Friday, April 23, 2010

Legendary Pulp Fiction

Richard Matheson, I Am Legend, 1954, published in paperback

Does a book need to be 'literature' to influence the world? Matheson's 1950s pulp novel has already been filmed 3 times and is generally regarded as the touchstone of zombie stories in the same way that Bram Stoker is always invoked whenever the discussion centres on vampires. (Ironically, Matheson apparently considered his novel to be a vampire novel.) Whatever the sub-sub-genre, like Dracula, I Am Legend has captured the popular imagination.

But it's not literature! Maybe not (whatever that means), but it has captured the public imagination.

There's a lot of snobbery in this writing/teaching/publishing/lecturing business. When I was at college, one of my Literature Professors told me that Leslie Charteris (who wrote the hugely popular The Saint novels which then became a successful TV series that launched Roger Moore's career) lived nearby. I asked if Charteris was then coming into college to talk to us. The Professor said that Charteris only wrote "pulp fiction" so no-one would ever invite him. I thought that was a pity then and still think so now. The man could clearly write and write clearly and that in itself is a major achievement. His writing caught the popular imagination. Given a chance, I would rather write one novel that captured the popular imagination than two that were praised by critics as 'literature' but inspired no-one.

Orwell had a phrase for popular pulp (which I believe he acquired from Chesterton): he called them 'good bad novels'. Into this category we can also place one of Africa's greatest, Jagua Nana by Ekwensi. I like, I like, I like.

*Download I Am Legend (pdf):


Hoppy Uniatz said...

Where were you at college?

swazifiction said...

One of the London Uni colleges out near Egham in Surrey, UK

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