Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pulp Fans From Afar

As an editor at the Pulp Magazines Project, one of my primary duties is to read and answer many of the emails and correspondences we receive, and let me assure you, we receive a good deal! Everything from research inquiries, to offers of pulp scans, to simple thanks for putting many of these hitherto-lost treasures online for all to read, and I do my best to answer all to the best of my ability. The measure of appreciation, whether in the form of Facebook “likes,” and Twitter followers, or the aforementioned emails, is truly inspiring, and bodes well for not only the continuance of pulp fandom, but also its growth in the years to come.
As I said, a good number of emails come the PMP’s way, and they range from questions pertaining to a particular series, or author; to appraisals of pulp values; to basic information regarding the medium, from new fans who just happened across the site. Shortly after starting work on the PMP, I received one email in particular which stands out, and has led, on my part, to a greater understanding of both what pulp magazines have meant, and continue to mean, to those who cherish the literature found therein, and just how broad that spectrum of readers truly is.
The letter in question was from a Mr. Jiří Valík, in the Czech Republic, reproduced verbatim here because I believe the spirit of the text would be lost otherwise:

Dear Pulp magazines project,
Im sorry for my simply and insufficient english. I´m 50 years old man, and I was born in east europe as ordinary men without better school. In the chilhood we must learn russian language. We hated it. For many of us, our dream was western world, western stands for life, work, and also western culture, with Marylin Monroe, John Carter, ... Now in autumn of life I have sometime free time, and I spend it in learnin english, as self-learn person.

Your webside is very good aid for it and very inspirational, because recommendered literature as Jack London or Waltter Scott, and similar astonishing novels, has difficult grammar. Thank You for this amazing work, thank you for remmebrance of childhood with dreams full of hopes.
                Very much successes in 2014.          J. Valík

I found this tremendously fascinating, as it had never occurred to me that pulp magazines could be used as a method of instruction in English, in other countries.
 The notion of pulp magazines as a conduit for teaching English has been addressed before; Erin Smith, in her work Hard-Boiled: Working Class Readers and Pulp Magazines (Temple University Press, 2000) examined, among other topics, the ads appearing in Black Mask that promised to teach readers (native, and non-native, alike) how to speak “just plain, every-day, straight-from-the-shoulder, man-to-man English – the kind you and I use every day,” for the purposes of expanding potential social mobility, or employment opportunities. This, as far as immigrants are concerned, is in a similar vein to the many "Americanization" programs common at the turn of the century, geared towards the assimilation of an ever-increasing immigrant population into the American fold. Mr. Valik’s experiences differ in a significant way from that narrative, however – he is not an immigrant, but rather a citizen residing in his homeland, reading the “plain, every-day, man-to-man English” of the pulps as a self-educative measure, one gladly undertaken.

While my curiosity was certainly piqued by Jiří's use of pulps in pursuing a better understanding of the English language, his comments regarding learning Russian in school, and his youthful dreams of Western cultural icons intrigued me further. I emailed back, thanking him for writing and for sharing his interests, and asked him to elaborate further, particularly on how he came across the PMP, and what he enjoyed the most in these scanned texts:

Thank you for your mail Mr. Madison. Very much.

Your site I found  with headworld John Carter + pulp magazine in google.
John Carter, Tarzan and similar heroes in the seventies was publicly burn in our school stove, despite sorrow and anger all young boys. Just now in 2013/14 on free websides I realize how many another else goodys and badies we can learned. The best magazine and story on your site I realize part´s in Blue Book. Amazing work of illustraror from the thirties help for imagination in reading (and dreaming).
Thank your for your work. The scans in this site are gorgeous, and it has unusual taste for reading. I sometime visit the gutenberg site, it is too perfect but without enchant old pages.
The specific flavor this scans is very inspirational. More inspirational than TV or new cinema.
Compliment with great english, is funny for me. I know that it long way before me, but I am on the road (with sentence Jack London). Fluent reading is goal, just as the buying reprint´s magazines from Amazon.

Pulp Magazines Project is new and I wish him very many reader´s and fan´s.
Thank also to you.

American pulp heroes, fueling imaginations and dreams of boys half a world away, despite their banning by official censors – can there be any stronger statement of a medium’s fundamental importance and cultural significance? I do not believe so. It is one thing to learn that that these stories had fans abroad; that is interesting enough, in and of itself. But to hear from someone who, not only read pulps despite their banning, but so valued them, along with the Western ideals they represented in one form or another, that he actually began tracking them down, decades later? 

I am fairly certain this is an aspect not touched upon a great deal on the part of pulp historians, and one I would like to investigate further; the pulp’s role as a kind of subversive literature, in the face of socialist or authoritarian censors, in other nations, in addition to its (possible) role as a method of instruction in American history and culture. Absolutely, it is well-known how films, rock music, and other aspects of Western popular culture infiltrated the Iron Curtain, despite the best efforts of the “thought police” – but the fantastic, wholly American-born literature of the pulps as another aspect of that rebellion, is something I had never considered prior. The notion that a literary form that, for many years and decades, has been maligned by popular and academic writers alike could have served such a purpose is worthy of acknowledgement, and I am grateful for Mr. Valik’s bringing it to my attention.

I am looking forward to further correspondences with Mr. Valik; although his modesty forces him to disagree, his English is obviously improving with each email I receive, and to think that the pulps, and the PMP, have played some small part in that, alongside his own dedication and passion for the literature, is a good feeling, indeed. I am also pleased to say that Mr. Valik’s enthusiasm for the pulps, and the stories and characters they carried, has not subsided, if his most recent letter is any indication:

I watch periodically three webside in U.S. (your Pulp, Gutemberg and, and I must say for practicality Gutemberg and Archive are very good, but for inspiration is best The Pulp Magazines . . . I wish to you the increasing popularity for Magazines Project, and thank for new May issues!

     To Jiří, I say thank you for your readership; you’re a true pulp fan and we are happy, and honored, to have you aboard!