I’m continuing my look at Manly Wade Wellman’s pulp hero Silver John, the roaming singer and guitarist who fights supernatural forces in the Appalachian Mountains of long ago, sort of like a countrified Orpheus meets Kolchak. He’s called Silver John because of the silver strings on his guitar and the silver coins he carries in his pockets. For more details click here: https://glitternight.com/pulp-heroes/
ON THE HILLS AND EVERYWHERE – This short story would be better titled A Very Silver John Christmas. Our wandering balladeer is spending Christmas Day with a mountain family; singing, playing and tale-spinning for his supper. He tells a story about a man named “Mr Carpenter”, who of course turns out to be Jesus Christ, and who performs a Yuletide miracle for a backwoods family by making the youngest member of the family walk again. Sheesh! A story about Silver John telling a story? What’s next? A clip show?
BLUE MONKEY – No, not the obscure bad movie of this title. This is a Silver John vignette set on New Year’s Eve, one year to the day that our hero witnessed a conjurer fail to produce a fortune in gold through magic. Silver John imitates the conjurer’s attempt on this anniversary, but replaces a vital portion of the spell with a conjuration of his own, yielding unexpected results.
NINE YARDS OF OTHER CLOTH – Possibly the definitive Silver John short story, partly because it introduces his true love and eventual wife, Evadare. The story nicely showcases all of Evadare’s virtues and makes you understand why John falls for her over all the other women from his adventures.
The main tale is appropriately eerie and macabre, as well as being a classic example of superstitions about the preternatural power of music typical of Appalachian storytelling. While once again playing with other mountain musicians at a festive get-together, Silver John encounters Shull Cobart, a masterful fiddle-player whose instrument of choice is made of the odd black wood found only in the dread place called Hosea’s Hollow.
The enchanted wood from the vile forest in that hollow empowers the evil Cobart’s fiddle playing to mesmerize his listeners, as well as to inspire the sewing-girls in his factory to produce garments of other-worldly material. Evadare was one of those workers and fled from Cobart’s advances, taking shelter in Hosea’s Hollow, mistakenly thinking the wicked man would never dare go there.
Hosea’s Hollow is haunted by a monstrous humanoid figure called Kalu who preyed on Native Americans who entered his domain prior to the arrival of the white man, his latest prey. Kalu is still at large, but hasn’t been seen in decades ever since Hosea Palmer (the man the hollow was named after) ventured into the fearful place intent on taming the monster.
Shull Cobart’s enchanted music lures Silver John into Hosea’s Hollow, which is dark even by day because of the thickness of the black-wooded forest. Deep inside the hollow John discovers a grave with a tree literally growing from it in the shape of a cross. And written on the cross in carved lettering – “Pray for Hosea Palmer”.
Silver John finds Evadare living in Palmer’s deserted cabin, where the evil Shull Cobart soon traps them, but all three may well be trapped in the coal-black forest, with Kalu still lurking about. The story plays out to its horrific ending, and along the way Evadare proves herself a worthy mate for Silver John. The title refers to the traditional length of cloth used to make a corpse’s burial shroud.
TRILL COSTER’S BURDEN – Fresh off their adventure in Hosea’s Hollow, John and Evadare arrive in a town looking to get married, but naturally there is a supernatural menace to deal with first. Evadare volunteers to be a “sin-eater” (another concept frequently used in country lore) for a wicked and newly- deceased woman named Trill Coster.
Silver John and Evadare must spend the night beside Trill’s freshly-dug grave, waiting for the forces of Hell to come and claim her. Their efforts at overcoming those forces are complicated by the interference of Nollie Willoughby, a tarty southern belle intent on stealing John away from Evadare. Naturally our lead couple survive, Nollie gets hers and Silver John and Evadare are married the next day.