Silver John is a fictional character from a series of fantasy stories, publisher in 1963-1984 and written by American author Manly Wade Wellman. Though fans refer to him as Silver John or as John the Balladeer, the stories call him simply John. He is an example of the loner hero. The stories are set in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. The historical period is never explicitly indicated, but appears to be the middle 20th century.
John is a wandering singer who carries a guitar strung with strings of pure silver. He is a veteran of the Korean War and served in the U.S. Army as a sharpshooter (in the novel After Dark, he mentions that his highest rank was PFC). In his travels, he frequently encounters creatures and superstitions from the folk tales and superstitions of the mountain people. Though John has no formal education, he is self-taught and widely-read; it is primarily his courage, wit and essential goodness that always enables him to triumph over supernatural evils (although the silver strings of his guitar and his possession of a copy of The Long Lost Friend are also powerful tools in fighting evil magic), In the short story "Nine Yards of Other Cloth", John rescues a girl named Evadare from the unwanted attentions of the evil Shull Cobart:
Small-made, yet you saw she was grown and you saw she was proud ... Her bright sun-colored hair was tied behind her neck with a blue ribbon ... I saw by the glow how pinky-soft her skin was, how young and pretty, and bigger, bluer eyes than Evadare's you couldn't call for.
The short stories of Silver John have been collected four times, as Who Fears the Devil? (1963), John the Balladeer (1988), Owls Hoot in Daytime and Other Omens (2003), and Who Fears the Devil? (2010). In addition, there are five novels about John. Wellman was planning an additional novel, to be titled The Valley So Low, but died before writing it. The title would be used for a collection of his stories, instead.
- The Old Gods Waken (1979)
- After Dark (1980)
- The Lost and Lurking (1981)
- The Hanging Stones (1982)
- Voice of the Mountain (1984)
In popular culture
- The Legend of Hillbilly John, a low-budget movie about John, was released in 1974, with Hedges Capers as John, Denver Pyle, Severn Darden, Val Avery and Susan Strasberg. The film's plot incorporates two of the John stories: "The Desrick on Yandro" and "O Ugly Bird".
- The novel Old Nathan by David Drake, a friend of Wellman's, was inspired by the "Silver John" stories.
- Hellboy creator Mike Mignola makes a deliberate homage to John in his story The Crooked Man.
- Author Brian Keene includes an explicit description of John and his adventures in his horror novel Dark Hollow.
- Hammer's Slammers CD - The Baen ebook CD that came with David Drake's novel The Far Side of the Stars contains the Baen edition of John the Balladeer.
- Who Fears The Devil?: The Songs of Silver John, a CD by Joe Bethancourt featuring his own performances of the songs used in the books, set to the probable original traditional melodies that Mr. Wellman had in mind.