Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Interesting Find - The New Sabbath Library

     First, I would like to apologize for a lack of updates on my part; the recent storms that have been wreaking havoc across the southern United States have caused a bit of  a communication problem on my end, namely the loss of internet connectivity for several days. After realizing the extant to which countless others have suffered recently as a result of these storms, I am certainly grateful that my problems were so miniscule, amounting more to a mere annoyance than anything else. Other factors have also contributed to my lack of updates, I am afraid.
     The time away from the internet, however, was not lost in idleness, as I took the time to read a few things I have been meaning to for quite some time, namely the "Mr. Wong" series of short stories, originally serialized in Collier's during the 1930s (as well as viewings of the related films, which I am thinking of writing a good deal about, concerning their relation to a topic of utmost interest to me - nativist sentiment in the early twentieth century), in addition to The Lonely Crowd, David Reisman's 1950 analysis of changing characterological structures in American culture following its emergence into the realm of post-industrial society. While I am working on these projects, I wanted to take the time to post something that some readers may find of interest; an artifact of which I can admit I am rather ignorant of. I am hoping to find any further evidence concerning it, in order to supplement the meager amount of information I have been able to accumulate thus far. In light of my interest in all things related to modern (establishment of the Qing Dynasty, and onward) Chinese history (and, more recently, popular depictions of the Orient, by way of the Occident), I recently acquired this article of ephemera:
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The New Sabbath Library - Vol.1, No. 4 - July, 1898
  While information concerning this title in particular has been lacking, information as to the publisher is easily found via a quick internet search; the company is still in business today, having been founded by one David Caleb Cook in mid-nineteenth century Illinois for the purposes of publishing small Sunday school pamphlets for local congregations. By the turn of the century, it seems Cook, with his company firmly established in Chicago, had moved into the ever-expanding fiction trade; the back cover of The New Sabbath Library explains that Cook also published a story paper entitled Young People's Weekly, which carried the same Christian messages as Library. An advertisement for Cook's publishing house, found in an 1898 issue of The Dial magazine, explains, rather succinctly, the purpose of the publication:

     "To meet the growing demand for pure literature at popular prices, we began in Aptil, 1898, the issue of a  monthly publication entitled THE NEW SABBATH LIBRARY. The success of these issues has proved to be unprecedented. Although appealing particularly to young people, they will interest all lovers of good and wholesome literature, whether young or old."

      This particular issue (Vol. 1, No. 4 - July, 1898) contains several short stories all of which feature, for the most part, individuals of foreign origins converting to Christianity, or solitary Christians making their way in a "heathen-dominated" setting. According to its advertisement, Young Peoples' Weekly (and, presumably, Library) was written by, and intended to inspire new, Christian missionaries abroad. Tales of Messianic deliverance were not the only stories to be found in these pages, however; political and social issues of the day were addressed, evidenced by the appearance of T.S. Arthur's "Ten Nights in a Bar-Room" in Library's eighth issue, which proclaimed it to be "the most thrilling and powerfully written temperance story ever produced." "The Victory of Quang Po," describing the conversion of a Chinese fisherman and his relationship with a resident of an American colonial concession, is the story I found most relevant to my current avenue of research.
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Illustration from "The Victory of Quang Po"




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Back Cover
     I found it interesting that, while the cover story is credited to a particular author, all of the issue's other stories are not accompanied by any indication of authorship. Again, given the ecclesiastical nature of the publication, however, it is not surprising that credit is not considered of much importance; the publisher obviously believed the stories' evangelical messages far outweighed any questions of authorship. For all I know, the stories could be in the vein of Munsey's early issues of the Golden Argosy, with the publisher acting as storyteller in order to fill pages. Or, it could have simply been the habit of the publisher to give credit to only those names considered "marketable," as well-known Christian authors of the time, such as Florence M. Kinglsey and J.H. Ingram, are displayed prominently in advertisements and on covers.
     The stories themselves, I must admit, leave something to be desired, and, more than likely, are not going to attract any adventure or action-story enthusiasts, nor do I believe that is the authors' intentions; if one is looking for stories to justify their current, or potential, missionary ventures, then this title certainly fulfills such a purpose. Seekers of action tales would more than likely have looked elsewhere. While certainly nativist in much of their structure, unfortunately anti-Semitism also appears in some of the stories published in The New Sabbath Library; scholar Michael N. Dobkowski has pointed out that the works of Kinglsey, as published in the Library, contributed to an understanding of Judaism as backwards and degenerate, a fact only made worse by the publication's low price of 5 cents, making it purchasable to both adults and youth alike.
     All things considered, I simply found this to be an interesting artifact from nineteenth century American escapism. While filled with piety (not unlike a majority of nineteenth century dime novels and story papers I have read, albeit without the emphasis on Jesus and Christianity, by name), and not as action-orientated as some of its contemporaries, The New Sabbath Library nonetheless offers interesting insight into the history of printed, working-class literature of the era, as well as a small view of the socio-religious atmosphere, for better or for worse, of the time.

