Everlasting Pulp

These are the reasons I love to read and still love the older, archaic pulp fiction stories…and my primary motivations for reading at all.  After watching Marvel’s The Avengers this weekend, and seeing all of the comic book characters coming to life on the silver screen recently, I thought this passage from the end of Richard A. Lupoff’s interesting book was rather apt:

The style of the [Barsoom] books [by Edgar Rice Burroughs] causes them to creak badly in places, particularly in the earliest volumes which are of greatest overall value.  The Victorian ornateness of frames,. soliloquies, courtly dialogue, villains lifted straight from the gaslit stages of moustache-twirling melodrama, heroes and heroines no less overdrawn, are all at variance with modern attitudes, both in literature and common behavior. 

The plots of the books are frequently repetitious and obvious, as lacking in epth of involvement as are the actors in depth of character.  As in most of Burroughs’ works, the reliance on coincidence is not less than unconscionable.   

The question then remains: Why are the books so enduringly popular in an age when the overwhelming bulk of pulp fiction of Burroughs’ period is deservedly forgotten? 

The answer is twofold. 

First, and not to be despised, is the fact that the Martian tales, despite all of their shortcomings, remain first-class, rip-roaring adventure stories.  They are packed with action, almost always rapidly paced, vividly colored, delightfully exotic.   

They offer, to the reader beaten down by the chronic aches of reality, an escape to a world filled with glamor and romance, an opportunity to identify for a few hours with a hero who is noble, courageous, handsome, competent, respected by comrades, feared by foemen, loved by women, capable of facing any peril, taking any risk, and emerging triumphant. 

That is a strong appeal.  

The second value of the books for contemporary readers–for readers in any period–is related to the first.  It was stated that these books cannot any longer be considered valid science fiction, if indeed they could ever have been so considered.  But if not portraying a literally truthful world they surely do portray a metaphorically truthful one. 

There is a mythic veracity to the stories, an aspect of utmost urgency and quite naive honesty, which gives the Martian cycle an appeal worlds beyond that of most stories of greater sophistication and control.  These stories call out to the human psyche at a largely unconscious level, they call up the suppressed urges of the primitive man to take sword in hand and confront once and for all the vexations of the world around him, they manipulate the most powerful of human archetypes.    


— Richard A. Lupoff, Barsoom: Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Martian Vision, page 154


What are your thoughts?

One thought on “Everlasting Pulp

  1. Many of the 20th centurys greatest writers, and editors got their start in the pulps. We all have to start somewhere! I was a fan of Issac Asimov's science fiction mag for many years because of the retro pulp type flavor it had. ERB has become a real cult figure for all the reasons referenced above. Robert E. Howard is another excellent example regardless of the genre he is writing in. If you check out the list of authors who started out in pulps it reads like a who's who of 20th century literature.

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