I recently came across this article by pulpster William Campbell Gault, originally published in the Summer 1955 issue of the fanzine Grue. Fanzine scanned at the wonderful Fanac.org
by Wm Gault
There is a derogatory phrase used by critics in the more enlightened critical journals. The phrase is “pulp writing” and they use it whenever they want to deprecate a man’s technique. What they mean is the kind of writing that used to prevail in the magazines (now mostly dead) that were termed ”pulp” because that was the kind of cheap paper on which the mags were printed. Actually, “action” writing would be more nearly accurate.Well, the field produced mystery men like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and Frederick Haslitt Brennan and the prolific E. S. Gardner. Magazines like the old Argosy, Adventure, Blue Book, Black Mask, Detective Fiction Weekly would be included in the term.And these magazines produced some fine stories by some exceptionally gifted men. Any critic who took the trouble to read them would be bound to find a few stories he liked. Unfortunately, very few critics can read and oven fewer can think. I imagine what they do is have someone run old tape recordings of Edmund Wilson’s opinions and from them they get certain critic’s phrases and certain blind prejudices. Mr. Wilson was beautifully acid but not always discerning and he had a great lust for the obscure.Believe me, there is nothing personal in this diatribe; I have enjoyed about an 85 percent favorable critical reception on every book I ever turned out. If this is immodest, it is also statistical and I have clippings to prove it. Besides, I am a hack and know it. And am proud of it, in a way.My beef is concerned with the readers who might be frightened away from the print market by these hair-splitters. I love the printed medium because no time clock is involved and I hate time clocks. I want to survive in this medium, and quite possibly prevail. And we have such awesome competition, TV and the silver screen and a thousand other entertaining distractions.I want people to read and I would rather have them read Drano ads than read nothing. And the great scorn of the critics could conceivably put them out of business eventually, a very chilly commercial attitude. But they go blindly on, losing readers and alienating customers.A man like Truman Capote is searched minutely for symbolisms that give his lavender words a deeper meaning. I respectfully insist that this kind of search would find even deeper meanings in Max Brand. Because even critics can see that Hemingway is great, it distresses them that he has hair on his chest. So he is also searched for symbolism, in order that the critics may safely acclaim him, Mr. Hemingway is about as symbolic as a poke in the nose, but lucidity is a crime to critics and they must have a different reason for liking him. They don’t want to be associated with the people, those horrid things who want to buy books.Don’t listen to ’em. You go out and buy a book. If you don’t want to strain the budget, buy a two-bit book. You will find one to suit any taste, from Joyce to Spillane. But decide for yourself if you like to read. And if you do, buy some more books and get that library card. You can buy half a dozen for the price of one drink at Ciro’s.Who knows, you might even enjoy reading.—William Gault
Some things never change.
This essay was written 65 years ago but it has not dated at all. Arthur Sullivant Hoffman, the editor of Adventure often said that there was nothing wrong in well written adventure or action fiction, despite the complaints of the literary critics.
There are critics who rise above these considerations, but many of them seem content to dismiss anything outside the realm of their knowledge, whether it be past writers or genre fiction. Many are biased and look for evidence to confirm, rather than facts to inform themselves.
I enjoyed this piece immensely, Sai. I agree with Gault completely. Thanks for reprinting it!
He expressed nicely what i've thought for a long time.
You might also enjoy this other piece in similar vein.