Manly Wade Wellman, whom Karl Edward Wagner called “the dean of fantasy writers,” was one of the great 20th Century fantasists, particularly in the field of the “occult detective.” He created several memorable occult investigators, including Judge Pursuivant and John Thunstone. But his most enduring creation is surely Silver John, also known as John the Balladeer.
Silver John, a Korean War vet who becomes a wandering singer in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, appeared in around 20 stories published between 1951 and 1987, chiefly in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and later in anthologies like Shadows and Whispers. The stories were gathered in several volumes over the years, and these books are highly collectible today. In 1988 Baen Books released a complete collection of the Silver John stories in paperback, John the Balladeer, with a captivating painting by Steve Hickman.
The Baen edition was edited and with an introduction by Karl Edward Wagner. It also had a foreword by David Drake. It placed fifth in the annual Locus poll for Best Collection of 1988.
The Baen edition was advertised as “The only complete collection of Silver John!”, but that’s no longer true. In 2010 Planet Stories released a handsome trade paperback which collected all the Silver John stories, plus two proto-John stories that were first published in Weird Tales in 1946, Who Fears the Devil?
Sadly, that volume is no longer in print, and is getting harder and harder to find. Ryan Harvey did a detailed review for us here.
Silver John also featured in five novels by Wellman:
The Old Gods Waken (1979)
After Dark (1980)
The Lost and the Lurking (1981)
The Hanging Stones (1982)
Voice of the Mountain (1984)
All were originally released in hardcover; the first four were also reprinted in paperback by Berkley. Only the last volume, Voice of the Mountain, has never been released in paperback.
One of the great things about collecting paperbacks is that the vast majority, even many of the rarest titles, are available very inexpensively — usually less than the cost of a new paperback. Not so with the Silver John books, and especially not John the Balladeer. I’ve been trying to find a reasonably priced copy for many years, and have gotten used to seeing copies list between $38-$65 on eBay.
After many years of patient searching, I finally acquired the collection of three Wellman paperbacks below — including the Silver John novel The Hanging Stones, and an unread copy of John the Balladeer in terrific shape — for $18.60 on eBay. It’s true what they say… good things come to those who wait.
Our previous coverage of Manly Wade Wellman includes:
Vintage Treasures: Bow Down to Nul /The Dark Destroyers
Manly Wade Wellman, Fletcher Pratt, and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D
Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the Mighty by Fletcher Vredenburgh
The Lovecraft Circle at the First World Fantasy Convention by James McGlothlin
Alex Bledsoe on “How I Discovered Silver John”
The Best One-Sentence Reviews of Manly Wade Wellman
New Treasures: The Complete John Thunstone
The Nightmare Men: “The Enemy of Evil” by Josh Reynolds
The Nightmare Men: “The Judge” by Josh Reynolds
Who Fears the Devil? by Ryan Harvey
John the Balladeer was published by Baen Books in July 1988. It is 306 pages, priced at $3.50. The cover is by Steve Hickman. It was reprinted in hardcover by the Science Fiction Book Club in 1989. There is no digital edition.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.