Friday, August 4, 2017

Thank You For A Great Year

The Puppy of the Month Book Club kicked off last August by three men with a love of adventure fiction and a desire for a place to read and discuss works by our favorite authors.  In the year since launching this blog, the literary scene has since exploded, with massive growth in the numbers of authors writing in the anti-modern styles we love, and a proliferation of blogs dedicated to such works.  The literary party so long dominated by the established publishing houses and their chosen few rightfans has been crashed by wrongfans of many different stripes.

The three contributors to this blog have also seen incredible growth in their own skills and an commensurate increase in the demands on their time:
In addition to all of that, each of us are regular participants in the free ranging discussions about fantasy and sci-fi that cross all social media boundaries.  We can all be found on Google+, Twitter, and the many blogs hosted by our fellow travelers.  With the increased demands on our time and the reduced need for this blog given the embarrassment of riches that have sprung up in the last year, and it's time to draw the curtain on the Puppy of the Month Book Club.

Thank you everyone for reading along, for all of your comments and suggestions, and for a great year.  We look forward to seeing you around the digital water coolers in the future.

Monday, July 31, 2017

On the Hills and Everywhere

"John, the children have opened their presents, and I want them to have some hot rations inside them before they start in on that store-bought candy you fetched them. So why don't you tell us a Christmas story while Mother's putting dinner on the table?" 

It's Christmastime, and John's been asked to tell a story before dinner.

Mr. Abalsom and Troy Holcomb were the best of friends. But they started fighting over a piece of land between their properties, it went to court, and Mr. Absalom won. The crop planted on this new parcel failed, and the feud grew deeper, until Mr. Absalom called his friend a witch man.

Now Mr. Absalom calls a carpenter to do the unthinkable and set a wall on the property line where only a ditch divided the one-time friends' lands.

While the carpenter works, Mr. Absalom's crippled son Little Anse keeps the man company. An inquisitive lad, Little Anse asks the man questions as he hands over each tool. The Carpenter answers every one until the job is finished.

Mr. Absalom rushes out, ready to complain. He ordered a wall, not a bridge. But at the other end of the bridge is Troy. The two friends reconcile, and the Carpenter walks along his way. But before he leaves, he tells Little Anse that he no longer needs his crutches to walk. The boy flings them away, no longer crippled.

John then leads the children in a resounding hymn before dinner.


I had a fancy that this might be John and Evadare with their family in the future, but I have family in the Ozarks, and there is no way they would allow their children to call their parents by their first name. They sure enough didn't let me.

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2


This was published in 1956 in Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now such tales get banished to the ghettos of Christian publishing, where only a Stephen Lawhead or a Frank Perretti may escape the walls. Not only have expressions of faith been lost from science fiction, we currently live in a culture that does not know how religious people act. (Don't get me started on Donnie Yen's monk in Rogue One. Even aping the monks in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin would have been an improvement.) At one time, not that long ago, mainstream fantasy and science fiction writers would write stories of the faith in the magazines of their time. And the stories varied from the devotional to exploring the weird corners of the Holy Book. Now everything in SFF is ironic, anti-theist, and fluffy-bunny pagan--not even a shadow of that old time religion C. S. Lewis wanted in "Cliche Came Out of its Cage". And much was lost in the process.

But I'll keep an eye out for the Man who is six foot tall. For I've got a bridge needin' building...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Nine Yards of Other Cloth

But I knew she was Evadare. I’d fled from before her pretty face as never I’d fled from any living thing, not even evil spell-throwers nor murder-doers, nor either from my country’s enemies when I’d soldiered in foreign parts and seen battle as the Bible prophet-book tells it, confused noises and garments rolled in blood. Since dawn I’d run from Evadare like a rabbit from a fox, and still she followed, climbing now along the trail I’d tried not to leave, toward the smoke of the fire I’d built before I knew she was still coming. 

No getaway from her now, for night dropped on the world, and to climb higher would be to fall from some steep hidden place. I could wait where I was or I could head down and face her.


John is leaving Hosea's Hollow, pursued by Evadare, a pretty young woman who has been following him all day. Understanding that he is well and truly caught, John waits for her to catch up and reflects on how they met.

In Hosea's Hollow, during a party sprung up around a hog butchering, John is coaxed into playing songs for the celebration. A fiddler named Shull Cobart takes the next turn making melodies, and as this master plays, John wanders off and finds the old grave of Hosea Palmer, a man thought to have been taken by Kalu, a bone monster. He continues on the trail and finds a cabin. He stops by the river, only to be confronted by Evadare.

