Thursday, July 20, 2017

Can These Bones Live

Man-eaters— such things were told of by old Indians, wise men who’d sworn to them. The wendigo, up in Northern parts. The anisgina, recollected in Cherokee tales to make you shiver. Supposed to be all died out and gone these days, but when bones rise up....

In "Can These Bones Live?", John heads for a strange clutch of bones discovered on a farm. Once there, he acts as a pallbearer for the dead creature, which might be a sasquatch or similar man-like cryptid. However, the deceased is close enough to human that a preacher says a word of grace for the departed. Later on, when conversation leads to a rousing round of the "Dry Bones" song, the bones connect and come to life. Now, with a walking skeleton swinging a club around, John must figure out how to undo this spell before his head gets smashed in.

This story is closer to the 1940s Judge Pursuivant and John Thunstone tales than the usual Silver John story. The cast is pared down compared to the usual community in John's stories, and John's peril and rescue follow the pattern of the earlier Wellman heroes. All it needed at the end was a message to Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin to complete the formula. However, the musical focus and homespun crowd keep this tale of hidden things square in John the Balladeer's world, as the Judge and his heir are of a higher, more genteel class.

The skeleton is dispelled by singing the "Dry Bones" song "in reverse." Instead of "the neck bone's connected to the head bone," it's "the head bone is connected from the neck bone." John takes the time to explain away this oddity of phrasing and how it undid the spell. But listen again to "Dry Bones" song, especially towards the end. The "reverse" part of the song is found in the actual lyrics! (And a lovely example of a descending chromatic melody line it is, too. But I music geek...)

All in all, this is a pleasant throwback to Weird Tales, but not quite up to John's normal adventures.

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