Sources:

     Advertisement, "The New Sabbath Library - A Monthly Publication," The Dial - A Semi-Monthly Journal of LIterary Criticism, Discussion, and Information , Vol. XXV, No. 294, 16 September, 1898, 201.

     David C. Cook Publishing Company, The New Sabbath Library Vol. 1, No. 4, July 1898.

     Dobkowski, Michael N. “American Anti-Semitism: A Reinterpretation.” American Quarterly 29, No 2 (Summer, 1977): 170.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The First Marvels - The Short Life of the Fanzine "Marvel Tales;" 1934-1935

     A somewhat recent discussion on a few mailing lists I am subscribed to led me to think a bit more about pulp fandom, science fiction fandom, and, really, all fandom, I suppose. My view that the SF fandom that existed years ago, that produced the great fanzines as well as the great writers of later years, is slowly fading away as a newer, less individually-productive group of "fans" emerges was met with some skepticism, but I still believe it to be true, nonetheless ( I do believe, however, the opposite to be the case in regards to pulp fandom). My thoughts and readings on the nature and history of fandom (science fiction, for the most part) prompted my writing about a particular, short-lived series that is amongst my favorite titles: Marvel Tales.
     Marvel Tales has an interesting, and somewhat confusing history, as it is not quite certain if it was originally intended as a single series that underwent a name-change or was a compliment to an existing series, compounded by the fact that it did not survive past its fifth issue. The science fiction fan community had grown out of the correspondences between readers of professional magazines, such as Amazing Stories and Astounding, who had been contacting one another via those magazines' letters pages. With the deepening of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the fan community began publishing their own works, in part as a response to what was seen by many at the time as a "slowdown," or lack of originality and drive by many of the authors writing for the professional periodicals. Among the earlier of these was a series simply titled Science Fiction (with the subtitle "The Advance Guard of Future Civilization") and was produced in 1933 via mimeograph machine by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Cleveland science fiction fans who had been avid readers of Amazing Stories for years; the third issue of this short-lived, five issue series featured "The Reign of the Super-Man," a short novelette (under Siegel and Shuster pseudonym "Herbert S. Fine") chronicling the evil wrought by a nigh-unstoppable √úbermensch - a character that would eventually be remolded and reintroduced five years later as Superman, in Actions Comics No. 1.

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The first issue of Siegel and Shuster's Science Fiction.

     Marvel Tales was another such title, the brainchild of William L. Crawford, a science fiction follower and aspiring publisher, who had originally planned to produce a series entitled Unusual Stories. Of his upcoming title, Crawford wrote to other fans in a four-page "preview:"
"Science fiction should have a place in the literature of today. It does not occupy that position now, we believe, because of the restrictions placed on it by short-sighted editors and publishers. They use only tales which follow certain stereotyped forms. They avoid the "off-trail" story because it violates one or another of their editorial taboos, with the result that science fiction has been sinking into the mire of the commonplace."
      With his editorial intentions made known, that his magazine would encroach upon "taboos" within the SF field, Crawford released Unusual Stories in, fittingly, a rather unusual manner: the premiere issue (March 1934), the first digest-sized science fiction publication, was sent to readers in two, separate halves. An entire, complete edition was never published.

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     A second issue failed to appear as well; in its stead, Crawford released Marvel Tales No. 1 (May 1934), which contained many of the stories that the publisher had promised would appear in Unusual Stories. Marvel Tales seemed a combination of both weird-horror and SF, with its inaugural issue containing stories by writers such as Howard Phillips Lovecraft ("Celephais") and Lloyd Arthur Eshbach ("The Man with the Hour Glass"). Actually, Crawford did business with Lovecraft throughout Marvel Tales' existence, printing many of his stories, and even publishing the first, and only, book of Lovecraft's work to be released during the author's lifetime, The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936). A second issue, dated July/August of 1934 and expanded by twenty pages (along with three variant covers) was released, followed by the sixty-eight page Winter 1934 issue, containing the first published fiction by Robert Bloch ("Lillies"). The March 1935 issue, impressively expanded to 108 pages, contained stories such as "The Doom that Came to Sarnath" (Lovecraft), the first installment of the serial "The Nebula of Death" by George Allan England, and Clifford Simak's religio-science fiction tale "The Creator."

