If you love horror stories, it’s time to explore pulp magazines. From 1920-1945, pulps were all the rage for writers and readers alike. In fact, many of today’s most popular horror stories originated as short stories published in pulp magazines.
Horror Pulp Magazines Story elements and concepts
The pulps featured stories of terror and suspense, with some elements that would be familiar to modern readers:
- Tales of vampires and zombies
- Evil scientists conducting bizarre experiments
- Mad doctors pursuing strange treatments
- and More
Many stories took place in exotic locations such as South America or Africa, or on far-off planets like Mars or Venus. In these settings, the hero would often encounter strange creatures that were not human in appearance, but human-like in nature.
The haunted house is a classic staple of pulp horror fiction. Whether it’s a creepy old mansion or a lonesome Victorian cottage, the haunted house is an essential element of many stories. There’s often some sort of dark secret that explains why the house is haunted (often related to murder).
Monsters are another common staple of pulp horror fiction. They’re often used as antagonists who threaten humanity or at least those who live in their vicinity. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes and include zombies, vampires, werewolves, aliens, and demons. Some monsters even have multiple forms that they can take on depending on their needs at any given time (e.g., Dracula).
The most common type of monster was a vampire, which was often referred to as a “nosferatu”. Other popular monsters included werewolves, ghouls and zombies.
The undead were a common staple of horror pulp fiction. Zombies, ghosts, and vampires are all undead creatures that have been the subject of many of the stories. The undead are usually featured as either a single monster or a group of monsters.
The protagonist was usually a normal person who became involved in an evil plot against them. This character may be any age, gender or ethnicity, but they are generally portrayed as being ordinary with no special skills or powers and finding themselves in over their head with forces beyond their control.
Stories often included a damsel-in-distress character that a male hero is trying to rescue. She usually ends up being saved by the male hero at the last minute before she would have fallen to whatever horrible fate awaited her at the hands of either the villain or otherworldly forces.
Pulp horror also commonly used flashbacks within stories to give readers more information about what happened previously.
Horror Pulp Magazines Settings
Many of today’s most popular writers got their start in the pulps, and many tales that have become classics started out as short stories in these magazines. Settings used in these stories have also become stereotypical for horror novels.
Settings such as abandoned houses or hotels that often contained a dark secret such as hidden treasure or an evil cult. Or they could be haunted by ghosts or other supernatural beings such as vampires or werewolves.
Any out of the way or isolated setting was a common option. The city dump or an abandoned mine shaft could serve as a hideout for criminals or a place for monsters to live undetected by humans. The deep woods or swamps also created isolated areas where escape may not be an option.
The Victorian era provided an ideal setting for gothic horror and suspense. Many of the classic pulp horror stories take place during this period or feature characters who live in Victorian times.
Ancient Egypt was one of the most common settings for the pulp because it provides a great backdrop for ancient evil against modern heroes.
Horror Pulp Magazines Themes
Horror pulp themes were often about morality and ethics, such as how one should treat others or what someone should do when faced with an ethical dilemma.
Themes can also be about more complex concepts like death and life, good and evil, beauty vs ugliness and so on. Most genres have common themes associated with them. Horror pulp magazines often dealt with themes like life/death struggles between characters (who may not even be human) or evil forces that threaten humanity.
Horror stories in the pulp magazines often share many of the same plot devices, settings, symbols, and themes
- The protagonist is usually either a normal person or someone who lives in a rural area and has had little contact with people outside his community.
- The protagonist encounters something that he doesn’t understand or know how to deal with (such as an alien technology or monster).
- The protagonist starts investigating what’s going on and learns more about it as he goes along.
- When confronted by the strange thing directly the protagonist runs away from it instead of fighting.
Horror stories featured in pulp magazines have many common plot devices, settings, symbols and themes. The use of these elements help to tell a story that is engaging for the reader and creates an atmosphere conducive for fear or terror.