DIAGNOSIS: PULP by Tommy Hancock
FIRST, AN EXPLANATION-
If you’ve written or read Pulp for a while, then you’ve been asked the question…Just What is Pulp?? Although there is no definitive answer and likely never will be, the purpose of this column is to look at stories, books, movies, audio shows, etc., and to determine, in this columnist’s opinion if works covered qualify as pulp. If they do, why and of course if they don’t why not? Now, I am the same individual who put forth a few months ago why the movie THE WIZARD OF OZ could be considered Pulp. Some of you agreed, some of you were neutral, and some of you still think I should be strung up for such an opinion. Well, we’ll see if I can please all of you at some point. Yeah, right.
In order to do this column, though, I had to find or devise a definition, a set of parameters to follow that I could apply to whatever I was looking at and determine its level of Pulpiness. A newly formed group designed in part to do just that, PULP DEFINED, has come up with a definition that I think fits Pulp well and will be the one I use for this column. By this definition, Pulp is-
fast-paced, plot-orientated storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists and creative descriptions and clever use of turns of phrase, words, and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.
Now, there will be some more specific points I bring out that will flesh out this definition, but overall this is the standard by which DIAGNOSIS: PULP will be looking at various tales of derring do…or don’t…and diagnosing them as Pulp…or something else…. Stay tuned!
PULP FICTION OR PULP LITERATURE?
Another question just as myriad and varied as ‘What is Pulp’ came crashing down on me in various ways this weekend. For those who don’t know, among the many hats I wear, I am the Editor in Chief and a partner in Pro Se Productions, a company who is focused on producing quality pulp fiction by various creators. In pursuit of selling said fiction, Pro Se plans to spend some time at conventions, conferences, and other venues (including our very own PULP ARK). Our first such event was the Arkansas Literary Festival, held this weekend (April 9-10 for vendors) in Little Rock. This event, which brings in authors of all sorts from all over, boasted over 7,000 guests last year and expected 9,000 this year. I didn’t see anywhere near that walk by our badly placed vendors’ table or anyone else’s. But something I did discover, both from the scattered passers-by we had as well as fellow vendors is that many do not know that a majority of fiction they grew up reading or even read today could qualify as Pulp Fiction AND many of them don’t feel even today that Pulp Fiction should be considered literature.
Now in all truthfulness, I knew that this mindset of people looking down on Pulp and considering it non literature or worse existed and has since Pulp began. But discovering it face to face in several people all at once over two days was a bit staggering. And got me to thinking of the question myself, which leads me to make this the topic, albeit briefly, of my first diagnosis…Pulp- literature or something else?
Instead of giving you in depth analysis and my opinion, I’m going to approach this diagnosis a tad differently. First, a smattering of comments I heard this weekend.
“Pulp fiction? You mean stuff that reads like that Travolta movie watches? That’s mixed up crap!”
“Pulp achieves nothing for the reader except escapism. There are no levels, there is no higher purpose for Pulp like there is in literary works.”
“Heroes are cool, but Pulp gives us unattainable ideals. No one can be The Shadow or lives a life that’s as rapid fire as Pulp is.”
“Pulp? You mean that stuff hack writers wrote so they could eat back in the Depression? People still like that stuff?”
“Pulp aspires to nothing. That’s why it can cross so many genres, because in the end, unlike real literature, Pulp aspires to nothing.” (This last comment was made by an author at the Festival who writes detective stories.)
OK, again, no deep philosophy and such on this one, but let me comment on each of these-
1. Yeah, heard this one a lot. Even had discussions about why the movie is a Pulp movie beyond its title. This one won’t go away for awhile.
2. We don’t read to escape?? I missed the memo. Also, if Pulp doesn’t have layers, can anyone explain to me how Phillip Jose Farmer pulled enough out of Doc Savage and Tarzan to give birth to the Wold Newton Family (And that’s just one example)
3. We live in a world where people really are putting on masks and tights and going to try to save their little bit of the world. And maybe it’s not bullet riddled, but the last time I checked I’m living faster than Lamont Cranston could fly.
4. Yes, people still like it, as is evidenced by all the new publishers coming out as well as conventions for such work!
5. Pulp aspires to good storytelling, interesting characters, and fascinating, thought provoking plots. Much like the blurb on the back of this person’s book read. Yep, no aspiration here.
I also heard things about Pulp being overly descriptive, too purple prose-y, long on flower and short on substance, etc.
Now in response, I will throw in two different definition of literature-
•The body of written works of a language, period, or culture.
•Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value: "Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity" (Rebecca West). (American Heritage Dictionary)
LITERATURE-literature (ˈlɪtərɪtʃə, ˈlɪtrɪ-) — n written material such as poetry, novels, essays, etc, esp works of imagination characterized by excellence of style and expression and by themes of general or enduring interest (World English Dictionary)
Hmmm. Written work of a certain period. Imaginative and creative writing. Artistic. Works of imagination. Style and expression. Themes of general or enduring interest.
Wow. Sounds like Pulp to me.