Sin's Doorway & Other Ominous Entrances:The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, Volume 4 by Manly Wade Wellman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Manly Wade Wellman is a master storyteller that has managed to stay very underrated in the weird fiction/horror/pulp genres. Yet reading his prose is very captivating. There are things that stand out in his writing, and they shine through in this collection of stories:
1)His tendency to have optimistic endings where good prevails over evil. Personally, horror that has evil prevailing has no appeal. I enjoy reading stories where the good guys win. This is usually the case with Wellman's stories. It is true that some of his stories are morality tales where the wrong decision leads to bleak consequences, but that doesn't bother me nearly the way that stories with good people suffering horribly and evil triumphing do. You get the impression that this ill-fated people had many opportunities to abandon the wrong path and get out with their lives intact.
2)His feel for local Southern customs and folklore. Reading his stories is like stepping through a doorway to places where time has stopped. Even in the stories that take place in the 20th century as far up until the mid 50s (at least in this volume), there is a element of the characters having been forgotten by the future, and living their lives the way they have for many years. I love the rather eerie presence of legends that have pervaded the hearts and minds of people of isolated Southern areas that inhabit Wellman's stories. Nothing like knowing that this old man living in a shack in the Appalachian mountains knows how to keep you from having an old witch woman steal your soul, or what songs you don't want to sing to avoid a Behinder getting you. He also takes more prevalent legends and gives them a backstory that has you thinking, 'Well now I know.'
3)His ability to build up suspense and fill his stories with sense of dread that keeps you on your toes. Several time, I was gasping out loud, feeling that anticipation as I saw that the 'thing' was there and the protagonist was in grave danger. There are no cheap thrills, or shock value in his stories. It's a sustained tension that abates when the story meets its rightful conclusion. Yes, there might be some violence in his stories, but it's never gratuitious.
4)The aspect of faith having power to save the person in jeopardy. This is an element I find absolutely necessary in my favorite horror fiction. Although I do enjoy reading some HP Lovecraft, I dislike his feeling of dread and despair. That humans cannot possibly hope for a good resolution because the elements of the dark are so much more powerful, older, and beyond our comprehension, and we will never understand or defeat them. This is nice to read at times, but I get rather jaded with this pessimistic cosmicism and yearn for old fashioned stories where faith still has value. Wellman doesn't try to superimpose his religious beliefs on the reader. But I get the impression that his stories have this element because it's an important part of his psyche, and it flows naturally into his storytelling. I do feel that a nonbeliever can enjoy and find something worthwhile and relevant in his stories.
There are a lot of Civil War stories in here. I'm not much for Civil War fiction, but I found it intriguing the way Wellman took true events of the war and gave them a supernatural explanation and basis. They tend to be told from the Southern side, but that makes sense as Wellman is a Southern writer. At any case, it's an interesting look into the past.
He also has a couple of stories that delve into Native American folklore. They were very well done and did not have those aspects of pulp fiction in which non-whites are betrayed in a derogatory or exploitative manner.
Wellman also have several witchcraft stories. In his stories, there are bad, scary, malevolent witches. Not of the sort that are earth-worshippers, but those who worship the Dark One, and use their powers to bring evil into the world and to destroy others. And they are scary stories.
I started this volume almost a year ago, so I can't remember every story in detail, but there are no stories that I did not enjoy. I thoroughly recommend this to fans of weird fiction, supernatural fiction, dark fantasy, and horror. I hope that many more readers of my generation and beyond are able to discover the rather hidden gems of this great writer.
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