Books, Essay

PULP FICTION, Anyone?

No, I am not talking about Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction here. But what is Pulp Fiction anyway? The real pulp fiction goes back to the magazines that used cheaper pulp paper in order to sell in great volume to a voracious reading public. These magazines had their heyday in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.

It was fiction for the people, for the guy on the crowded subway going to work, or the busy mother with five kids who got a little reading time at night. It was for the people who wanted to be caught up in a fictive dream. It was not written in a style aimed at some elite literati. Pulp fiction can be characterized as fast-paced, plot-oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story. About the American dream gone wrong and how crime does not pay. And it produced many superb writers along the way who transcended the genre.

The first “pulp” was Frank Munsey’s revamped Argosy Magazine of 1896, about 135,000 words (192 pages) per issue on pulp paper with untrimmed edges and no illustrations, not even on the cover. While the steam-powered printing press had been in widespread use for some time, enabling the boom in dime novels, prior to Munsey, no one had combined cheap printing, cheap paper and cheap authors in a package that provided affordable entertainment to young working-class people. In six years Argosy went from a few thousand copies per month to over half a million.

Some of the renowned authors such as Isaac Asimov, Jack London, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Philip K. Dick, H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Rudyard Kipling wrote for these pulps. While the majority of pulp magazines were anthology titles featuring many different authors, characters and settings, some of the most enduringly popular magazines were those that featured a single recurring character. These were often referred to as “hero pulps” because the recurring character was almost always a larger-than-life hero.

Some of the Popular Pulp Characters:

Pulp magazines often contained a wide variety of genre fiction, including: adventure, detective/mystery, sports, war, science fiction, and fantasy.

 

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28 thoughts on “PULP FICTION, Anyone?”

    1. Yes it was totally exotic. These magazines had a vast readership and it’s a pity that they are out of print now. I mean, for a writer to test his ability and experiment with his work and techniques, these magazines would have better and also from a reader’s point of view, he or she gets majority of variety to read in a lesser time.

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  1. My dad had some original Tarzan and Kull and John Carter and Conan stories, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard fiction in his library. I still love Burroughs’ writing, and Howard is still my absolute favorite of all the pulp fiction writers.

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  2. Good article, I read quite a lot of pulps. I am surprised that there’s no mention of Weird Tales (still in print and kicking, guys!!), Lovecraft, R E Howard, or Robert Bloch. I also suggest getting the four Dell magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, Ellery Queen and Hitchcock) as they print some cool stuff. I will re blog this on my eerieworlds.

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    1. Hi. I kid of regret for not nurturing much my knowledge on this topic for this topic is rather vast and extremely flexible. I wrote this on the basis of prior knowledge I have. But I am always looking forward to expand my knowledge. Thanks for sharing some titles, I will certainly look out for 🙂
      Thanks for reblogging it too.

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      1. There is much to discover about pulps. In all fairness, the problem is that “pulp” defines more a stylistic choice rather than a pure genre. As a matter of fact, pulps range from sci-fi to horror, from murder mystery to adventure and, in some cases, even romance. And these subgenres can be divided into more pieces (such as Lovecraftian Horror vs. Action Horror, or the Derlethism branch). To make things more interesting, pulp relates to visual art also. I strongly suggest to check Margarite Brundage’s covers to get a good example of what is all about. One good website is http://www.pulpcovers.com which is one of the hidden secrets of the internet.
        I would say that the musts are (you can find them free online):
        – Lovecraft stuff such as “At the mountain of Madness”, or “Dexter Ward”
        – The Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (“Red Nails” in particular).
        – The short story “The Willows” by Algernoon Blakwood. Strictly speaking, it antecedes pulps by quite a few years, but it’s a masterwork of milieu suspense that would later make Lovecraft famous. In the XXI century it might not scare as it used to, but it is truly an impressive tale. This story is a MUST READ even for people not interested in the genre.
        – Anything by Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler
        – Stuff by Clark Ashton Smith
        In more recent times, I would suggest to read early stories by Ramsey Campbell or Stephen King. King’s “The ballad of the flexible bullet” is quite a good and weird tale.
        Pulps are like a Pandora’s box, once you open the first tale you will never stop.

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      2. Wow! You are quite educated on the topic. Glad to see that you’re so enthusiastic about the Pulp. I totally agree with you that Pulps are like a Pandora’s Box. And thanks for the link, and other recommendations which I will surely check out! 🙂

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  3. Amazing, eh? I almost wish I was living in that time, where those opportunities existed and so many famous authors made their way. Of course, it’s easy to think being published in pulp magazines lead directly to fame, when 95% of the authors would have been cast aside and forgotten.
    But 135K without images to break it up! And in 192 pages. I bet the text was Bible-dense. Still. It’s beautiful.

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  4. By chance last night I was browsing through books in a used bookstore about this very subject. Focused on the artwork of pulp magazines and book covers to be specific. I have to say I find the entire subject interesting including the history of the publishers involved. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on pulp ficiton.

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