TU’s pulp fiction collection a unique look at popular culture

TU’s pulp fiction collection a unique look at popular culture
05 Aug

The Special Collections department of the University of Tulsa’s McFarlin Library is world-famous for its holdings of manuscripts and memorabilia of such renown authors as James Joyce, V. S. Naipaul and Muriel Spark.

But also sharing shelf space with these literary heavyweights are collections of books and periodicals that aren’t quite so high-falutin’.

The library recently acquired a collection of vintage popular fiction from the early 20th century, the sort of magazines and books characterized by their luridly colored covers, their breathless titles and the cheap, unrefined wood-pulp paper on which they were printed.

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In other words, pulp fiction.

“Actually, we have a fairly extensive collection of this sort of material,” said Marc Carlson, librarian of Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Tulsa.

“People know about our collections of Joyce and other Modernist writers, the Naipaul papers and other highly literary things,” he said. “But the collection here is wide-ranging. We have a large collection of historical material and militaria — one of our biggest areas for collecting right now is World War I.”

As for the reasons why the library would also be interested in collecting and cataloging such titles as “The Indian Queen’s Revenge” by Ned Buntline, “The Deadwood Dick Library” or magazine series about long-forgotten crime fighters such as “Old Broadbrim,” Carlson has a simple answer.

“It’s a major part of the broad spectrum of modern popular culture,” he said. “This was the literature a large portion of the country was consuming in the early 20th century because it was the major form of relatively cheap entertainment.”

And it took such forms as “story papers,” newspaper-sized broad sheets devoted to fiction rather than facts; the cheaply printed and bound novels known as “penny dreadfuls” in the United Kingdom and “dime novels” in the United States.

The stories contained within these now-yellowed pages of paper, so rough one could imagine getting splinters turning the pages, were often tales of adventure in “exotic” places, or the exploits of all manner of crime fighters, or frontier fictions featuring such characters as Eagle-Eyed Zeke, Tuscaloosa Sam, Arkansas Sal and Ugly Ike.

Then there are the even less savory titles, such as a publication called “Stolen Sweets,” which is kept in a buff-colored wrapper.

“All of these will end up in one of those covers, simply for preservation purposes,” Carlson said. “But this (‘Stolen Sweets’) is, basically, 1930s smut.”

The December 1933 copy includes in its table of contents stories titled “Torrid Zone,” “Amateur Vamp” and “Just Once,” as well as boasting that this is a “very rare first edition” of the magazine.

“This is why cataloging periodicals can drive you crazy,” Carlson said. “ ‘Stolen Sweets’ was published between 1933 and 1936 or ’37, and during that time, it was produced under four different names. And, occasionally, they would just republish past issues and renumber them.”

In the climate-controlled archives on the library’s fourth floor, Carlson shows off bookcase after bookcase — 150 linear feet — of carefully arranged copies of seemingly every issue of science-fiction digests, such as “Amazing Stories,” “Analog” and “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction,” among other science-fiction titles of the time.

“This is the Jack C. Rea Science Fiction Collection,” Carlson said. “He set out to collect every issue of these magazines, although he missed a few. We’re looking to fill the gaps.

“We also have a small collection of materials devoted to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ” he said. “The show is now a field of academic study. No one’s teaching it here at TU, but we have some professors asking for depictions of strong female characters in literature.”

What is probably less known about TU’s Special Collections is that it is open to the public.

“We want people to know they can come here, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and access a great deal of what we have,” Carlson said.

To assist people in determining what they want to view, the TU library has an online archival catalog — — that allows users to search individual collections, digitized items, even collections that have not yet been properly processed for archival purposes.



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