Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Pulp Romance

My last post touched on the deft touch Manly Wade Wellman used when writing romance in Who Fears the Devil.  Today, I'd like to talk about it in a little more depth.

First, let's introduce the contenders.

In the pink slime corner, the massively popular Magic Girl genre which features a bad-ass magic girl in a modern setting beset by monsters.  She doesn't need no stinking man.  She may be conventionally or unconventionally attractive, but romance is hard for her.  She is shy or awkward or hasn't got time for a man what with all the monster fighting she has to do.  Also, most guys just don't understand or can't handle a badass chick like her. 

In the blue corner, the wonderfully regressive writing of Manly Wade Wellman in which women actually look forward to finding a man to settle down with.  The would-be lovers in these tales are generally young, and generally awkward, and generally that's because they are kind and decent people who just need a little subtle nudging from their elders to seal the deal they both want to make.

Here's a great example of how Wellman describes a young couple in the making early in the story:
He jumped up and went out like as if he expected to see angles.  I followed him out, and I reckon it was an angel he figured he saw.
She was a slim girl, but not right small.  In her straight blue dress and canvas shoes, with her yellow curls waterfalled down her back, she was pretty to see.  In one hand she toted a two-gallon bucket.  She smiled, and that smile made Zeb's knees buck.
Simple, home-spun, and fun.  That's how it's done, folks.  Here's another great example of a feuding couple that reconciles:
Back he turned, and bent down, and she rose up on her toetips so their faces came together.
The rain stopped, the way you'd think that stopped it.  But they never seemed to know it, and I picked up my guitar and went out toward the lip of the cliff.
Tasteful.  Evocative.  Heart warming.  This is how people who aren't broken on the inside write about love and romance.  This is how people who understand that love is a coming together and not a constant battle for the upper hand write about love and romance.  This is how people who accept the difference between men and women write about love and romance. 

We don't get a lot of this in our sf/f literature these days, because most sf/f writers are broken people writing about broken people.  They either don't understand love in the charitable or romantic or chivalrous sense, or they deny the very existence of those three possibilities.  And that shines through in their work - to the detriment of their stories, the genre, literature, and the world.

Let's try to do better.  Let's learn a lesson from writers like Manly Wade Wellman.  After all, when you're lost or at a dead-end, you have to take a step back to where you were before you can forge a new path ahead.


  1. With Wellman and Gordon Dickson, there's also a sense of wisdom in the romance. There's an understanding of what strengths are joined together in a couple instead of the modern myth that "love ain't nothing but sex misspelled."

  2. That's kind of an undercurrent to all of my reading these days: Is our culture like this (*waves hand vaguely about him*) because of the books that are published, or are the books published like this because that's the culture in which we live?

    Of course, there's an element of truth to both halves of that sentence. It's a vicious cycle that needs to be broken if we want a healthy culture that treasures healthy relationships.