Pulp Novels: a Golden Age of Fiction

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  • Topic: Pulp magazine, Raymond Chandler, Street & Smith
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Joshua Winchester
Prof. Melissa Winters
English Comp
Persuasive Research Essay Final Revised
December 6, 2011
Pulp Novels: A Golden Age of Fiction
Imagine a young boy walking down the street during the worst days of the Great Depression. He stops at a newsstand, and pulls out a dime from a nearly worn pants pocket. Holding the dime in his hand, he surveys the long rows of magazines with their glossy covers and wild titles. Upon selecting a magazine, he surrenders his dime to the newsman, then hurries home to sit in his room, wide-eyed and filled with excitement at his purchase. The pulp novels of the 1930’s and 40’s are a form of fiction worth reading, due to their rich history, exciting characters and the fact that many pulp novel authors would go on to write actual novels later in their careers.

What is a pulp novel? Simply put, a pulp novel is a magazine printed on paper made from the leftovers in paper mill vats. But the more elaborate definition is that pulp novels are imagination expanders. They are capable of taking a reader and transporting them into worlds beyond imagination. Pulp novel historian John Dinan says, “There was a pulp […] magazine for all tastes: Western, science fiction, romance, detective, horror, railroad adventures and so forth-the subject matter was endless” (57). Pulp magazines were a literary form that “had many millions more readers than did Scott Fitzgerald” (Bosworth 57). For the better part of three decades, pulp magazines delighted readers of all ages, children to adults. To many, pulp magazines are a source of constant wonder and delight. But for some, they are regarded with disgust. Many academic historians feel that “popular culture clutters people’s heads with ideas that prevent them from accepting the professional’s account of what really happened” (Rotella 30). Rotella believes, though, “professionals in an elite capital of disenchanted modernity may be especially sensitive to the pull of reenchantment” (Rotella 33). Rotella also states that a professor who is comfortable in whatever academic field he is studying, may be seized with a passion for a subject that is so strong, he is willing to take a risk and uncozy himself to pursue that subject (Rotella 33). Indeed, pulp magazines are a form of fiction so fantastic, that it can inspire readers to take up a pencil or go to a keyboard and make their own attempt to write a story of an outlandish and amazing nature.

Pulp magazines can be inspiring due to the rich history that is responsible for these publications. Foremost in this history is Frank Munsey, considered by many to be the father of pulp novels. Munsey first broke into the business of what would become the pulps, when “he wanted to publish a cheap fiction weekly of inspirational stories for children” (Goulart 10). The end result of that wish would be the magazine entitled Golden Argosy, Freighted with Treasures for Boys and Girls, first published in 1882. Over time, the magazine would be trimmed down to its most remembered title Argosy, which evolved from a magazine for children into a magazine for teens and adults, a pulp novel. Along the way, other publishing firms were inspired to break into the pulp game. Chief among these publishers was the firm of Street and Smith.

All forms of fiction have their beginnings in the most unlikely of people. Francis Scott Street and Francis Shubael Smith came together in 1855 to form Street and Smith Publishers. In 1903, they followed Munsey into the pulp game with their first magazine entitled Popular Magazine. These men knew a goldmine when they saw one, so they expanded their readership by expanding their line of magazines. Over time, Street and Smith would add more titles to their group including Detective Story, Western Story etc. Street and Smith Publishers continued to publish story magazines, surviving the transition of dime novels to pulpwood magazines (pulp novels).

Pulp magazines exploded during the 1930’s,...
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