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Marvel Tales Vol. 1 No. 4 - March/April 1935

     Following the first few issues of Marvel Tales, Crawford sought to expand his reach by announcing a series of books (including the afore-mentioned Shadow Over Innsmouth), in addition to finally publishing a forty-eight page second issue of Unusual Stories (Winter 1935). The previous season (Summer 1935) saw the release of the fifth issue of Marvel Tales, significantly larger than its predecessors in its dimensions, and containing the second installment of "The Nebula of Death," as well as "Man from Makassar" by Carl Jacobi, among other stories. While a sixth issue did indeed make it to the proofing stage (containing yet another printing of "Innsmouth"), No. 5 was the final issue of Marvel Tales, a result of low sales combined with Crawford's "biting off more than he could chew" in regards to expanding his publishing domain.
     Williams L. Crawford is acknowledged by many SF historians for reinvigorating the genre during a lull in its early years. True to his claim, Crawford sought to "go against the grain" as it were regarding what was being published in science fiction - he printed Simak's "The Creator," refused by other publishers due its religious nature, and he was the first to accept the serialization of P. Schuyler Miller's "The Titan," which had been rejected by professional editors in light of its descriptions of sexual relations on Mars . Two years after Marvel Tales had folded, Astounding Science Fiction, which had returned after a brief hiatus, began a new era of SF with its hiring of John W. Campbell, Jr. as editor; other changes in the science fiction magazine industry, from Amazing Stories to Wonder Stories, in many cases, are attributed to Crawford. SF historian Michael Ashley, in his The Time Machines - The History of Science Fiction Magazines, credits Crawford with not only injecting much needed inertia into the genre, but also as acting as inspiration for later attempts to challenge science fiction orthodoxy, exampled by Harlan Ellison's 1967 work, Dangerous Visions.
     Again, Marvel Tales is one of my favorite titles; short-lived series have always garnered my interest, and I find Simak's "The Creator" (and the issue of Marvel Tales that featured it) to be amongst some of my favorite works. But, it is also the fan aspect that I find most interesting about the title - that a group, which includes Siegel, Shuster, Crawford and a host of others, not only produced work that stands side-by-side with professional publications, but that they also were active in such a "back-and-forth" flow, an inter-connectivity between professionals and fans that helped shape an entire genre of literature. I do no believe that such a relationship, such a community, will carry on into future years - while many who helped shape that world are still participatory and are still "living it," such activity (again, in my mind) is rapidly disappearing, to be replaced by a generation of "fans" whose notion of active participation consists of posting in online forums the extensive nature of their Star Wars action figure collection. At the risk of making posts too long (yet again) I will place any further comments I have regarding this, appropriately enough, in the Comments section. As always, I sincerely thank you for reading, and for your time.
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Marvel Tales Vol. 1 No. 5 - Summer 1935


Sources:

     Ashley, Mike. The Time Machines - The History of the Science Fiction Magazines from the Beginning to 1950. Liverpool University Press: Liverpool, 2000. 81, 82.

     _________ and Robert A.W. Lowndes, ed. The Gernsback Days - A Study of Evolution of Modern Science Fiction from 1911 to 1936. Wildside Press: Holicong, 2004.

     Sanders, Joe ed. Science Fiction Fandom. Greenwood Press: Westport, 1994.

     Tymn, Marshall B. and Mike Ashley, ed. Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines. Greenwood Press: Westport, 1985. 401-404.

     Images of Science Fiction and Unusual Stories ( as well as Marvel Tales No. 5) are courtesy of The University of Florida Special Studies and Area Collections and the Galactic Central pulp magazine cover archives, respectively.

     Issues of Science Fiction, including "Reign of the Super-Man," can be read at The University of Florida's Special Studies and Area Collections webpage, http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00077088/00001/1j.

     And many thanks to Robert Lichtman for pointing out a few errors on my part regarding early fanzines that have since been rectified.