August 04, 2011
Writing to be read
A while back I pointed out this pair of paens to the pulps. The Wall Street Journal recently examined the actual substance of the genre in Allan Massie's review of The Big Book of Adventure Stories, edited by Otto Penzler.
Massie writes fondly of a time when the point of storytelling was (strangely enough) to tell a story. The result was "their day's version of the modern action movie." Not always good, often quite awful, but the "masters of popular fiction always play by the rules. And rule No. 1 is to grab the reader at once."
Somerset Maugham, Massie reminds us, defended the pulps much as G.K. Chesterton had fifty years earlier. Their authors, Maugham noted, wrote stories that "defeated time." And yet the critics "have the ingratitude to throw [them] aside with a sneer and look down upon their authors. It is graceless."
My only beef with Massie's analysis is his claim that these "stories belong to a time when our culture was essentially literate. That time has passed." No, these stories belong to a time when writers wrote to be read. Now their children and grandchildren work in television, and write to be watched.