Book4 8

Who Fears the Devil? (1963)

Manly Wade Wellman is one of several authors in Appendix N for whom Gygax does not recommend specific works, as if saying, “Read it all.” You could do a lot worse than reading all of Wellman’s stuff.

Today, though, we’re looking at Who Fears the Devil? (1963), which collects all the Silver John stories written up to that point. This is the Arkham House edition, with delightfully weird cover art by Lee Brown Coye.

Silver John, or John the Balladeer, is a Korean War vet who wanders Appalachia with a guitar strung with strings of pure silver. He encounters all manner of supernatural beings and American folklore come to life in his travels and often uses not much more than song and his wits to solve his problems (though occasionally John uses a little magic, too). The last story in the book, “Nine Yards of Other Cloth” is my favorite, and involves a demon, a sorcerer named Shull Cobart, his magical fiddle and John’s irresistible urge to ramble on. Other stories feature giants, a monster bird and, of course, the devil his own self.

What’s this got to do with D&D? A lot. The bard class has lots of hoary old precedents – Taliesin, Will Scarlet, etc. – but none of them really feel like the D&D bard; they’re too remote. But not Silver John, with his songs and his wandering and his touch of magic. If you want to understand the D&D bard, read these stories. On top of that, each story, even though they are nominally set in the 50s or 60s, feels very much like a D&D scenario in terms of narrative structure.

But don’t just read the Silver John stories because of D&D, read them because they are great fun and unlike any other stories you’ll ever read. Wellman’s love for John and his world bubbles to the surface of every story. They’re a true delight.  

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