Books, Culture and Society

Blazing Six Shooters and Galloping Hoof Beats

It was an era when the Western reigned supreme. Moviegoers packed theaters to watch John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry clean up the old west. Zane Grey had become America's pre-eminent Western writer, and from his adobe home on a Catalina Island hillside he produced classic tales that Hollywood soon turned into profitable films.

Blazing Six Shooters and Galloping Hoof Beats

* Thomas McNulty is the author of Trail of the Burned Man, Wind Rider, and Death Rides a Palomino. Visit him online at thomasmcnulty.com. He is also a passionate advocate of lifelong learning through audiobooks on cd collections from http://www.goldensagestories.com.

During the 1930s Americans were struggling to make ends meet as the Great Depression taxed the nations fortitude, but audiences found hope not only in the many Hollywood westerns that were being cranked out at a breakneck speed, but by the action-packed stories they were reading in pulp magazines. Perhaps no era in history coincided so fortuitously with two intrinsically American popular mediums. The film industry and the pulps complemented each other, and in many ways they nurtured each other.

And while the plots were sometimes simple, they were by no means simplistic. These were characters driven by a strong moral code, by their faith in their country, and by the ability to overcome obstacles with intelligence, compassion, and of course, brawn. And since the audience demanded action, the pulp writers dished it out in hot paragraphs loaded with blazing six-shooters and galloping hoof beats.

There is a currently a pulp renaissance underway and numerous companies have begun successful reprint publications from the pulp era’s Golden Age. Numerous westerns are being reprinted by Galaxy Press to immediate critical acclaim, books such as “Branded Outlaw, The Baron of Coyote River, Six-Gun Caballero and Under the Diehard Brand,” all sell briskly to a modern audience hungry for quality entertainment. Additional Westerns are scheduled for release in the near future.

Black Dog Books has released a collection of Western stories by Robert Leslie Bellem titled Lust of the Lawless, and other pulp reprint specialists are quick to cash in on the pulp Western renaissance.

These pulp writers understood the cardinal rule of storytelling – you don’t put a gun into a story without having it go off. Once the gun is introduced into a story the reader is waiting for the lead to start flying. In Branded Outlaw, Hubbard’s 1938 gem, he builds the tension in the fourth paragraph: “…his hands strayed to the guns on either thigh and his palms went up and down against the walnut, as though they itched.”

The Colt single-action army revolver may not really have been the gun that won the west, but it didn’t matter. It looked right in films and the pulp writers used it exclusively. In fact, the Colt wasn’t introduced until 1873, the same year the famous Winchester repeating rifle made its debut. And it would be several more years before both of these firearms were in widespread use west of the Mississippi. Still, both the Colt and the Winchester played a strong role in Western history and no self-respecting pulp writer would create a story without one.

And then there were the horses. Depression era audiences loved the horses as much as they loved the guns and the square-jawed heroes that wielded them. Tom Mix called his horse Tony and in a few years Roy Rogers would be riding Trigger.

Technological advances have made it possible for Hollywood to restore many of these classic films, and the pulps are being given equal attention. Galaxy Press has created an impressive audio collection of Hubbard’s stories produced in the style of radio dramas. And the Internet has made marketing such cultural treasures much easier.

These reprints look to be but the first wave of re-birth for an important part of America’s cultural legacy. The pulp era belongs to the past, but those galloping horses, duty bound heroes and their blazing six-shooters are riding into a bright and action-packed future!

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