The Old Gods Waken

Manly Wade Wellman
The Old Gods Waken Cover

Druids in the Ozarks


Manly Wade Wellman was born in 1903, in what is now Angola. His father was a physician at the English station there. Wellman was educated in the United States after his parents settled here when he was seven. But his real education began as a small child when he was adopted by chief who taught him the native dialect and about the pantheon of African gods. When Wellman began writing, he used that knowledge for his first sale in 1927 to Weird Tales, beginning a prolific career as a contributor to that and other fantasy and science fiction magazines.

At the height of his career, Wellman was referred to as "the dean of fantasy writers." He developed series based on several characters of the psychic detective variety, and later in life became known for horror and fantasy stories set in the Appalachian south. Today he is largely forgotten and almost completely out of print. A few titles are available as e-books, and used copies of titles sell anywhere from a couple of bucks to hundreds of dollars. If you get interested, check your local library.

Wellman's most popular character was John the Balladeer, also known as John Silver. John wanders the Ozarks with his guitar and has a knack for stumbling onto ancient evils and satanic rites. John narrates the stories in dialect, which can make you feel like you are reading an episode of The Waltons. ('Night, John Boy.) But Wellman had settled in South Carolina, and he has the dialect and colloquialisms down pat. I fell right in the rambling style.

The Old Gods Waken has John, with the help of an elderly Cherokee chieftain who happened to major in folklore and world religions at Dartmouth, defeating a pair of Druids intent on opening the gates that will let the Old Gods back onto earth via a portal on a mountain in the Appalachias. As Lovecraftian as that sounds, the book is more concerned with Druidism and Native American traditions, with just about every other religion and occult tradition you can thank of given at least a passing reference. One failing of Wellman's style is his tendency to lecture on these topics as though he is determined to have his hours spent in libraries pay off.

John and his Indian companion must face seven perils before the human sacrifices begin at midnight on Midsummer's Eve. Wellman knows how to plot a story. Three fourths of the action takes place between dawn and midnight on a single day. But the dialog can be creaky and the cornball factor might defeat some readers. Wellman is recommended only to those who aspire to be Weird Fiction Completists.