Charles Beaumont on pulp fiction
One of the best pieces ever written on the real pulp fiction of the last century was done by Charles Beaumont for Playboy back in 1962. Thanks to Adventurehouse.com the article is available once again in full. I was struck by the opening paragraphs and wonder if kids today are still drawn to books and magazines the way we were or if it's video games and special effects movies that will shape their memories and creative pursuits.
THERE WAS A RITUAL.
It was dark and mysterious, as rituals ought to be, and—for those who enacted it—a holy and enchanted thing. If you were a prepubescent American male in the Twenties, the Thirties or the Forties, chances are you performed the ritual. If you were a little too tall, a little too short, a little too fat, skinny, pimply, an only child, painfully shy, awkward, scared of girls, terrified of bullies, poor at your schoolwork (not because you weren’t bright but because you wouldn’t apply yourself), uncomfortable in large crowds, given to brooding, and totally and overwhelmingly convinced of your personal inadequacy in any situation, then you certainly performed it. Which is to say, you worshiped at the shrine of the pulps.
What were the pulps? Cheaply printed, luridly illustrated, sensationally written magazines of fiction aimed at the lower and lower-middle classes. Were they any good? No. They were great.potent literary drug known to boy, and all of us suffer withdrawal symptoms to this day.
No one ever kicked the pulps cold turkey. They were too powerful an influence. Instead, most of us tried to ease off. Having dreamed of owning complete sets, in mint condition, of all the pulp titles ever published, and having realized perhaps a tenth part of the dream—say, 1500 magazines, or a bedroomful—we suffered that vague disenchantment that is the first sign of approaching maturity (16, going on 17, was usually when it happened) and decided to be sensible.
Accordingly, we stopped buying all the new mags as fast as they could appear, and concentrated instead upon a few indispensable items. Gradually we cut down until we were keeping up the files on only three or four, or possibly five or six, publications. After a few years, when we had left high school, we got the number down to two. Which is where most of us stand today. We don’t read the magazines, of course. But we go on buying them. Not regularly, and not in any sense because we want to, but