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.

For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 05/01/2020, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Roger Scarlett

    Nice piece, Paul!

    I will indeed have to revisit this one. It’s probably been about 4 years since the last viewing. I agree that it is somewhere in the middle of the pack..maybe the lower middle. But the overall message…or challenge…of considering what your price is, is very worth taking the time to meditate on for a while. And in the middle of the shutdown taking place, now is probably a good time to do it!

    Speaking of the episodes where people stood still, you might want to add “The Trade-Ins” and “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.” I think that they qualify.

    Keep up the great work, my friend.

    • Thanks, Roger! Glad you liked it.

      It’s fun to write about the famous ones, but I also like to spotlight the lesser-known ones, hoping people will give them another try. It just seemed this one has more to offer than what we might assume at first glance. And man, I had to share the interesting and, yes, gruesome details that surface in the short story!

      As for the other episodes, yes, “The Trade-Ins” would qualify. Sure, it’s on a smaller scale than most of the others I mentioned, but still. Not sure about Number 12, though, since it involves pictures and not actors standing there. Oh, there’s also a Night Gallery that qualifies: “You Can’t Get Help Like That” anymore, which involves robots. The models in the showroom are actors standing still.

      Thanks for stopping by, Roger!

  2. I’d be a more lenient grader on this one: B+ or maybe even A-
    I like this one! But I tend to favor any of the Amer.Hist. episodes.Yikes! That original story take on the demise of the old conjurer! Nope, that scene surely wasn’t making it to network TV… thankfully! And I agree; Serling wasn’t a fan of gore in his writing. What is your source for the original stories? I’d love to get my hands on some of them? What a treat it would be to compare and contrast them with what may it the TV screen. I really enjoyed this very interesting and informative post, Paul. Always a pleasure reading your commentaries.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kathy!

      I have a book that collects a lot of Wellman’s stories called “Worse Things Waiting”. It’s available on Amazon, etc. If you like this kind of story — black magic, supernatural, fantasy type of stuff mixed with westerns and other historical periods, Wellman is your man.

      Glad to have you stop by, as always!

  3. For some reason I don’t remember this episode, even though I am 100% certain I’ve seen it. It’s one of those episodes that doesn’t stick with me for some reason, but I always like being reminded of episodes like these, and often like to rewatch them with fresh eyes after reading or hearing about them!

    I love “Back There” – that has one of my favorite endings, although I never liked the title “Back There” because it feels so generic and I can never remember it. Anyway I’ll have to give this one a rewatch. :)

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Ari! It’s fun to write about the famous ones, of course, but I also like to spotlight the ones that tend to fall by the wayside.

      Hope you get a chance to rewatch it soon. When you do, feel free to come back and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  4. It’s funny Paul. I have watched this episode twice in recent years, thinking it was the one that takes place in Peaceful Valley in season 4. As Soon as I realized I made that mistake, I thought about switching, but both times, I watched this instead. It is very well done, and I like to think that we do have limits.

    “John George Hohman’s Pow-Wows or Long-Lost Friend” – Yeah, I’d go with “Witchcraft” too.

    • Oh, interesting! Never thought about mixing those up, but it makes sense. I take it you’re a fan of “Valley of the Shadow”? I enjoy both episodes. “Still Valley” does give us some real food for thought — par for TZ in that respect. And yeah, let’s hear it for a shorter, catchier book title!

      • I do like both episodes. Depending on the time I have, I like to fill in with season four. Of course, I could watch Miniature and Passage on the Lady Anne over and over, but I do like to mix it up.

  5. I saw this episode for the first time two years ago. It’s one of those that doesn’t make the early cut in the marathons and by the time it airs you’re sound asleep. lol. I felt it was kind of middling, but it picked up by the end and given some deep thought, there’s a lot you can glean from it.

    “Having a fairly likable Confederate as the protagonist makes them uncomfortable.”

    And this is what I actually love about the story. It humanizes the Confederate. He’s also loyal to the South at the same time. He’d rather seem them lose a war and deal with the consequences than to be completely sold to the devil. I don’t think Serling even touched on slavery or racism in this episode, but he and Wellman both wanted to portray that the Confederacy was already half-way under the devil’s control and that included man’s inhumanity to their fellow man.

    But I don’t think for one minute, despite the glaring racism, that all Southerners and Confederates should simply be discarded and deemed evil white men and women. I see this biased/narrow thinking everywhere lately now with certain groups that label everyone who dares to have an opposing thought an “ist” or a “Phobe.” It’s almost unreal. (I don’t mean to say that racism is merely an opposing thought, however, it’s obviously reprehensible no matter what race is doing the hating.)

    But stories like these force us to think and remind us that not everything is simply black and white, there are many shades of grey, we are all imperfect, and most of us, if not all, fall in the grey areas too.

  6. Robert McKinney

    This is actually one of my favorite episodes. I have long been a fan of Manly wade Wellman, so it’s nice to see an adaptation of one of his stories on TZ. There were changes, but much of the original story remains, so it works. Unlike, say, that episode of Monsters or ‘The Legend Of Hillbilly John’ movie.

  7. The episode was inevitably leading to Paradine killing the old man to obtain the book, and only later realizing that the spell would require turning to Satan. Of course, there was no way that was going to happen on 60s TV. So, Paradine’s encounter with the old man seems a little … empty.

    Interestingly, we get the same situation on Night Gallery in the episode “Clean Kills and Other Trophies.” An on-screen decapitation wasn’t going to happen there either, so Serling turned to the wrath of the gods. Which, honestly, I didn’t mind as much there because it fit in context.

    And today, no one would have a problem with a prime time decapitation.

    Times changing, I guess….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: