The oldest, most storied small press for horror fiction is Arkham House. Founded as a way to bring the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and his friends back into print as the pulp magazine era was ending, they were very successful at drawing the attention of book collectors and reviewers, bringing the creatures of the Cthulhu mythos first into the shadows of pop culture with some movies in the 1960s and eventually into the merchandizing machine they are today.
Nearly all of the Arkham books were Lovecraft-related, but on rare occasions exceptions would be made for other stories from pulp-era writers. One of those was Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman, and it was particularly noteworthy because the stories didn’t involve the Mythos creatures at all and none of the stories therein were from the pulp age. They were, instead, tales from the post-pulp magazine era and stories of good fighting, and conclusively defeating, evil.
I’ve mentioned the main character before, in a book review from March of this year. John, or John the Balladeer, is a good man who roams the Appalachian mountains playing songs, making friends and defeating evil.
Unfortunately for Manly, an editor had decided to call his character “Silver John” because of the silver strings on his guitar, and the name stuck.
The Arkham House books were, as mentioned, highly visible in certain corners, and Who Fears the Devil? did what a string of successful short fiction pieces in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction could not do… it landed Wellman a movie deal. Disliking the “Silver John” term, though, the author made it clear he did not want “The Legend of Silver John” to be the movie’s title.
It is unrecorded what he thought of “The Legend of Hillbilly John”, but I suspect he was not especially pleased.
Still, Halloween is often a movie night for people. If you’re in the mood for a monster movie in which good wins and gore is virtually nonexistent, there are a few options available. If you want one that’s replete with folk music and based on highly-regarded stories, though, this is your only choice.
And this way you’ve got a day to watch it before deciding if you really want this 70’s rarity playing on your television when company arrives.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite country or folk song?