Pulp Magazines, Vampires in the

Enlarge picture
Poster art from the classic vampire film House of Dracula.

Pulp Magazines, Vampires in the

(pop culture)

Essential to the spread of the vampire as an object of popular myth in the twentieth century was the pulp magazines, mass circulation periodicals named for the cheap pulpwood paper on which they were printed. They were the successors of the “penny dreadful” of the nineteenth century and, in an age before television, filled a significant gap in the entertainment industry. The earliest pulps provided readers with a wide variety of genre fiction, including detective, western, jungle, and action/adventure.

Occasionally they would print a “different” or “off trail” story, the avenue by which the then-highly questionable horror tales slipped into the pulp market.

All-Story Magazine was among the first to feature such “different” stories. Beginning in 1919, The Thrill Book specialized in “strange, bizarre, occult, mysterious, tales,” the harbinger of the first true all-horror pulp, Weird Tales, which made its appearance in 1923. Weird Tales dominated the tiny market through the 1920s. It was joined by Ghost Stories in 1926, and following the creation of a broad public by the Universal Pictures movies in the early 1930s, additional titles appeared. Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror hit the stands in 1931 as direct competition for Weird Tales, and they were soon joined by Popular Publications’ Dime Mystery (1933), Terror Tales (1934), and Horror Stories (1935). Terror Tales and Horror Stories specialized in what was termed the shudder tale, in which hapless victims were terrorized by mad scientists and/or psychotics masquerading as model citizens.

Through the 1930s a number of horror titles were created to meet a burgeoning public demand. The vampire slowly emerged as a subject of horror fiction. Horror great H. P. Lovecraft may have introduced the vampire theme into pulp fiction with his story “The Hound”, which appeared in the February 1924 issue of Weird Tales. “The Hound” is however, not a true vampire tale. Lovecraft later penned “The Shunned House” about a quite interesting “collective” vampire. It was written 1924 but not printed until 1928 in a separate booklet by W. Paul Cook, though not bound at that time. The story also appeared in Weird Tales October 1937. Vampirism also plays a minor role in Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” written in 1927, but not published until 1941.

Lovecraft aside, the first true pulp vampire story seems to have been “The Vampire of Oakdale Ridge” by Robert W. Sneddon in the December 1926 issue of Ghost Stories. Beginning in 1927 with “The Man Who Cast No Shadow” by Seabury Quinn and the reprinting of “Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker, Weird Tales began to offer a steady stream of vampire tales. Quinn’s character was typical of early twentieth-century vampires. Based in part on Dracula, he possessed the same hairy palms and lacked a mirror image.

Quinn set his Transylvanian Count Czerny against his popular detective figure Jules de Grandin. The first era of vampire tales culminated in two of the best pulp stories: “A Rendezvous in Averoigne” by Clark Ashton Smith and “Placide’s Wife” by Kirk Mashburn, both of which appeared in Weird Tales contemporaneously with the release of Universal Pictures’ Dracula (1931).

The decade following the success of Bela Lugosi‘s Dracula saw the publication of numerous vampire stories by a group of authors who emerged as the collective heirs of the Edgar Allan Poe tradition of horror.

Typical of these new authors, Robert E. Howard, famous as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, had his “The Horror from the Mound” published in Weird Tales in 1932. Like other vampires to appear later in the Conan adventures, his first vampire was a loathsome powerful monster who could be destroyed only in a one-on-one fight with cowpuncher Steve Brill.

Among the most heralded and reprinted of the 1930s vampire pulp fiction, I, the Vampire was an early work by science fiction great Henry Kuttner. He set his suave vampire, Cevalier Futaine, in contemporary Hollywood where he arrived from France to play a role in a new film, Red Thirst. Robert Bloch, a prolific horror writer who reached his zenith of fame with the novel Psycho, began in the 1930s pulps. Among his memorable early tales was “The Cloak”, which appeared in Unknown Worlds in 1939. This story built upon the premise of a cloak that transformed the wearer into a vampire.

The best “typical” vampire tale from the pulps may very well be “Revelations in Black” by Carl Jacobi. It appeared in Weird Tales in April of 1933 and was reprinted in the Arkham House volume of that name in 1947.

Pulp fiction continued through World War II but experienced a noticeable decline by the end of the 1940s. The publishers of Weird Tales finally went bankrupt in 1954, and the pulps gave way to newsstand magazines devoted to fantasy, science fiction, and horror such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. Over the years several vampire anthologies have lifted stories from the pulps, and by far the best collection appeared in Weird Vampire Tales (1992), edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg.

Sources:

Carter, Margaret L. The Vampire in Literature: A Critical Bibliography. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1989. 135 pp.
Parnell, Frank H., with Mike Ashley. Monthly Terrors: An Index to the Weird Fantasy Magazines Published in the United States and Great Britain. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. 602 pp.
Sullivan, Jack, ed. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural. New York: Viking, 1986. 482 pp.
Weinberg, Robert, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Weird Vampire Tales: Thirty Chilling Stories from the Weird Fiction Pulps. New York: Gramercy Books, 1992. 442 pp.