Pulp fiction is the popular fiction published on cheap wood pulp paper between 1920 – 1955. The publications covered a variety of reading interests. A reader could read stories of adventure, horror, romance, science fiction, mystery, detectives, and westerns. It was a way for the reading public to escape from the realities of the Depression of the 1930s and the two world wars. Bright, lurid magazine covers caught the eye and the interest of the public. It was all to be found at the corner newsstand.
What was the format of a typical pulp fiction magazine?
A magazine would typically contain a short novel with two or three shorter works. Poetry would be included, as well, depending upon the genre of the particular publication. Advertisements filled every available space selling everything from medicinal cures to boats. All of this could be purchased for a dime.
Who wrote the stories?
Some of the 20th century’s best-known authors got their start writing for the pulps. If you were after hard-boiled detective stories you could find Dashiell Hammett writing of Phillip Marlowe in the pages of Black Mask. Erle Stanley Gardner, Raymond Chandler, and Carroll John Daly could also be found in Black Mask. Or you could find The Shadow by Walter Gibson. You could also find great detective action in competing publications such as Dime Detective, Thrilling Detective, or Ten Detective Aces.
You could read Frederic Brown in Thrilling Mystery magazine for horror and the fantastic. Isaac Asimov, Frederic Pohl, L. Sprague de Camp, and Robert E. Howard all found avenues for their stories in Argosy, Fantastic Stories, Weird Tales, and Galaxy. Zane Grey, Max Brand, Luke Short all could be read in such publications as Lariat Stories, Western Stories, or Star Western. All of these authors, and many more, got their start in writing for the pulps.
They got paid a few cents a word and churned out an amazing amount of work. At 2 cents a word, an author would have to be very busy in order to make a living. Most pulp writers never achieved more success than that of being in print in the pulps. A few, like some of those listed above, we’re able to go on and write some of the best mystery, western and science fiction literature of the 20th century. They rose above just writing fiction and carried to the next level: literature. Some authors went from the pulps into the new field of writing for television in the 1950s.
What Happened to Pulp Fiction?
During the 1950s, with the introduction of television, pulp fiction disappeared. The pulps gradually gave way to digests and the modern magazine forms we see today. The pulp writers were generally forgotten until a new insurgence of interest began in the 1980s and 1990s. Copies of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Black Mask can bring prices of one to two hundred dollars or more. Movies have been made from pulp characters. One of the pulps is even back in publication. Weird Tales is published on a quarterly basis still specializing in the fiction of the fantastic and bizarre.
Pulp fiction was a great avenue to escape the mundane and escape into a world of gangsters and good guys, cowboys, and cattlemen, spaceships, and star travelers. For a thin dime, one could read from the pens of some of the best writers of the era: the era of pulp fiction.Pulp fiction