Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “Still Valley”
I’ve run into some surprises in my series of “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the scripts Rod Serling adapted for The Twilight Zone from other writer’s stories to the original works themselves. But I wasn’t ready for what I found when I read “The Valley Was Still” by Manly Wade Wellman.
Serling’s version, given the more concise title “Still Valley”, came early in Season 3. It also aired only seven weeks after another Civil War-themed episode, “The Passersby”. And in Season 2, let’s not forget, “Back There” covered the Lincoln assassination. Why Serling’s sudden interest, fans sometimes ask, in the so-called War Between the States? Because the country was in the midst of observing its centennial then.
Besides, the conflict, which pitted brother against brother, provided a perfect backdrop to some of Serling’s most common themes: How do we fight for something, and why? How far are you willing to go to achieve victory?
Anyone who’s watched “Still Valley” knows by the end how far Joseph Paradine, an advance scout for the Confederate army, is willing to go. He wants to win, but not at any cost. (And if you haven’t watched this one, you may want to fix that before rejoining us. Spoilers ahead, naturally.)
Fans usually recall this episode as one of TZ’s famous “statue” episodes — ones that featured numerous cast members standing perfectly still, as if they were statues. We see this:
- In Season 1’s “Elegy”, where three astronauts stumble across a planet where everyone (save a mysterious caretaker) is discovered frozen in various tableaus.
- In Season 4’s “The New Exhibit” with the wax figures on Murderers’ Row.
- In Season 5’s “A Kind of a Stopwatch”, any time the ever-chatty Patrick Thomas McNulty presses the button on said stopwatch and watches everyone around him just … stop.
And of course we see it here. Indeed, the sight of an astonished Paradine (played by Gary Merrill) walking through rows and rows of Yankee troops standing stock-still is probably the one thing that most fans remember about this episode.
But it wasn’t that way in Wellman’s short story.
Everything up to that point tracks with the Twilight Zone version pretty closely. We join Paradine and his colleague Dauger as they arrive on the outskirts of a town named Channow. Paradine, clothed in a captured Yankee uniform, is wondering why the Yankees, who should be massed in Channow, aren’t making a sound.
He cautiously descends into the town, navigating a stillness so deep that he and his horse find it unnerving. Yet the Yankees he finds aren’t standing like statues. They’re sprawled on the ground, “like tin soldiers strewn on a floor after a game,” Wellman writes.
I can’t deny that makes more sense. If you put a sleeping spell on someone who was standing, surely he’d just drop, not freeze in place. But it’s hard to deny the visual appeal of the TZ approach. Seeing Paradine discover the Yankees standing there like mannequins (or frozen mid-action) is more startling — and it fits better with the black-magic theme, I think.
So then he hears a noise and finds Teague, right? Not exactly. The character in Wellman’s story reveals himself voluntarily. Just as Paradine is informing the supine soldiers that they’re his prisoners, and that they should get up now, he hears a voice:
“Yo’re wastin’ yore breath, son.”
And there he is, a bearded old man in tattered clothes. “I spoke to ‘em, an’ they dozed off like they was drunk,” he says. It’s easy, from the description Wellman provides, to picture Vaughn Taylor, the heavily made-up actor who appeared in this and four other Zone episodes.
The words he used, of course, came from a special book, which he immediately shows to Paradine. But in the short story, it’s not simply titled “Witchcraft”, as it is in the TZ version. It says, “John George Hohman’s Pow-Wows or Long-Lost Friend”. Guess I can see why Serling would want to change that!
At this point, Paradine takes a half-hour tour of the soldiers (no time for that on TV) and finds papers that confirm which troops they are. But he’s still skeptical of Teague’s story, which naturally leads to the demonstration we see in the Zone version. The now-frozen Paradine hears how Teague is a “seventh son of a seventh son” and how he became a master of “conjer stuff”.
Paradine is suitably impressed with this form of “occult patriotism”. But after Teague releases him, the soldier notices some hand-written edits in Teague’s book — places where the name of God has been cut out and another, more diabolical name (which isn’t spoken) put in its place.
Paradine denounces this, calling it “blasphemy”, but Teague assures him that it’s necessary. You can do somethings with God, he explains, but other things require intervention of a less divine nature. And one of those things is defeating the Union army en masse.
The choice he lays before Paradine, who Wellman describes several times as a “chivalric idealist”, is stark: The Confederates can fight it out, which takes time and wastes manpower, and will likely end in defeat. Or they can enlist the help of God’s enemy, put the whole Union army to sleep, and secure a quick victory.
Serling, of course, lays out the same dilemma in the Zone adaptation, but interestingly enough, Wellman makes it plain that they’ve been getting help from the Devil (perhaps the Howling Man?) all along. That’s why the Confederates have been winning so much in the first half of the war.
In the Zone episode, it sounds more like Teague has decided to start using the Devil’s help only now, in a last-ditch effort to ensure a Confederate win. And the business about whether Paradine is willing to become an ally of the devil is saved for the end, when he and Dauger argue the point. Either way, though, both versions are similar enough on this point.
