Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pulpy goodness with a big touch of weird! The Complete John Thunstone, by Manly Wade Wellman

Haffner Press, 2012
646 pp


"Sic pereant omnes inimici tui"

John Thunstone describes himself as a "truth teller and a truth seeker" whose life's work has been to "seek the nature of reality."  Sometimes "that nature seems to be beyond nature, beyond the nature we know and recognize."  He's also been known as an "explorer of strange occurrences," strange being the operative word.  He is never without his cane, complete with silver blade that was supposedly forged by St. Dunstan and comes in very handy.  His story most fully comes out in What Dreams May Come, a novel included in this collection, and there are clues throughout as to who John Thunstone really is and what he really does.

Here, in The Complete John Thunstone, all of Wellman's John Thunstone's stories have been collected in one volume, and while they're not all spine-tingling extravaganzas, the book is amazing, providing me with hours of pure weird and pulpy pleasure.  First in this book comes all of the short stories, in some of which Thunstone takes on his arch-nemesis Rowley  Thorne, who Ramsey Campbell says in his introduction "Manly Remembered"  is Thunstone's Moriarty. In Wellman's introduction to the 1981 Carcosa Press put out Lone Vigils, a collection of Thunstone stories through 1951,  the author writes that
"In several of the Thunstone stories appears a wizard named Rowley Thorne, and I was seriously warned that I might be sued for libel by a certain actual diabolist, Aleister Crowley"
upon whom Rowley Thorne seems to be loosely based, and who is shown in this photo:

 Thorne also returns in Wellman's novel-length story "The School of Darkness," at the end of this volume.  Thunstone's love interest appears in these stories as well: Sharon, Countess Monteseco, although Thunstone does everything he can to prevent himself from getting deeply involved with her because of the threat to her from Rowley.

 Aside from Thorne, Thunstone finds himself doing battle with the Shonokins, who claim to have existed long before "the Indians," who "took this country from creatures too imagine, even though they are dead and leave only their fossil bones." According to one of them, the Shonokins "allowed the Indians to come," and retained only a few limited domains.  When people trespass into these "limited domains," they meet with trouble -- and Thunstone is not far behind.  The Shonokins have a ring finger longer than all of the fingers on their hands; they also can't tolerate being in the presence of their own dead.

Thunstone meets up with strange magic and powers not just with the Shonokins or Rowley Thorne, but comes across an Eskimo wizard, a woman who won't stay dead and buried,  and regular people who somehow find themselves entangled in bad juju, usually because of their own greed.

After the short stories is Wellman's novel What Dreams May Come (not to be confused with the movie or Matheson's novel), where Thunstone, already in England, hears about a strange ritual in the village of Claines and decides to go and witness it for himself. The town is mainly owned and run by the local squire, whom, after discerning that Thunstone is not with the English equivalent of the IRS, welcomes him into his home, where Thunstone discovers that the man is fascinated with the past.   Back at his home in the local B&B, Thunstone turns out the light in his room and suddenly finds himself cast back thousands of years, where he witnesses some very strange phenomena. Intrigued, he decides to repeat the experiment, and comes back with proof of his journey.  The maid at the B&B, Connie Bailey, a self-proclaimed white witch, also has these bizarre experiences, but the people to whom she confides them brush them off as dreams. Not Thunstone, of course, who knows firsthand.

The collection ends with "The School of Darkness," which wasn't nearly as good as What Dreams May Come, but still fun.  Thunstone and three others participate in a symposium where they are to talk about their research and experiences, but of course, they get sidetracked with the return of who else? Rowley Thorne. The college where they are speaking has a long history involving witchcraft and diabolism, and Thorne becomes involved with the local coven whose leader and members have their own agenda for the future. Thunstone and his fellow participants have to combine their strengths to fight off a powerful enemy, whose tricks involve murder.  I liked this one, but parts read like a group of superheroes who come together, put their respective rings together that go "bzzzzt" and voila, their powers are strengthened. Here they all smoke a pipe filled with magically-protective materials rather than wear rings to touch together, but still.

There are also some very cool illustrations done by George Evans throughout the short-story sections, like this one,

that accurately portray what's going on in the story.

I'm very pressed for time today, so there's no time for me to delve further, but I have to say that The Complete John Thunstone has moved into the ranks of favorite books in my library, and I can most definitely recommend this work of pulpy goodness with just the right touch of weird. There are a couple of Lovecraft mentions as well as a reference to the Necronomicon included, the stories are good, old-fashioned cool pulpy delight, and when it comes down to it, this entire book is 600+ pages of fun.


  1. Thanks for the review; I just put in my order.

    1. Well, I apologize in advance if you end up hating it! I love this old stuff and Wellman too.

  2. I've enjoyed his Silver John books a great deal. I'm sure I'll like Thunstone, too!

    1. I'll have to give those stories a try. Thunstone was a lot of fun.


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