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Pulps, Penny Dreadfuls, And Other 'weird Tales'


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#1 svent13

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 12:09 AM

I'm starting this topic up to discuss some of the lesser known stories and characters from the pulps, and also from the penny dreadful novels popular in England starting around the mid 1800's.

 

I recently picked up a copy of Wagner The Wehr-Wolf, by George W.M. Reynolds.  I'm just a short ways into it, but I will post more about it as I finish or get near to finishing it.

 

What are some of y'alls favorite old stories and characters?


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#2 Keith J Taylor

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 01:06 PM

This is a good thread, Svent13.  Wish I could contribute right away, but the sad fact is I'm pretty ignorant on this subject.  I'll follow it with interest, all right, and go do some research on the internet right now.  Of course Seabury Quinn is one writer for the pulps who's of interest.  REH mentioned him at least once ... he complained that some of his readers, or some critics anyway, thought his stories were too bloody.  "They'd probably prefer to read about the torture of some wretch, usually female, in luxurious and voluptuous surroundings," he groused, more or less, "such as Seabury Quinn's stories abound in.  No reflection on Quinn.  He knows what they want and gives it to 'em."  Quinn certainly did, and so did REH on various occasions ... Fritz Lieber described it as "girls whipping girls and similar schoolboy tommyrot."  But when REH put a scene like that into his stories, as in "The Slithering Shadow" and "Red Nails", he was often playing like hell to have his story become the subject of a Margaret Brundage cover as well as doing soft sado porn.  Or are those really the same thing?



#3 svent13

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Posted 08 March 2013 - 02:25 AM

This is a good thread, Svent13.  Wish I could contribute right away, but the sad fact is I'm pretty ignorant on this subject.  I'll follow it with interest, all right, and go do some research on the internet right now.  Of course Seabury Quinn is one writer for the pulps who's of interest.  REH mentioned him at least once ... he complained that some of his readers, or some critics anyway, thought his stories were too bloody.  "They'd probably prefer to read about the torture of some wretch, usually female, in luxurious and voluptuous surroundings," he groused, more or less, "such as Seabury Quinn's stories abound in.  No reflection on Quinn.  He knows what they want and gives it to 'em."  Quinn certainly did, and so did REH on various occasions ... Fritz Lieber described it as "girls whipping girls and similar schoolboy tommyrot."  But when REH put a scene like that into his stories, as in "The Slithering Shadow" and "Red Nails", he was often playing like hell to have his story become the subject of a Margaret Brundage cover as well as doing soft sado porn.  Or are those really the same thing?

 

Seabury Quinn is on my list of authors whose works I plan on reading in the near future.  I have read little to no of the old pulps, save for REH and maybe a couple others.  Frederick Nebel is another.  I've started reading the Khlit the Cossack stories, which I am greatly enjoying.

 

I've read a lot of critical remarks about the old pulps in general, and some of their lurid subject matter, but you can hardly blame the authors all that much.  REH was making his living at writing stories, and it's like any other job, really.  You want to keep working, you want to improve, you want better pay, you want to be promoted, you have to do what the boss wants.  Unless you're lucky enough to have your novel hit the NYTIMES bestseller list and acquire the clout to do whatever you want, you have to more or less give the editors and the customer base what they want.


Edited by svent13, 08 March 2013 - 02:26 AM.

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#4 Keith J Taylor

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Posted 12 March 2013 - 01:07 PM


Hey, agreed, Svent. They had to sell and REH presented a lot of strong, courageous women. I don't mean just warriors like Dark Agnes and Red Sonya, or charismatic, crafty leaders like Belit. Some would say that Zenobia in "Hour of the Dragon" was the classic adolescent male wish-fulfillment, the beautiful harem girl who falls in love with a guy at first sight and risks death (by torture, most likely, or worse if Xaltotun found out)to help him escape. In a lot of ways she was. But she was brave and resourceful and smart; getting into the dungeons where Conan was held and giving him the keys was no easy affair. She also gave him a knife, and as Conan reflects himself, testing the good plain sharp poniard, "whatever else the girl might be, she was proved [by this] to be a person of practical intelligence. It was no dainty dagger selected for a jewelled hilt or ornate guard, fit only for dainty murder in milady's boudoir ... [it was] a warrior's weapon."

