First of all, thanks for reading the story. Sorry to say that this isn’t a new chapter, but rather some quick notes for those interested in finding out more about John the Balladeer and his creator, Manly Wade Wellman, a writer worthy of a far wider audience. I doubt there’s any need to concentrate on the ponies proper; I imagine most of the people reading this know where to find everything they could ever want to know about the wonderful show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
You ask me what my name is
And what I’m a-doin’ here,
They call me John the Wanderer
Or John the Balladeer…
Though little-known today, Manly Wade Wellman was a name to conjure with in the genres of pulp SF/fantasy, adventure, mystery, and dark fantasy/horror from his first publication in 1927 until his death in1986.
The “Silver John” stories were set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina by Mr Wellman, where he lived for the last few decades of his life. The language and customs and songs and very often the people found in them are all from the stories and songs he heard and the people he met during his years there. He did make up some of the songs and the locales are usually his own, but it all has the feel of reality. I have used those legends and names in my own homage here, along with a few Pennsylvania Dutch tales that I imagine John would have been likely to know.
John himself was never very well described by Wellman, probably deliberately. Wellman only ever said that John was a veteran of the Korean War; that he was a great shot, very intelligent and well-read, a brilliant musician with his silver-strung guitar, that he could hold up his end of things in a fight, and that he looked rather like a younger Johnny Cash. That aside, we never really do learn much about John’s background aside from a pair of earlier stories, “Frogfather” and “Sin’s Doorway”, that Wellman later said were about John before he found his guitar. I referenced the latter story in this one where John warns Twilight about his experiences with a grimoire much like hers.
In John’s worldstream, My Little Balladeer takes place shortly after the last of Wellman’s novels, after he married Evadare and settled down in his native Appalachia. In Equestria’s worldstream, it’s somewhere in the middle of second season, after the Day of Discord and birth of the Cake twins but well before the Royal Wedding. Equestria itself is done more as a serious fantasy world, a place of wonder matching and balancing the magic realism of John’s Appalachians. Except for a certain party pony, of course – Pinkie Pie is Pinkie Pie, and there can be no other.
And the villain of the piece? Rowley Thorne was the main villain in an earlier series by Wellman, the John Thunstone stories, some very well-written tales of the occult investigator type. Thorne was basically a nastier version of Aleister Crowley, and much of the things he was shown doing in the stories were based on the sort of things Crowley himself boasted of doing; so much so that Wellman’s editor of the time worried about a lawsuit. Wellman set his mind at ease by telling him that Crowley could hardly bring a lawsuit against a fictional character for doing some of the things that Crowley himself had boasted in print of actually doing!
Thorne was Thunstone’s enemy for years, until he finally was dragged out of the world by his conjured spirits after his last defeat (and into Equestria by Discord, at least in my story). He did finally return in the novel The School of Darkness, written forty years after his last appearance. Summoned back to Earth by a Satanic coven (or the coven took the credit when actually Celestia threw him back – you think a man like Thorne would have told anyone the real story?), he proved as delightfully malevolent as ever. Most of the spells and curses Thorne uses in this story, and that he taught to Lyra, either came from the original stories or from authentic grimoires I’ve read myself such as the Lemegeton or the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.
The Letters of Cold Fire and the Svartaskoli, the Deep School, are again from Wellman’s Thunstone stories. They only ever showed up in two Thunstone stories (“Thorne on the Threshold” and “Twice Cursed”), with the longer and more detailed of the two (“Twice Cursed”) occurring after Thorne’s defeat. Suffice that everything that John and the girls saw in Thorne’s Equestria was quite heavily inspired by what Thunstone saw in the world of the Deep School (and a few nightmares of my own), aside from the undead ponies of Sunny Town.
Sunny Town and its ponies (including Ruby, Mitta, Grey Hoof, Roneo, and Starlet), of course, are from the fan-made 8-bit game Story of the Blanks.
But enough. Once again, thank you for reading this far, and I hope you enjoyed the story. If I’ve convinced anyone to look further at either MLP or at Mr Wellman’s fiction I’ll consider it a victory and a delight. I’ve given some links below for anyone who wants to do some research of their own or who wants to find the original John the Balladeer stories and decide for themselves if I honored them properly.
Suffice it to say there will soon be a new stained-glass window in the Hall of Windows at the Sun Palace in Canterlot, featuring six ponies bearing the Elements of Harmony – and a strange upright creature bearing a silver-strung guitar.
And if there will be any more stories like this, we’ll just have to see.
There are many, many stories in the land of Equestria…
Somewhere the sun’s a-risin’ up
A-sheddin’ it’s foggy light;
And wind blows and no one knows
Where I’m likely to be tonight…
Web address for latest printing of Who Fears the Devil? (including “Frogfather” and “Sin’s Doorway”):
Web addresses for information on Manly Wade Wellman and John the Balladeer
John’s songs are taken directly from the original stories; Vandy, Vandy and Pretty Polly were based on the Joe Bethancourt arrangements from the CD Who Fears the Devil? The Songs of Silver John, available at http://www.whitetreeaz.com/cd/whofears.htm .
No known recording exists of The Last Judgment Song, which may have been a Wellman original.
The Long-Lost Friend is an actual book of American folk magic dating back to the19th Century, originating among the Pennsylvania Dutch. Most of the spells and charms John uses in this story came directly from The Long-Lost Friend; like most folk magic of its kind, there is little distinction between spells and prayers. A copy is visible online at http://www.whitetreeaz.com/cd/longlost.htm .