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The Old Gods Waken by Manly Wade Wellman
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's review
Jul 09, 12

bookshelves: historical-fiction, post-quals, horror, classics, mythology, magic, religion
Read from March 09 to 14, 2012

Why are these books out of print? What is wrong with our society? What madman (or madwoman!) decided contemporary readers would be disinterested in what is essentially a series of books about a young Johnny Cash fighting supernatural evil (often of the Lovecraftian persuasion) in mid-20th century Appalachia?!? This stuff is GOLD!

The protagonist-narrator is known only as John, but he is known by fans of the series as "John the Balladeer" and "Silver John". He is a wandering minstrel of sorts with a silver-stringed guitar and a cheerful disposition. He doesn't seem to have any special powers or knowledge, other than musical talent, some folklore, and an amazing knack for making friends -- he doesn't even know how to drive a car! But both his musical ability and his affability are key to his evil-fighting, because he is able to befriend and enlist to his cause people who ARE powerful and knowledgeable. Plot developments which might seem contrived or excessively convenient in another book make sense here because of who John is, what he does, and what he's like -- a nice guy who likes people and travels a lot.

The author also seems to love playing with mid-20th century American stereotypes. The farmers, through whom we are introduced to John, love their land but they also value higher education and spending time outside of their small communities. The Appalachian mountain man protagonist is repeatedly baffled by the erudition of the scholars he encounters, but responds with more of a "Huh-that's-over-my-head-but-it-sounds-interesting" attitude than any of the stereotypical responses one would expect ("I-don't-cotton-to-no-book-larnin'" and "Well-Golllleeeeee-you-sure-is-smarter-than-me-oh-mighty-city-person" being the two obvious examples). The female lead is brave, educated and competent, and remains calm even while the men around her are giving in to their emotions. The Cherokee chief is also a brilliant Dartmouth-educated scholar and contributor to academic journals who uses white folks' low expectations and racism to his advantage. The two Druids are bloodthirsty and evil, more akin in their praxis and credo to actual ancient druids than the New Age revisionist nonsense passed of as "ancient" paganism. There's even a scene in which some of the characters argue that even though they have to stop the old gods, you can't really blame a god who's been marginalized/supplanted/forgotten for turning evil.

Overall a fun, intelligent book by an author who gives his subjects (mountain men, Appalachian farmers, women, Native Americans, druidism, music, etc.) more credit than almost any other author I've ever before encountered.
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03/09/2012 page 5
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message 1: by mark (new) - added it

mark monday i read Worse Things Waiting and thought it was just okay, but this sounds awesome.

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