Tag Archives: Pulps

Howard’s Weird Tales

A colleague of mine who shares my interest in the old Pulps and in the work of Robert E. Howard kindly gave me his extra copy of an old paperback entitled Skull-Face and Other Tales. The dog-earred little book collected some of the most interesting stories Robert E. Howard wrote for Weird Tales magazine during his too-short career. The story entitled “Skull-Face” really weighs in as a novella of sorts, spanning some 127 pages and featuring dozens of characters and sinister locales in rundown sections of 1920’s London. Originally run in serial form in Weird Tales from October-December 1929, “Skull-Face” features a flawed protagonist named Steve Costigan, a man driven to hashish addiction by the horrors he witnessed serving as an infantryman in WWI. Costigan must overcome all manner of exotic villains from around the world, all serving under the titular madman himself, the enigmatic Skull-Face!

Despite some cultural insensitivity from Howard (a product of his time), the story stands up remarkably well to modern scrutiny, and will surely please Howard fans only used to reading his Conan material and its many pastiches. With the imminent release of the third Mummy movie, folks seeking some rip-roaring pulp adventure to complement the theme should look no further than this wonderful collection.

Howard wrote a number of other non-Conan tales across many genres, all in his highly descriptive, muscular style that packs maximum detail into an economy of words. Find some of the best listed below:


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Pulp Fiction: H. P. Lovecraft



Back in the day, libraries, like dictionaries, were prescriptive rather than descriptive.   Dictionaries, such as Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language and the Oxford English Dictionary, told you what words to use and how to use them.  Slang, when not excluded entirely, was largely discouraged, grammar just so, and obscenities were verboten.

No longer.   Today’s dictionaries are descriptive of all manner of words and how we use them.  Slang, obscenities, and incorrect grammar are all welcome.  They reflect the language as it is, ever changing, ever evolving, as is the culture from which it grows.

Similarly, libraries, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, recommended the best, and collected that which was considered of historical and cultural significance.  Today libraries, like dictionaries, act as virtual cultural mirrors; they reflect who we are, what we do, and what we like (and dislike).  Libraries and library collections describe the culture, they don’t dictate it.

Which brings us to the pulps.

Pulp fiction was largely ignored by libraries for the above stated reasons, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was certainly no exception.   As the culture changed, so did the libraries.  Like many other libraries across the country, the Carnegie has gone back retrospectively and filled in the gaps.  Welcome now, with open arms, are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick, Dashiell Hammett, Ray Bradbury, Clark Ashton Smith, Erle Stanley Gardner and many, many more.

And, of course, most welcome is the grandaddy of them all, H. P. Lovecraft.

I’ve been a huge Lovecraft fan since my teen years, which coincided with the first resurgance of interest in HPL in the early 60’s, via mass market paperback editions from Ballantine Books.  What could be better?  They were flat-out horror: lurid, forbidden, suggestive, and, most of all, great fun.  Here is a list of my personal top ten favorite stories by Lovecraft:

At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward are both novellas, both as close to writing a full-length novel as Lovecraft would ever get.  Prior to reading At the Mountains of Madness, I would suggest reading his literary mentor Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket .  If you do, you’ll be hard put to forget the phrase “Tekeli-li.”   The rest of the above list is comprised of short stories which vary only in degree of shock and explicitness; it goes without saying, that compared to today’s splatter horror, they are mild in execution.  However, the archetypal elements in Lovecraft’s stories provide a deeper strain of psychological horror that can be hard to shake long after the story is finished.

Ironically, after many years of being ignored, a few pulp authors, including Lovecraft, have found themselves accepted into the canon of contemporary literature by way of publication by The Library of America.  Besides Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick have received this cultural imprimatur.

Unlike many a trapped protagonist in their stories, this recognition of the lasting value of pulp fiction is better, much better, late, than never.

 – Don


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