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Wellman, Manly Wade

Entry updated 29 January 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1903-1986) Portuguese West Africa-born author (1903-1986), in America from the age of six, prolific in both Fantasy and sf, though far more significant for works in the former; he also wrote Westerns – though less frequently than did his brother, Paul I Wellman (1898-1966) – and crime fiction, most of his nonfantastic books appearing between 1947 and 1961. Wellman began to publish work of genre interest with a fantasy, "Back to the Beast" for Weird Tales in November 1927; his first sf story proper, "When Planets Clashed", appeared (in Wonder Stories Quarterly) as late as the Spring 1931 issue. Both were under his own name, though much of his early work appeared under pseudonyms, including Levi Crow, Gans T Field and the House Name Gabriel Barclay. Much of this early work appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, and was suitably vigorous and high-coloured.

His first book was a short Space Opera for Hugo Gernsback's Science Fiction Series, The Invading Asteroid (1932 chap); it is unremarkable. Giants from Eternity (July 1939 Startling; 1959) featured the rebirth of medical geniuses from Earth's past to confront a future menace. Sojarr of Titan (March 1941 Startling; 1949) was a Tarzan-derived tale set in space. The Hok the Mighty series – stories beginning with "Battle in the Dawn" (January 1939 Amazing) and continuing in Amazing to March 1941; also in Fantastic Adventures (April 1942) and Pulse Pounding Adventure Stories (December 1986) – were sf adventures set in various early mythic civilizations, and were posthumously assembled as Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the Mighty (coll 2011). The Beasts from Beyond: A Complete Book-Length Novel of Amazing Adventure (Summer 1944 Startling as "Strangers on the Heights"; 1950) was an efficient Horror in SF tale.

Of greatest sf interest were novels like Twice in Time (May 1940 Startling; cut 1957; with text restored and one story added, rev as coll 1988), an effective Time-Travel tale featuring a vivid portrayal of Leonardo da Vinci's Florence, and Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds (coll of linked stories 1975; vt The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds 2009), with his son Wade Wellman, which intricately involves the detective Sherlock Holmes in the Martian Invasion featured in H G Wells's novel. But in general Wellman's sf tends to lack the folkloric tone and cunning quietude of his best work.

Wellman's fantasy ranged from early weird stories derivative of H P Lovecraft through tales of the occult, tales that evoked Native American legend, several of them featuring Supernatural Creatures, and on to the sequences noted below. Much of his miscellaneous work was assembled in Worse Things Waiting (coll 1973), a large volume which helped inspire the growth of interest in his work over the last years of his life. More centrally, the Judge Pursuivant series beginning with "The Hairy Ones Shall Dance" (January-March 1938 Weird Tales) and continuing in the same magazine to September 1941, all as by Gans T Field, and the longer John Thunstone series – beginning with "The Third Cry to Legba" (November 1943 Weird Tales) and continuing in the same magazine to May 1951 – were initially assembled in Lonely Vigils (coll 1981) (for revs and vts see Checklist below). Two much later novels, What Dreams May Come (1983) and The School of Darkness (1985) continued to feature Thunstone; the entire series was eventually assembled as The Complete John Thunstone (omni 2012). Both Thunstone and Pursuivant are Occult Detectives [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], and the range of their investigations is compendious, encompassing most of Wellman's general periods and venues of interest, from the US Civil War to the rural USA of the twentieth century.

After 1951 – adjusting his focus to the needs of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which had taken over from Weird Tales as his main journal – Wellman devoted much of his energy to his most famous sequence, the stories and novels set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina that follow the life and adventures of the minstrel known as Silver John (a publisher's tag he did not like) or John the Balladeer, whose encounters with creatures out of folklore (and pulp) seem half unpremeditated, though he survives through his army training and his charisma (Wellman based him in part on Johnny Cash [1932-2003] and in part on John the Baptist). The series comprises Who Fears the Devil? (coll of linked stories 1963) (for revs and vts see Checklist below), the title story of which was filmed as Who Fears the Devil? (1972), The Old Gods Waken (1979), After Dark (1980), The Lost and the Lurking (1981), The Hanging Stones (1982) and The Voice of the Mountain (1985). Along with other work, some late John stories were assembled in The Valley so Low: Southern Mountain Tales (coll 1987). Cumulatively impressive, the series remains his most significant achievement. In 1980 he received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. [JC/DRL]

see also: Arts; Comics; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Mythology; Pastoral; Reincarnation; Superman.

Manly Wade Wellman

born Kamundongo, Portuguese West Africa [now Angola]: 21 May 1903

died Chapel Hill, North Carolina: 5 April 1986



John the Balladeer

John Thunstone

Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman

individual titles

collections and stories

about the author


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