A series of dark fantasy stories by Manly Wade Wellman about a traveling musician named John who frequently finds himself battling supernatural menaces in the deep backwoods of Appalachia. Wellman had already written other Occult Detective stories, demonstrating a talent for weirdness and a quirky sense of humour, but these stories are additionally enlivened by Wellman's enduring interest in the folklore and folk music of backwoods America.The series has no official overall title, but is usually called the "Silver John" (referring to John's silver-stringed guitar) or "John the Balladeer" series. Neither of these names is ever used in the series to refer to the protagonist, who is always just plain John.The series includes both short stories and novels.It inspired a movie, The Legend of Hillbilly John, in the 1970s.
This series provides examples of:
Afterlife Express: "The Little Black Train" has the local Rich Bitch trying to escape a curse that the train will come for her (by removing all the local tracks). "A black train runs some nights at midnight, they say, and when it runs a sinner dies." It comes anyway, but she repents and the train retreats.
As the Good Book Says: Many people quote "The Book", appropriate given they're from the backwoods. Most notably, early in "Shiver in the Pines", one character (asked what he's up to) gives Satan's greeting from the book of Job — which garners a disturbed reaction from those present.
Brain Bleach: John wishes for some after seeing the Behinder in "The Desrick on Yandro" and decades later when he sees it again in the novel The Voice of the Mountain.
Brother Chuck: Evadare is not heard from again in any of the short stories after "Trill Coster's Burden". However, in the novels The Old Gods Waken and After Dark, John mentions that Evadare is staying with friends while he gathers up money so they can start a homestead and get married. Also she appears in the novel The Hanging Stones.
Dreaming of Things to Come: Discussed in "Old Devlins Was A-Waiting". John mentions that one time during his war years he had a dream that came true, but he calls it "no tale to tell" and declines to give details. One of the other characters has a theory that it's a consequence of Intangible Time Travel into the future.
Fearsome Critters of American Folklore: A whole flock of them appear at the climax of "The Desrick on Yandro". Another pack of them shows up in The Voice of the Mountain, and they are mentioned in quite a few of the other stories.
Feuding Families: The Hatfield-McCoy Feud, a historical event that became part of American folklore, forms part of the backstory of "Old Devlins Was A-Waiting".
Improbable Weapon User: John's silver-strung guitar is sometimes the only thing standing between him and death or worse.
The Korean War: Anderson Newlands in "Old Devlins Was A-Waiting" is a veteran of Korea. John himself occasionally mentions that he's been to war in the past, and Word of God is that he was in Korea too.
"Blue Monkey" has John attending a midnight spell-casting where the caster informs everyone that if they don't think of a blue monkey, he can turn pebbles into gold. The spell fails because they all are. John tries the spell a year later, but tells the audiene not to think of a red fish (so that they don't think of a blue monkey). Turns out the spell is real.
Set Right What Once Went Wrong: In "Who Else Could I Count On?", John meets a man who has travelled from four decades in the future to prevent "the war that everybody's going to lose".
Shown Their Work: As noted, Wellman was an acknowledged expert when it came to Appalachian myths, folktales and music.
Silver Has Mystic Powers: In many of the stories. John explains that silver is proof against evil creatures because it's the one substance Satan fears.
Silver Bullet: In "You Know the Tale of Hoph", one is used to slay the monster.
Sins of Our Fathers: "The Desrick on Yandro" features an arrogant man paying for his grandfather's sins.
Summon Bigger Fish: In "Vandy, Vandy" a warlock starts a spell to turn a picture of John into an object of Sympathetic Magic, so he can use it to harm John. John attempts to distract the warlock by throwing a silver quarter at him, and the warlock's spell latches onto the image of George Washington on the quarter instead of onto the picture of John. Result: Washington himself — or rather, an embodiment of the heroic myth of George Washington — appears out of the smoke and kicks the warlock's ass.
Sword Cane: The villain in "Vandy, Vandy" has one.
Sympathetic Magic: Magic worked on people through images of them features in "Vandy, Vandy".
In "Old Devlins was A-Waiting", a character has a theory that rituals for summoning up the dead are actually a form of time travel, bringing the subject forward from the past, not up from the grave. Their ritual succeeds in summoning Captain Anderson Hatfield, but the question of whence is left ambiguous.
In the story fragment "Who Else Could I Count On?", John meets a traveller from the future. It doesn't go into detail about how the travel was accomplished.
She winnowed close then. I made out that she didn't have on air stitch under her silky dress. She was proudly made, and well she knew it.
Victoria's Secret Compartment: In "Trill Coster's Burden", The Vamp hides a giant ruby in her cleavage, and tells John that if he wants it he'll have to reach in and get it; he declines, and she gets away. (This ends badly for her, since the reason he wanted it in the first place is that it has a curse on it he's trying to break.)