In Manly Wade Wellman’s wonderful ‘Silver John’ stories (collected as WHO FEARS THE DEVIL?), he features an intriguing assortment of critters as his hero wanders the North Carolina mountains.
There’s the Flat, which looks like a rug until it wraps around you. The Culverin, a little pipelike animal who shoots pebbles from its mouth, and the Behinder, a murderous beast that no one has ever seen and lived (except John) because it always comes up behind you.
He also features a villainous species called the Shonokins-- they’re not quite human, with an extended third finger and catlike pupils. Their story is that they were the original inhabitants of this country for thousands of years, until the Paleo-Indians came down across the Bering Strait and nearly wiped them out. The surviving Shonokins still keep to themselves, hoping to someday reclaim their land.
Is any of this 'genuine' folklore? Wellman had a first-rate imagination but he did live in North Carolina for many years and since he captures the way of speech and the local scenery so well, I wonder if he was passing on tales he had heard.
Any Doper from Norther Carolina or West Virginia ever hear stories about these things? Especially, I’d like to know about the Gardinels-- sort of giant Venus fly-traps that look like cottages until you get inside.
Your thread didn’t go unnoticed, I just spent much too long digging through my folkloric sources and searching the web.
All references I found to the gardinel either directly refer to Wellman’s story, or postdate it. Likewise, while I found two non-Wellman references to a “hidebehind” (clearly related to a behinder), they both date from the 1970s–“Pecos Bill Catches a Hidebehind” and one of the “McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm” stories. “Culverin” is an archaic term for a sort of crude musket that dates from the 15th Century–the connection is fairly obvious–but I found no references to a creature by that name. There are Native American legends about “the ones who were here before”, but I haven’t found any reference to them as “Shonokin”.
I would say that Wellman invented the names–and most likely the creatures–in his stories. I could be wrong, of course; folk tales are notoriously difficult to catalog. I would submit that the gardinel and the behinder are fairly obvious creatures for a talespinner, and that Wellman is unlikely to have been the first to tell stories of similar creatures. Maybe someone will come along with first-hand knowledge of Appalachian folklore to educate us.
Thanks for your help. My attempts at Google searching went hopelessly astray and kept going back to Wellman’s stories. So I wasn’t getting anywhere.
I’m curious because even as a kid I would find old references to things like the “hoop snake” that rolls into a hoop to roll away, with the implication that people actually believed in these things. On the other hand, there were also critters like the Furred Trout (that lived in cold underground streams) or the Jackelope, that were clearly just leg-pulling joshing sort of things.
Maybe there’s an alt.folklore newsgroup active, where I might be able to able to get some information.
The Behinder, The Flat, The Shonokins: those all sound like weird sex things along the lines of the Dirty Sanchez.
As per your question though, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard any of these stories particularly but I can say that there is an astounding amount of western NC folklore. I mean alot. We read the stories all through high school and even into college. I would say that it’s a safe bet that your creature are or are heavily influenced by genuine folklore.
I didn’t mean to imply that Appalachian folklore doesn’t abound with strange creatures and people. I just meant that I suspect Wellman invented (or reinvented) these particular creatures for his stories. One of the best things about Wellman’s work is the way he wove his creations into genuine folklore so well that it was often difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.
Further reflection on etymology leads me to wonder if, like “culverin”, “gardinel” could be derived from French–some variant on “garder” (to keep or retain), perhaps. I haven’t found any indication that Wellman spoke French, though. A puzzlement, though perhaps one better pursued over in Cafe Society.