In yesterday’s post I wrote about the Pulp Revival, and I–rather off the top of my head–listed a handful of characteristics of what I consider the Pulp Revival Aesthetic. I would like to discuss that list in more detail today.
action-oriented storytelling, protagonists with a clear moral compass, an element of romance in both the classical sense of decisive action as well as the modern sense of interpersonal passion, and an unapologetic view of violence as the proper tool for overcoming evil.
Action Oriented Storytelling: Action-packed is almost a synonym for Pulp Fiction, but I think that Action Oriented Storytelling is more than just fights on top of speeding trains and blowing things up. What I mean is that the use of a character’s actions–in opposition to a description of the character’s feelings–should be the primary engine that drives the story. Don’t tell me that Thangar felt sad at finding that his village has been burned to the ground, show me Thangar throwing back his head and howling to the stars. Even in less dramatic moments actions will inform the reader better than a flat statement. If Thangar looks down at his feet when he asks the fair maiden if she will permit him to escort her through the forest, we’ll pick up on his nervousness.
Protagonists with a clear moral compass: I actually wrote a rather detailed post on this subject a while back and rather than restate my points, I’ll just link to it. The first two points lead directly into the next one.
An element of romance in the classical sense of decisive action: “Romance” in the elder sense of the word is difficult to define (which may explain why the modern sense has supplanted it) but both G K Chesterton and Ayn Rand have described it as a conviction that the universe is not what it ought to be and that this gap between what is and what should be creates a moral imperative to act.
A romantic hero is not able to passively watch injustice, she or he is compelled to do something. When brigands attack a carriage Thangar does not ask himself if he has any right to interfere, he leaps into the fray, instinctively and decisively, to correct an outrage to his sense of justice. It may be misguided, it may, in fact, turn out to be exactly the worst thing he could have done, once he knows all the facts (which means that the same sense of justice will compel him to right the wrong he has committed). Even so, the character’s actions are motivated by an involvement with the universe–things are not as they should be, and it is the personal responsibility of everyone to put things right.
As well as the modern sense of interpersonal passion: Pulp heroes are motivated by love. It may be the sexual love of the brawny barbarian for the lovely and quick-witted princess, or it may be his comradely love for the soldier who has fought valiantly beside him. Love of home, of nation, of a way of life, all can compel a barbarian to take up arms against an oppressor. Thangar may hate the corrupt usurper to the throne with a blazing passion, but that passion is driven by his love for the princess that the usurper has imprisoned or the villages that the usurper’s armies have burned.
An unapologetic view of violence as the proper tool for overcoming evil: Not the only tool, or even, necessarily, the best tool. A Pulp hero will often try diplomacy first, saving violence as a last resort. However, the potential for violence, the willingness to use force in the defense of what is right is an indispensable factor in the Pulp Aesthetic. Reason is useful only against those who will be reasonable. One’s convictions must be backed up by the courage to fight, or they are meaningless. When faced with the power-mad usurper who is putting all opposition to the sword, Thangar must be willing to draw his own blade in his own defense, and in defense of those he loves.