The petite blonde is ready to run John off, thinking he is Shull Cobart, but when she sees the silver-stringed guitar, Evadare grows friendlier. Cobart has tried to court her, but when she refused, he picked up the fiddle and grew scarier. Evadare fled into Hosea's Hollow to escape him.

Shull Cobart arrives soon after, using his fiddle to charm Evadare and John. Evadare, he would have for wife, while John will be sacrificed to Kalu in return for the fiddler's gift. But there are two types of power music, and John's silver-stringed guitar sings out against Shull's black fiddle.

Then Kalu comes to the cabin...


Gentlemen, don’t ask me to say too much what Kalu was. Bones, yes— something like man-bones, but bigger and thicker, also something like bear-bones, or big ape-bones from a foreign land. And a rotten light to them, so I saw for a moment that the bones weren’t empty. Inside the ribs were caged puffy things, like guts and lungs and maybe a heart that skipped and wiggled. The skull had a snout like I can’t say what, and in its eyeholes burned blue-green fire.

Most of the strangeness hidden in the hollows of the Silver John stories has been either evil or an amoral neutral ruinous to passersby. Despite Kalu's fearsome appearance, the creature was taught good by Hosea Palmer. Like Frankenstein's monster in the 1980s cartoon, Kalu fills the role of the protective monster, which makes him unique so far in the Silver John tales.


This is the fourth tale where a pretty woman is pursued by a witch man in the hopes of snaring her into evil. And, like the rest, John frees Evadare from this vile threat. Shull Cobart's magic is in his music, and echoes of Robert Johnson's crossroads encounter with the devil appear in Cobart's tale. Once again, John pits white against black, and is saved by supernatural intervention. Finally, he leaves before he has to break the woman's heart.

This time, the woman gives chase. And unlike the women who used feminine charm and black magic charms, Evadare catches her prey.
But she didn’t stand, she came on. And I knew who she was. And if I asked her to marry she wouldn’t answer no.  
The rest of that day I fled from her, not stopping to eat, only to grab mouthfuls of water from streams. And in the dusky last end of the day I sat quiet and watched her still coming, leaning on her stick for weariness, and knew I must go down trail to meet her.  
She was at the moment when she’d drop. She’d lost her ribbon, and the locks of her hair fell round her like a shadow. Her dress was torn, her face was white-tired, and the rocks had cut her shoes to pieces and the blood seeped out of her tom feet.  
She couldn’t even speak. She just sagged into my arms when I held them out to her.
In later stories, Evadare becomes John's wife. But from this point on, John now helps other couples draw closer to each other instead of freeing pretty girls from sinister suitors.


As seen before, Wellman uses actual songs in his stories. Here is one version of "Nine Yards of Other Cloth":

Saturday, July 29, 2017

One Other

Her lips tightened, red and hard and sharp as her nails. “Nothing at all, John. You did nothing, you ignored me. Doesn’t it make you furious to be ignored?” 

“Ignored? I never notice such a thing.” 

“I do. I don’t often look at a man twice, and usually they look at me at least once. I don’t forgive being ignored.”


John climbs to the top of Hark Mountain, and finds a woman casting a love charm for him. Annalinda, a big town beauty, wants John to fall in love with her, not for her longing but for her pride. Weeks earlier, John ignored her charms, and now she's turned to folk magic taught by a Mr. Howsen.
“I’d been told a charm can be said three times, beside Bottomless Pool on Hark Mountain, to burn a man’s soul with love. And you came when I called. Don’t shake your head, John, you’re in love with me.”
“Sorry. I beg your pardon. I’m not in love with you.”
As John and Annalinda argue over what brought him to the top of the mountain, Mr. Howsen arrives. Annalinda makes to pay him, but he says that she and John will pay the price instead to One Other by the Bottomless Pool. With a scratched mark, Mr. Howsen binds them to the mountaintop to await One Other's arrival...


One Other is a tempter from another dimension, and John's charms for angels and demons slide off this creature. He is looking for more servants to give him more power and influence in our world. Inspired by alchemy, John uses fire to drive One Other back into his dimension.