But then things take a really surprising turn.
Wellman has Teague pushing Paradine to sign an agreement with the Devil — and in blood, no less. He makes it plain that they can’t back out now. If they don’t become his formal allies, things will take a bad turn for the Confederates. They’ll start losing.
The soldier is reluctant, but he appears to be on the cusp of accepting. He draws his sword, pricks his finger, and starts writing. And then:
Paradine galvanized into action. His bloody right hand seized the book, wrenching it from the trembling fingers. With the saber in his left hand, he struck.
A pretty stroke for even a practiced swordsman; the honed edge of the steel found the shaggy side of Teague’s scrawny neck. Paradine felt bone impeding his powerful drawing slash. Then he felt it no longer. The neck had sliced in two, and for a moment Teague’s head hung free in the air, like a lantern on a wire.
The bright eyes fixed Paradine’s, the mouth fell open in the midst of the beard, trying to speak a word that would not come. Then it fell, bounced like a ball, and rolled away. The headless trunk stood on braced feet, crumbling slowly. Paradine stepped away from it, and it collapsed upon the steps of the house.
Well, now! Wouldn’t THAT have made for a memorable scene?
Serling made it clear later in his life that he was no fan of graphic violence on-screen, so even without the strict production code then in effect, I highly doubt he would have included such a scene. Or if he did, it would have been done rather bloodlessly.
In any event, Zone fans know that Teague isn’t harmed, let alone decapitated. He gives Paradine the book (and doesn’t demand blood signing) and says that he knows he can’t live much longer. He’d rather pass the book into younger hands that can ensure the “tyrants” from the north are repelled.
On screen, Teague rejoins Dauger (and another Confederate officer, Malloy, who doesn’t appear in Wellman’s version), and they argue about whether it’s right to use the book. But on the page, Paradine discovers that Dauger has departed, leaving only a note behind. His colleagues are off trying to find the Yankees.
So Paradine uses the book to reverse the spell:
What had Teague insisted? The one whose name had been invoked would be fatally angry if his help was refused. But Paradine was going to refuse it.
He turned to Page 60. His voice was shaky, but he managed to read aloud:
‘Ye horsemen and footmen, conjured here at this time, ye may pass on in the name of”—he faltered, but disregarded the ink-blotting, and the substituted names—“of Jesus Christ, and through the word of God.”
Again he gulped, and finished. “Ye may ride on now and pass.”
The Union troops wake up, and the ensuing battle ends in victory for them. Wellman concludes:
In his later garrulous years, Joseph Paradine was apt to say that the war was lost, not at Antietam or Gettysburg, but at a little valley hamlet named Channow. Refusal of a certain alliance, he would insist, was the cause; that offered ally fought thenceforth against the South.
But nobody paid attention, except to laugh or to pity. So many veterans go crazy.
“Still Valley” is one of those Twilight Zone episodes that sort of float in the middle, as I like to say. Most fans neither love it nor hate it. It’s too intriguing and well done to just dismiss it. But many fans still don’t warm up to it. Why?
It could be simply the fact that it’s a “war” episode. The episodes Serling did that dealt with armed conflict, including the World War II ones, seldom land on top 10 lists, or even top 20 lists. They’re usually appreciated, yes, but only up to a point. Fans generally prefer the weird tales, or the sweet tales, or something else more escapist.
Or it could be that, like Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree, they find “Still Valley” to be “clichéd and unconvincing”. Or they may agree with the more generous Serling scholar Tony Albarella, who considers the episode “efficient but lackluster”, one that “neither harms nor enhances the show’s reputation”.
But I suspect that “Still Valley” fails to rate more highly with many fans because they think it has an almost pro-South bent – or at least that it’s insufficiently ANTI-South. Having a fairly likable Confederate as the protagonist makes them uncomfortable.
I get that, believe me. But I don’t think for one minute that Serling, whose repugnance for racism was glaringly evident throughout his career, considered this a pro-South story. (Heck, Wellman’s story suggests the South can win only with the DeviI’s help, which can be taken as anti-South.) I think he saw this as a fantasy tale that challenges the reader, or viewer, to ask: What’s your price? Are you willing to win at any cost, even if it means giving up your soul?
In the case of “Still Valley” and “The Valley Was Still”, that dilemma is dramatized in literal terms, right down to an old-fashioned deal with the Devil. But you can give up your soul in a metaphorical way, too. We all have devils to contend with, ones without pitchforks and horns. And we all want to win. But is there any line we won’t cross to get there?
I think Serling is saying that all of us, no matter what “side” we’re on, need to ask ourselves this hard question – before it’s too late. For this and other reasons, my grade would be higher than Zicree’s “D” or Albarella’s “C”. I’d give “Still Valley” a solid B.
So if you haven’t seen this episode for a while, I hope you’ll give it a fresh watch – and enjoy.
This isn’t the last time a Wellman tale was staged in the Serling-verse. His short story “The Devil Is Not Mocked” was adapted (though not by Serling) into an episode of the same name for Night Gallery. You can read more about it at this link.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!