“If the gardinel’s an old folk’s tale, I’m honest to tell you it’s a true one.
Few words about them are best, I should reckon. They look some way like a shed or a cabin, snug and rightly made, except the open door could be a mouth, the two little windows might could be eyes. Never you’ll see one on the main roads or near towns; only back in the thicketty places, by high trails among tall ridges, and they show themselves there when it rains and storms and a lone farer hopes to come to a house to shelter him.”
-Manly Wade Wellman “Who Fears the Devil”
For those unfamiliar with the subject material who may have found themselves here by happenstance. Appendix N is a series of recommended authors that was given by Gary Gygax to players of the game, Dungeons and Dragons. It is a list filled with the weirdest, best stories you could ever hope to grow up reading, and I did. Talking about them is a happy and welcome subject for me.
Writing about Appendix N is something I’ve always thought about. I’m very familiar with each author listed. I was a library rat since I was old enough to make it to one on my own. I had a copy of the Dungeons Masters Guide at an early age. Bought at a pawn shop along with a Monster Manual, with the name James written on the front cover. I still have them. I didn’t get a players handbook until almost a year later. I had photo-copies of a few classes and some spells I had to game on during that period.
As I’m sure you can imagine, we did it all wrong. Badly. Had a blast doing it too. My first character; a wizard, named Enchantema. Let that sink in a minute. I was sixish or thereabouts. I was introduced to the game by my neighbor, who was older than me by about 4 years and was the coolest girl ever. Samantha. She could draw, and was completely amazed at my accent. (As were her parents) So, I’d head over there, and roll dice with her, and her younger brother who was about my age. She DM’d, and it was all about saving princesses, all the time.
So with my primary resource really being only the Dungeon Masters Guide, I became real familiar with it. Including that appendix in the back end with authors to read. So I started reading them. At the time I had just read Ivanhoe, a book my grandfather had sent me from Ireland, along with a copy of Robinhood. He and I watched the old Ivanhoe movie when he visited for my 5th birthday. I was immediately enthralled by knights. He told me if I liked them, I’d probably like that ‘Frodo Lives‘ book too.
I went to the library and the third book I ever read became, The Hobbit. The librarians said that Lord of the Rings might be a bit too much for me. (She was a Southern Baptist woman who was suspicious of all this wizard-stuff) I still love her, God rest her soul. That lady made that place a home for me. So, I had checked off Tolkien I thought. What’s next?
MANLY WADE WELLMAN
Soak that name up a moment. I like it. Sounds like he could build houses, or farm, or do anything that existed outside of a city. (Where I lived) So I went to see what book the library had of his. They had Who Fears the Devil? Shaunice, the librarian, promptly approved of the title, and I was on my way to reading one of my favorite tales in all of the appendix. ‘Shiver in the Pines’. This is one of those authors that doesn’t nearly get enough love.
See when I had first moved here, I had this ‘idea’ of what America would be like. I thought it was all huge, open, tracts of wild land. With the occasional dot of civilization here, and there. Well, I was totally wrong. However, this book reminds me of that brief wonderful time that I had an ‘ideal’ America in my head. With deep woods, spooky mountain hollows, and Indian stuff you shouldn’t bother. (Saying that is probably racist now, isn’t it? Meh. It’s the perception I had as a kid.)
This book delivered that feeling in truck-loads. I loved it. He didn’t live in a city, kinda like Bilbo, he just wandered. Except he didn’t have a quest, he just kept moving where God took him. I wrote my Grandfather and told him all about it. I got a glowing review from him. “Sounds good for a Yank.” My parents were actually kinda wary of this book. Had some ‘Christian’ tones to it. They made sure to let me know that this ‘god’, was not real, and had no impact on anything John did. He just had a magic guitar. My father took the story to mean that the magic of the land helped John.
Totally false actually. It was definitely Christian. I’ve read a lot of Wellman over the years, and about him. I have a thing for Appalachian folklore. This was a man who walked those lands. Collecting folklore from the good folk living up in those hills. He put those word-of-mouth tales on paper. He, in a way, was Silver John. Some people who have written about Wellman think that Silver John might’ve been John the Baptist. There’s some Godly overtones in the book, and some really strange feeling weirdness from those dark pines.
Recently the game company Goodman Games made a boxed set called, ‘The Silver Coffin’ with their game Dungeon Crawl Classics. It’s basically an open love letter to this wonderful author, who gets put by the wayside a bit too much for my liking. I have a feeling it’s because there is a certain religious tone in the book, and well, have a look at most fantasy fiction fans these days. Isn’t exactly an ideal market. Their loss really.
That book link up above from Amazon, is predatory as can be. Don’t buy it at 80 dollarydoos obviously. But do buy it, if you find it at a used book store, or if you have yourself a Kindle. The Audible book is well narrated as well. Great listening for the drive to my In-laws, down by those old Appalachian mountains.
I think it brings in a breath of America into the appendix, and a sense of hope. John did right by people, whether they deserved it, or not. His treasure was a chance to play a song or two, maybe get a hot meal. Which again, reminded me of Bilbo,
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”- JRR Tolkien
This was just one of my ‘Choice Cuts’ of the Appendix. There is a great book out on the subject aptly titled Appendix N by someone with more talent in writing than I have. We agree on so many points on the subject, I wonder if I might have a split personality with an interesting choice of a name. You can get it here!
I hope this inspires you to grab these tales, and walk those trails like I did. When America was new, wild with possibility, the way we can make it again provided we try hard enough.