While not necessarily Mythos, "One Other" certainly resonates with the extended stories of Lovecraft's creations. Wellman had made Mythos homages before, in such stories as "The Terrible Parchment" and in such stories as "The Letters of Cold Fire:, John Thunstone's arch-enemy, Rowley Thorne, mimics the interests and misadventures of Mythos magicians. But while Wellman would namedrop several names familiar to the Mythos in his writings, as he was wont to do with many Weird Tales worlds, little of the actual Mythos could be found in his work. Yet he would return, time and again, to the idea of extra-dimensional terrors such as One Other and the Shonokins. But where Lovecraft wrote of strange beings incomprehensible to human understanding, Wellman's aliens share with the Devil an ability to assume a pleasing shape...or one that, while grotesque, is more pleasant than their true form. For more on Wellman and the Mythos, check out the page devoted to it on his estate's website.


One of the truisms currently out of favor in contemporary times is that men and women have different mentalities, and when women break, they break in a different manner than men. We've seen how the rich and the proud break men in "Vandy, Vandy" and "O Ugly Bird!", and how the need to control drives the witch men in those stories. In "The Little Black Train" and "One Other", vanity drives the women bad, and the need to be praised drives them to their evils. Wellman shows the faults of both sexes throughout his writings.  For instance, John mentions that "Nothing flurries a woman like being caught in the truth." But while evil is challenged no matter if committed by man or woman, the evil men get led to destruction while the women are usually saved from the full consequences of their evil. And not in a "make it go away" sense, but with the full moral knowledge of the choices they made.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Little Black Train

“Only thing is,” the mouth-harp man went on, “folks say the train runs on that track. Or it did. A black train runs some nights at midnight, they say, and when it runs a sinner dies.”


While out on a walk, John is pulled into an outdoor party and asked to play. It's a strange celebration, for it marks the last day of a curse on Donie Carawan, a women tending towards her 40s who inherited a small fortune. The reason for the curse is as follows:
“Donie Carawan was to marry Trevis Jones,” the mouth-harp man told me. “He owned the High Fork Railroad to freight the timber from this valley. He’d a lavish of money, is how he got to marry her. But,” and he swallowed hard, “another young fellow loved her. Cobb Richardson, who ran Trevis Jones’s train on the High Fork Railroad. And he killed Trevis Jones.”  
“For love?” I asked. 
“Folks reckoned that Donie Carawan decided against Trevis and love-talked Cobb into the killing; for Trevis had made a will and heired her all his money and property— the railroad and all. But Cobb made confession. Said Donie had no part in it. The law let her go, and killed Cobb in the electric chair, down at the state capital."  
“I declare to never,” I said. 
“Fact. And Cobb’s mother— Mrs. Amanda Richardson— spoke the curse.” 
“Oh,” I said, “is she the witch that—” 
“She was no witch,” he broke me off, “but she cursed Donie Carawan, that the train that Cobb had engine-drove, and Trevis had heired to her, would be her death and destruction. Donie laughed. You’ve heard her laugh. And folks started the song, the black train song.”
In contempt of the curse, Donie teaches the black train song to John. But, later, when John sings it, they both can hear a train coming an see ghostly tracks. Then, at midnight, the train comes... 


The key concept of "The Little Black Train" lies in a piece of musicality lost in this age of overproduced electrical instruments and drum machines. Roots music, including the family of styles descended from the blues, often used the rhythms of the world around them in their music. At first, this might be the clop-clop-clop of a horse's hooves, the rainfall clatter of falling chains, or the hammer fall of iron on an anvil. But as the iron horses ran across America on tracks of steel, the train with its relentless shuffle and distinctive whistle quickly became the preferred rhythm. Take a listen to Joe Bonamassa's "Slow Train Coming" and hear how only a handful of instruments can mimic the rousing rhythm of the train:

Wellman's unique take on this lies in the modulation of key combined with the musician's tendency to continually speed up when playing. He explains it through the use of the Doppler shift, where objects coming closer to a listener have a higher pitch than retreating objects. Add a slow increase in pace and a slight crescendo, such as what tends to happen when bands get into the songs they play, and it is easy for even a small band, say that of a guitar and harmonica, to sound like a train speeding towards you. It's a clever bit of science in fiction--or scientifiction as Hugo Gernsback would call it--which crosses over into Weird Tales territory when it meets the ghost story behind Donie's curse.

