Monday, February 20, 2017

Pulp Regression: Regress Harder

Much has been said in Pulp Revolution circles about readers/authors hitting a wall with contemporary Fantasy & Sci-Fi and looking to older, forgotten masters for inspiration and entertainment. Going back to Heinlein & Asimov, and then going back even further to Howard & Burroughs.

Having spent the last sixteen years or so writing in a vacuum broken up with occasional screams into the wilderness, I ended up doing something similar, but different, when I hit my dissatisfaction point with the state of modern speculative fiction.

It was around 1999-2000 and Vector Prime hit the Star Wars Expanded Universe with grimdark the size of a moon. After a couple disappointing reads, I drifted away from the series that had consumed my existence in the 1990s and looked for high adventure and daring deeds elsewhere, only to find Science Fiction was obsessed with philosophical navel-gazing and Fantasy in the early 2000s was a mix of clunky Tolkien ripoffs and Harry Potter (I tried reading And the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone but found it boring and didn't get far). If I hadn't found Discworld, I would've abandoned reading speculative fiction altogether after I finished The Lord of the Rings and then The Silmarillion.

So I went back further. College provided me with a broad scope of reading material, but just about anything from the 20th Century studied at the academic level is painfully boring or trying to beat you over the head with its message. You have to look at the popular authors that most professors deem beneath them to find the fun stuff.

Fortunately I landed in the Medieval/Renaissance/Classics camp, where you could pursue a degree and actually enjoy what you were reading. Grand epics, titanic struggles, supernatural events, the horrors and heroics of war, love, loss, tragedy, human triumph, philosophy and even comedy.

By virtue of there being fewer extant sources of literature from the pre-Gutenberg era, what was preserved was a wider spread of academic study than more modern time periods.

That's because what was preserved was what these people wanted to read over and over. They felt these stories had value worth preserving. Homer, Chaucer, Malory, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Kidd, More, Erasmus, Dante; any one of these provided a more satisfying and educating experience about human nature than anything I read in class from the “Moderns.” Plus, once you got past the archaic language, it was downright fun and scratched a massive pulpy itch that I didn't even know I had. You don't need to learn Old English to enjoy Beowulf when perfectly good translations exist.

Unconsciously, I had regressed to Tolkien, and then deciding to follow his example, I decided to look at what he drew inspiration from and regressed further to the age of Myth.

Where am I going with this?

If the ballads and epics of history inspired Tolkien, they also inspired the writers of the pulps. Robert E. Howard pulled “Cimmeria” out of Herodotus and turned it into something different for Conan. I think there's real value for the Pulp Revolution to look at what the Golden Age authors were themselves stealing from.  

Besides, Beowulf's great. Everyone should read it. 


Nathan said...

Jeffro's looking beyond Appendix N. I've been dredging up connections between the romantics and C. L. Moore as well as the role of French adventures in inspiring the pulps (Lupin, Fantomas, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Three Musketeers). The pulps were a part of the Great Conversation of Western literature; however, we've just started scratching the surface on who in the past they were talking to. The more eyes the better.

buscaraons said...

Agreed. I've been noting for years that the alpha pulps: Orlando Furioso, Tirant lo Blanc, El Cid and other late medieval stories were the first pulps. They're such a blast to read and the writers were plagiarizing each other. The audience couldn't care less as they wanted to be entertained and they were.
Arsene Lupin is such a fun character and I found his stories to be poignant because of an underlying melancholy. So is Rouletabille who partially inspired Tintin

I think we need to investigate the medieval romans and their influence on pulps.