Monday, June 20, 2011

The Pulps: Ghost Stories

In the first half of the 20th Century in America popular fiction magazines or “The pulps” set the tone for what many Americans still enjoy reading today. 

They got their name from the cheap wood pulp used to make the paper they were printed on. They were 7 by 10 inches in size and a half an inch thick, they had rough untrimmed pages and millions of people read them. 

They were collections of stories that covered a large range of subjects including: Westerns, Romance, Thrillers, Mysteries, Super heroes, and the Supernatural.

Since these stories were written in a short story format they provided a marvelous opportunity for the reader. They allowed the reader to become the story. In other words, the details given in these stories were often sketchy so the reader had to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks.

The names of these magazines and especially their covers attract attention even today. In fact, many of them are collector’s items.

But when they were originally sold they went for a nickel or a dime. Because of the paper shortages during WWll and the rise in popularity of paperback novels, comic books, and television, the last pulp publisher stopped printing in late 1953.

Published under names, such as, “Spicy Detective” and “Weird Tales” these magazines were written by many authors that were or would become famous, such as, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, Dashiell Hammett, and Ray Bradbury. These authors would receive on average only $75.00 for their stories.

One pulp magazine that was published briefly from mid 1926 to the end of 1931 was entitled “Ghost Stories." Original editions of these today are the hardest to find so they sell for around $400.00 apiece. 

The ghost stories in these magazines revolved around real life experiences that people shared or reprints of classic ghost stories ranging from the gentle to the horrific.


I have heard and read several of these tales over the years. I share an abbreviated version of one of them here

One of my all time favorites is one entitled The Green Window. I believe, this story was written by a woman, which is probably why it is one of my favorites. It takes place in the south and it is about one window in a mansion that regardless of how many times the pane is replaced always turns an opaque green.

Many of the pulps were written in what I call an exaggerated English style. Since today we are not used to reading this cadence or style it is sometimes difficult to follow. Here is an excerpt from one story to illustrate my point:

“I wept with pure fury because I could not catch up my sword and rush in to die glutting my berserk madness in mighty strokes. But the worm-god was death-stricken and needed not my futile sword.”

When I share some of these stories I will avoid using this particular prose.

Here is a part of the first stanza from the poem “The Skeleton in Armor” that Longfellow wrote, it was reprinted in one of the pulps in 1938:

Speak, speak, thou fearful guest,
Who, with thy hollow chest,
All in rude armor dressed,
Comest to daunt me!

Happy Ghost Hunting!

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