Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reading the Pulps

Sunday, May 14

This afternoon, I finished re-reading Saul Bellow's first novel, Dangling Man, published in 1944. In its imagery of the twentieth-century American city and of life in that city, it makes me think of the stories of Fritz Leiber, Jr., for example, "Smoke Ghost" (1941), "The Hound" (Weird Tales, Nov. 1942), and "The Dreams of Albert Moreland" (1945). It also makes me think of another first novel, Hanger Stout, Awake! by Jack Matthews (1967), in its form (a series of journal entries), in one of its themes (a young man waiting to go into the army), and in the imagery of its title (dangling vs. hanging). The story in Dangling Man, such as it is, is of a man named Joseph, last name unknown (like Josef K. from Kafka's earlier novel The Trial). Dangling as he is between a kind of freedom in civilian life and regimentation in the military, Joseph spends his time reading the paper, walking from place to place, and talking--too often arguing and fighting--with his wife, his family, and his friends. He likes the comics and sometimes reads them twice in the same daily. He makes note of a lower form of art and literature, as well:

January 13
A DARK, burdensome day. I stormed up from sleep this morning, not knowing what to do first. . . . I fell back into bed and spent an hour or so collecting myself . . . . Then I rose. There were low clouds; the windows streamed. The surrounding roofs--green, raw red blackened brass--shone like potlids in a darkened kitchen.
          At eleven I had a haircut. I went as far as Sixty-third Street for lunch and ate at a white counter amid smells of frying fish, looking out on the iron piers in the street and the huge paving bricks like the plates of the boiler-room floor in a huge liner. Above the restaurant, on the other corner, a hamburger with arms and legs balanced on a fiery wire, leaned toward a jar of mustard. . . . I wandered through a ten-cent store, examining the comic valentines . . . . Next I was drawn into a shooting gallery . . . . Back in the street, I warmed myself at a salamander flaming in an oil drum near a newsstand with its wall of magazines erected under the shelter of the El. Scenes of love and horror. . . . (Meridian Books, 1960, p. 107)
In its description of a world so remote and alien from our own, this and other passages from Dangling Man are like something from science fiction, something that no longer exists, drawn from what is for us a fantasy approaching that of Coruscant in its galaxy far, far away, or an urbanized Mars of the future as in Total Recall.

The events in Dangling Man take place between December 1942 and April (the cruelest month) 1943. Joseph's entry quoted above, then, is for January 13, 1943. The magazines that Bellow's diarist might have seen on that newsstand under the El would probably have been dated February or March, but for the snapshot below of a month in the history of science fiction, fantasy, and horror pulps, I'll choose the month of January 1943. As you can see, a couple show the imagery of war. The rest might easily have come from a time of peace.

War looms over Dangling Man as it does over the January 1943 issue and cover of Weird Tales. Art by A.R. Tilburne.

War, too, on the cover of Amazing Stories. Art by J. Allen St. John.

Art by William Timmins.

Artist unknown.

Art by Robert Gibson Jones.

Art by Rudolph Belarski.

Artist unknown.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

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