But its with the curse itself that Wellman departs from the conventions of his Weird Tales work. Once again, the proud are laid low and sins find out their sinner, but unlike in "Laroes Catch Meddlers", where the thieves are led to their destruction at the hands of a Confederate mummy, Donie repents of her machinations and the cursed train leaves her. Judgment is replaced by mercy. And if the criminal excesses of Prohibition spawned a deep cry for justice that seeped from the pulps, Wellman in the 1950s had a strong theme of repentance and redemption. Perhaps enough blood had been spilled in the wars between the two times, perhaps the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction gave cause to blunt the tyranny of law, or, more likely, that the beliefs and legends of the Appalachian people demanded that the Gospel be treated with the same reverence as their folk tales. For horrors exist in the backwoods hollows, but so does hope, given by the only Man ever to be exactly six feet tall. And of Him, we will speak soon.


Another woman rebounds off of John's armor. Ever since leaving at the end of "Vandy, Vandy", women have been trying harder to catch his eye. One has used love magic to salve her pride wounded after John's refusal to notice her. Donie tried sex appeal. It was not effective. John is trying to live up to the virtue of previous men with his name, and, at least for the moment, he's an outright bum magnet, attracting a number of Proverbs 7 gals whose beauty often hides self-destructive character flaws. And, since bad company often drives out good character, John does not stay with them.

It is a refreshing change of pace to read stories where women are given enough actual moral agency to be evil instead of just misunderstood or tricked into their deeds. The current infantilizing pedestalization by men and women alike robs today's stories of any drama and promote the dreaded Mary Sue.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Who Fears the Christ?

Nothing terrifies modern writers like the Christ.

His is the name none dare speak.  His teachings must not be allowed to escape from the low-budget and independent ghettos into which they have been thrust by the gatekeepers and tastemakers over the last few decades.  When Christ does make an appearance in modern cinema, he must be presented as the Marxist stepin-fechit style of Jesus ready to argue that the salvation of man can only come about through the forcible starvation deaths of six million Ukrainians or thirty million Chinese peasants.

Not joking - actual line from the execrable 2016 version
of "Ben Hur".  Subtle, filmmakers.  Subtle
Of course, Who Fears the Devil taps into a great deal of Christian mythology.  As the mythology of America for the first 200 years of its existence, give or take a decade or so, the biblical references were a natural way of tapping into the core culture of the reader.

Not only does Walk Like a Mountain contain a pair of big folk likely descended from the giants who walked the earth in Genesis, the biggest ingĂ©nue ever chides the savage beast by pointing out, “The least man in size you’d call for, when he speakes to God, he says, ‘Our Father.’”
The haunted spook come to set things right in Old Devlins Was A Waiting demands a tribute not of blood or bits of the guilty man’s soul, but a penance as strict as any priest might assign.

Not for Manly Wade Wellman the heresy of the Niceness Doctrine.  When Craye Sawtelle stops by to make an offer for a spring of holy water that heals even sick chickens, the Godly men who created the spring (Silver John himself) and care for it (Zeb) know exactly what she is up to, and don't grin and apologize and scrape for her approval in the hopes that love will conquer all.  Instead, they remind her that:
"Nobody's hurt to kneel before God," said Zeb.

Silver John doesn't negotiate with the woman who all but admits to serving the devil.  He doesn't lay out a welcome mat in the hopes that love will conquer all.  He doesn't refuse to fight back, because "fighting back makes us the same as the person attacking us."  He hits the witch square in the face with a pail of holy water and washes her darkness from the face of the earth, Dorothy style! 

(As ends all the best fairy tales in which the evil snake is vanquished, Zeb can finally get with the fair maiden Tilda.  Is there a more suitable ending for a Chirstian tale than the lovely couple going forth and multiplying?  I think not.)

Interestingly, when the carpenter himself does make an appearance, it is to build a bridge rather than a wall.  Of course, the peace that He makes between neighbors who have fallen out is the peace among neighbors and equals and men of good will, rather than the peace of those who would trespass and impose upon their neighbor who lives at a higher elevation - an important distinction and one so self-evident as to be literally unremarkable to the common sensical among us. 

And yet, it is in these simple, home spun tales that we see the true genius of stories like One The Hills and Everywhere.  They do not require a deep understanding of Biblical scholarship, or a fervent belief in the minutiae of say, the Catholic Catechism.  These are simply the natural sort of spook tale that can bridge the gap between religious and secular.  They appeal to everyone, and touch on deeper truths about mankind and his place in it - deeper truths than you can find in the bleak secularism of today's culture where nothing matters and everyone is fine and the worst things you can do are resist temptation and fight back against those who would lay the slave chains of sin lightly upon your shoulders.

