly Wade Wellman. A nice young couple heads out by the light of the moon to explore a haunted house around midnight, in hopes of seeing if old legends are true. Ah... nice, shivery fun. Next on my list is "The Haunted Dolls' House" by M.R. James. The original manuscript was written in the author's own hand in a miniature book for Queen Mary's doll-house library. Tsk, tsk! For shame, scaring little girls like that. Then I'd have to choose "In the Vault," (H.P. Lovecraft), in which a quite unimaginative undertaker has his mind awakened to certain higher sensibilities. Creepy! "Thus I Refute Beelzy" (John Collier) is one of several stories of interesting little children. You daddies might want to rethink that corporal-punishment thing. "The Face" (E.F. Benson) is personally haunting to me. I keep wanting to shout, "No, wait! Go back, go back." But she doesn't listen. Sigh. "The Red Lodge," "The Open Door," "The Ghostly Rental"--still more goodies. Standard equipment required: a nice warm throw and a cup of hot chocolate. If I could read it by candlelight, I would do so. Highly recommended to lovers of quaint and old-fashioned gothic horror. I think I'll read it again, now...(less)