Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: The Valley So Low

The Valley So Low: Southern Mountain Stories is a collection of short stories by Manly Wade Wellman. It is classified as "sci-fi," and falls into the category of ghost and supernatural stories. This author is well-steeped in the folklore of many cultures, as are his protagonists. These protagonists are always contemporary sojourners in the ancient hills of Appalachia: a curious mixture of folklorist, anthropologist, scientist, poet, truthseeker, and hero. They come to research and bear witness. Where there is mystery, they investigate, often with the help of hill neighbor and kin. Where there is evil, they vanquish, usually in the name of the Lord. Evil, here, comes in many forms: ghost, witch, Satan, pagan tree-spirit; some ancient Grendel of the mountains, some would-be succubus; perhaps even an evil, ancient corruption that haunts the ground, reminiscent of the swamp thing of comic-book lore. Wellman's stories have the ring of truth, though of a truth that requires the reader to suspend disbelief and allow for evidence of things unseen. This is due to his story-telling method, which is traditional and straight-forward. He makes only rare use of the familiar suspense buildup to a plot twist at the end. "The Petey Car," "Along About Sundown," and "Rock, Rock" might appear in any Hitchcock collection. The other stories almost defy categorization, but they are powerful and strong. Wellman will appeal to readers of the "old-fashioned" ghost story, to people who like ballads, perhaps. His prose is deep and rich, his stories are strange. If you love them, you'll want more ~ and there are more. Wellman was a prolific writer. Many of the books are out of print and expensive to buy, but might pop up in libraries, especially Southern ones.

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