And that's what makes them so dangerous to the Adversary.  And that's why they have to be memory holed by Fire Departments of the Bradbury type. 

And that's why reading books like Who Fears the Devil can be a superversive act of defiance.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Vandy, Vandy

That valley hadn't any name. Such outside folks as knew about it just said, “Back in yonder,” and folks inside said, “Here.”


John sets out in search for a good song. He runs into the Millen family in an out-of-the-way valley, who are protective of their daughter, Vandy. John asks them about "the Vandy song", one of many he is searching for. After telling John just how many generations the song has been in their family, the Millens sing for him, only to be interrupted by Mr. Loden, who has come to woo young Vandy.

Too neighborly to send both men away, the Millens invite them to eat. At the dinner, John plays a hunch, and as the songs and talk turn toward witchcraft, Salem, and "King" Washington, he scares Mr. Loden with silver. After Mr. Loden leaves, John learns that the "Vandy" song tells of a witch man who, every 100 years, tries to seduce the Millen girl bearing the name Vandy. Two Vandys have resisted his charms, but now a third has his attention. As the night grows dark, John makes his bed by the cottage door and waits.

Late at night, John confronts Mr. Loden as he sneaks in. Mr. Loden paralyzes him with magic from the Long Lost Friend, admitting to being the witch man that has plagued the Millen family. As Mr. Loden conducts a ritual of killing magic, John attempts a counter-charm and manages to fling a silver quarter into a fire. A shade from Mr. Loden's past--and America's--appears to avenge a long-standing wrong...


At first blush, "Vandy, Vandy" holds to the same formula as "O, Ugly Bird!", where John comes across a pretty girl plagued by the attentions of a witch man who sees John as a rival for her hand. The witch man holds the upper hand by his magic, but John prevails through bravery, cleverness, and light magic. What sets "Vandy, Vandy" apart is the use of music as lore and the historical roots of the Mr. Loren's Faustian bargain. These provide an extra anchor of verisimilitude, and with the heightened stakes, I find "Vandy, Vandy" to be the better of the two.

And devotees to Lester Dent's Master Formula should see the familiar bones here, with the confrontations at each quarter of the way through the story, the pacing of the revelations, and the absolutely haunting punchline of Vandy singing the final verse of her song.

Once again, John flees before the young lady can tie him down. One day, he'll find one that will follow him...for Evadare awaits in his future.


I recently started reading a history of story structure that described how the earliest novels that derived from a combination of epic poetry and the personal letter. Then, in Gothic times, the next step of the novel's development occurred:
Writers who took the next step in developing internal structure for the long prose narrative made it a small step: They built their novels around a series of entries in a journal or diary (Robinson Crusoe being a good example). 
Bickham, Jack. Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure (Kindle Locations 75-76). F+W Media. Kindle Edition. 
And many of the Gothic-inspired occult investigators of Weird Tales followed a form of this device, combining the immediate action of the pulps with personal correspondence for exposition, explanation, and revelation. Wellman would return to this device time and time again, in Weird Tales such as "The Undead Soldier", "Among Those Present", and "The Terrible Parchment". John the Balladeer's predecessors, Judge Pursuivant and John Thunstone, would use these correspondences to solve such mysteries as "The Dreadful Rabbits" and "The Dai Sword"--and link their stories to the works and characters of Seabury Quinn and E. Hoffman Price. With the cursed painting of "The Golgotha Dancers", Wellman starts to shift towards embedding clues in other media, be it print art or music. These tales are puzzles, with the clues obscured by riddle and by the threat of violence. "Vandy, Vandy" follows in this shift, with John having to rely on his own memory and cunning to defeat Mr. Loden, as opposed to sending away for another's wisdom. And, like "The Golgotha Dancers," the final confrontation was a near run thing, with a chance effort at the end saving him.

Despite being the embodiment of Campbell's new fantasy, Wellman maintained--and grows--the connection to fantasy's Gothic roots that Campbell sought to eliminate.


Manly Wade Wellman was a musician as well. And while he often used existing songs such as the "Dry Bones" song in ""Can These Bones Live?", some of his original songs crossed over into his fiction. "Vandy, Vandy" is named for one of his original tunes, the lyrics of which help John save Vandy and her family from their curse. Versions of this tune have been recorded occasionally over the years, with few adhering to Wellman's original melody.

This isn't Manly Wade Wellman's preferred version of his "Vandy, Vandy" song--to claim otherwise would be to risk his wrath on the other side--but it is the cleanest recording I've been able to find.