#5 Keith J Taylor

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Posted 12 March 2013 - 01:21 PM

Getting back to penny dreadfuls ... I hope you find all the Seabury Quinn stories you want.  The Jules de Grandin stories comprise a BIG series.  And just about the ultimate 'penny dreadful" was VARNEY THE VAMPIRE, or THE FEAST OF BLOOD, first published in the mid-nineteenth century.  It was immense, over 650,000 words, because writers then were paid by the word and created the longest serials they could.  That's why Charlie Dickens was often so verbose and created such huge casts of characters.  Thank heavens he was also a dam' good writer who could sustain your interest.

 

Varney, though, was a precursor of Dracula.  I remember that serial/novel being mentioned by the protagonist in one of G.M. Fraser's Flashman novels ... a pretty fair sample of Harry Flashman's reading tastes, when he read anything.  "Trollope" was mentioned to him once, and as Fraser said, that meant one thing to Flashman -- and it wasn't the author.  I might dig up Varney on the Gutenberg project and see what it's like.

 

Best of luck with Seabury Quinn.



#6 svent13

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Posted 12 March 2013 - 01:25 PM

Hey, agreed, Svent. They had to sell and REH presented a lot of strong, courageous women. I don't mean just warriors like Dark Agnes and Red Sonya, or charismatic, crafty leaders like Belit. Some would say that Zenobia in "Hour of the Dragon" was the classic adolescent male wish-fulfillment, the beautiful harem girl who falls in love with a guy at first sight and risks death (by torture, most likely, or worse if Xaltotun found out)to help him escape. In a lot of ways she was. But she was brave and resourceful and smart; getting into the dungeons where Conan was held and giving him the keys was no easy affair. She also gave him a knife, and as Conan reflects himself, testing the good plain sharp poniard, "whatever else the girl might be, she was proved [by this] to be a person of practical intelligence. It was no dainty dagger selected for a jewelled hilt or ornate guard, fit only for dainty murder in milady's boudoir ... [it was] a warrior's weapon."

 

True.  I don't think Howard copped out to public demand in large part.  He wrote the stories he wished to write, in the manner he wished to write them.  I think he added elements from time to time for strictly commercial reasons, but I don't think those elements necessarily detracted from his stories.

 

It could be argued that the scene with Valeria being stripped and tortured in Red Nails was unnecessary, and that it could conceivably have been included in hopes of cover art with lurid imagery in order to gain sales.  I don't think the story would be lessened if that scene weren't present.  Still, the story was a great one.

 

One of the many stories I would have liked to read, had REH not ended his life so young, was another tale with Zenobia, perhaps with her as Conan's queen.  I think it would have been cool to have a story or two with an older Conan and a full-grown son of his.


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#7 svent13

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Posted 12 March 2013 - 01:37 PM

Getting back to penny dreadfuls ... I hope you find all the Seabury Quinn stories you want.  The Jules de Grandin stories comprise a BIG series.  And just about the ultimate 'penny dreadful" was VARNEY THE VAMPIRE, or THE FEAST OF BLOOD, first published in the mid-nineteenth century.  It was immense, over 650,000 words, because writers then were paid by the word and created the longest serials they could.  That's why Charlie Dickens was often so verbose and created such huge casts of characters.  Thank heavens he was also a dam' good writer who could sustain your interest.

 

I picked up Varney The Vampire along with Wagner The Wehr-Wolf, and will read it sometime over the next year.  I had known of the story for a long time now, but never bothered looking into getting a copy.

 

Charles Dickens was one of the greatest.  But speaking of being verbose, few authors, in my opinion, can hold a candle to Hugo, who added over a hundred page sideline description of the Napoleonic Wars in order to increase his word count in Les Miserables.  A friend told me once that he would be "less miserable" if he didn't have to "read the damned thing."  :D


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#8 svent13

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Posted 13 March 2013 - 08:36 PM

Yesterday I picked up a copy of The Golden Goshawk: The Adventures Of Captain Dan Marguard, by H. Bedford Jones.  It's a collection of four stories featuring the title hero, written by a man who was declared to be The King Of The Pulps.  I had never heard of him till recently, and actually, most of the old pulp writers are all new names to me.  Outside of REH, I had really not read any of the old pulp stories, and over the last two weeks, I began compiling a list of writers from the pulp of whom I plan to read their stories in the near future.  Goshawk is the first one I've gotten my hands on.  Actually, that's not true.  I also bought a copy of Wolf Of The Steppes by Harold Lamb before Goshawk, but as it turns out, I'm reading Goshawk first.

 

Anyway, the book is a pleasant treat, and the stories are quite enjoyable.  If I had to compare them to REH, I would say they're most similar to Wild Bill Clanton, though without the 'spicy' aspect.

 

I definitely recommend this collection, and look forward to reading more of H. Bedford Jones' works.


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