Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Pineys

In 1950, towards the end of Weird Tales's run, yet just before his first John the Balladeer story, Manly Wade Wellman turned to the forest for inspiration for a ghost story, "The Pineys". For amid the dense longleaf pines lives a strange folk known as the Pineys, and those who trespass into their lands vanish. The Indians who once lived around this particular pine grove say that the Pineys were there first. Some even say that the Pineys have been defending their groves since before the dinosaurs, and that their king walks among humanity, ever vigilant for those who would disturb his pine groves. What is clear, as many who live uneasily around the pines repeat, is that no one knows what the Pineys do to those who they capture.

Nothing but tall tales and campfire scares, right?

Beau Sawtelle believes so, and it is his job to survey the piney grove for logging. He's brought his niece, some men, and a local named Mac to assist him. The local tales of strange and furred creatures don't scare Sawtelle's party, but rather provide a bit of amusement as they journey deep into the forest. But as the canopy darkens overhead and the shadows grow longer, the discussion takes a more fearful turn as they discuss the Pineys' king while they make a campfire...

Some stories just ache to be told out loud, and this last gasp of a Gothic tale, stitched together from campfire recollections and short tales, sounds like the stories told late at night by a storyteller aiming for a little mischief. As mentioned, this is a ghost story, so the impact rests on the final revelation, heightened further by whom the narrator is.

All the hallmarks of a proper Wellman tale are present. Mac's voice is reminiscent of John the Balladeer, who would appear in "O Ugly Bird" a mere three months later. The Pineys themselves fit the inventive bestiary that fills Wellman's tales, and he even draws a distinct parallel to the Shonokins, a race that filled several of his earlier Weird Tales. And finally, Sawtelle's niece relies on the same European folk magic and grimoires that John the Balladeer would use to great effect in his short stories. It's easy to see "The Pineys" as a sinister rehearsal for what would John's adventures, more so that "Frogfather" or "Sin's Doorway". Just call Mac "John..."

"The Pineys" may be a simpler scare than the heyday of Weird Tales under Farnsworth Wright, but atmosphere and voice can make even the simplest tales breathe with sinister life. Fortunately, the most affordable place to find "The Pineys" is in the new reprint of Worse Things Waiting, which is still available through Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, the story "The Pineys" really surprised me in a positive way, and being surprised is always a big plus, both in life, as in literature and art. 👍 This was not only the first story of the writer Manly Wade Wellman that I have read, but also the first ever from Weird Tales magazine. 🧟‍♂️
    The leisurely development, which the action in this limited setting takes (only three people travel a little bit together, and they encounter only a few other characters along the way), and the skillful slow increase in tension 😱 during this, I find extremely well done. Especially when you consider, that not only the scope of action is narrowly limited, but also, that only a few hours pass. ⏳ Basically, there is not a lot of real action in this story, but the reader simply follows the barren conversations of the three travelers. But it is precisely in these conversations, that not only the protagonists among themselves, but of course the reader too, learn more and more about the background and context of the destination Piney's Grove. As a reader, you can participate in the experience wonderfully, and also understand how the tension increases due to the new information. Increases, both in the narrative as a whole, and in the individual characters in different ways. I find it very well accomplished, that the narrative focuses exclusively on the words 🗣 uttered, and on the perceived emotions of the three main characters. The story not only creates a very detailed miniature picture of human fear, but thankfully does it completely without shock moments or horror elements. ☠ The last paragraph is a little masterpiece, and an excellent end to the story. (They could have known.)