American author (1903-1986). Wellman was born in what is now Angola, where his father was working as a physician at a British medical outpost. Later, he moved to the United States, attending grade school in Washington, D.C., prep school in Salt Lake City, and college in Wichita, Kansas. Soon after graduating in 1926, Wellman became friends with Vance Randolf, a folklorist specializing in the traditions and stories of the Ozark Mountains. Wellman made several trips with Randolf to the Arkansas backwoods country, expanding his childhood interest in African folklore to include American folklore. He also met and befriended Ozark folk musician Obray Ramsey during this period. Wellman published his first story ("The Lion Roared," based on African stories he learned as a child) in 1927 in Thrilling Tales. He also published stories in Ozark Stories.
Wellman worked at a pair of newspapers in Wichita -- The Beacon and The Wichita Eagle -- and married Frances Obrist, another horror writer who sold some stories to Weird Tales. During the Great Depression, Wellman worked as the assistant director of the WPA's New York Folklore Project.
In the 1930s and '40s, Wellman's popularity grew, and he began to be published in larger magazines, like Weird Tales, Wonder, and Astounding. During this period, he wrote some of his most popular stories, including the adventures of his most famous creation, Silver John, a wandering musician who played a silver-stringed guitar and matched wits with backwoods monsters, wizards, and horrors. He also did some work in comic books, including writing the first issue of Fawcett Publications' "Captain Marvel Adventures."
After World War II, Wellman moved to North Carolina, where he taught at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He built himself a cabin in the Smokey Mountains, on top of what he called Yandro Mountain (named for the monster-covered mountain in his story "The Desrick on Yandro"). He suffered a bad fall in 1986 and died soon afterwards.
While Wellman was best known for his weird fiction, he wrote a wide variety of literature. He wrote Westerns, mysteries, young adult fiction, biographies, true crime books, folklore studies, books on Civil War history, and general nonfiction. He was awarded the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award in 1946, the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for nonfiction in 1955, World Fantasy Awards in 1975 and 1980, the 1985 British Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. On top of all that, he was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for "Rebel Boast: First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox."
But it is his work in science fiction, fantasy, and horror that Wellman remains best-known for. Some of his weird fiction books include "John the Balladeer," "The Old Gods Waken," "After Dark," "The Lost and the Lurking," "The Hanging Stones," "The Voice of the Mountain," "What Dreams May Come," "The School of Darkness," "Twice in Time," "Worse Things Waiting," "Lonely Vigils," "The Beasts from Beyond," "The Devil's Planet," "Sojarr of Titan," "The Dark Destroyers," "Sherlock Holmes' War of the Worlds," "The Beyonders," and "Cahena: A Dream of the Past" (Wellman's last book).
Much of Wellman's horror fiction has a Lovecraftian feel to it -- though Wellman said he was not much influenced by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, he used a number of Lovecraft's concepts and creations in his stories, including the Necronomicon and Miskatonic University. He even mentioned Lovecraft himself a few times. Many of Wellman's stories focus on eldritch monsters, lost races, forbidden magic, and sanity-destroying revelations. But Wellman's less-neurotic heroes, the way he wrote mountain people as something other than inbred stereotypes, and his reduced reliance on stuffy academia made his stories feel friendlier and more accessible, while still being scary. Wellman's creatures -- with one foot in folklore and one in the imagination -- also came across as more interesting. While Lovecraft's monsters are all indescribable, it's pretty easy to imagine what all of Wellman's look like -- with the obvious exception of the Behinder, which always hides behind its victims. The Skim, for instance, is a living frisbee, the Bammat is a wooly mammoth, the Flat is a malevolent carpet. And the names are so much easier to pronounce -- Lovecraft's Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep vs. Wellman's Toller and Culverin. Wellman's stories feel like you're reading a book of folklore, like you're hearing a tale told by your great-uncle, like you're eating marshmallows around the campfire while the Scoutmaster tells a spooky story that happened in these very woods. They feel rustic and pleasantly familiar, and you get the sense that these stories could happen anywhere -- and they might, the next time you get stuck in the backwoods, alone, at night...