Monday, January 23, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road by Edward L. Wheeler

Deadwood DickMost of you have heard the phrase, "You sound like a dime novel," but how many of you have ever seen a dime novel? The Book of the Week is an authentic dime novel printed in 1899, Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road by Edward L. Wheeler.

Dime novels (and their cousins the "story papers," formatted like a newspaper) were the predecessors to pulp magazines and paperback books. Between approximately the 1860's and 1920's, dime novels were an inexpensive alternative to hardback books. They were sometimes priced at ten cents, but more commonly at five cents - I guess "nickel novel" just didn't have the right ring to it. (Thanks to the exchange rate at the time, dime novels in England went by the even more colorful moniker "penny dreadfuls.") In most cases, dime novels were not really novels, but short stories. Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road is a typical example, comprised of a single 32-page story.

Dime novels were intended to be accessible to the masses, who were by then predominately literate. Dime novels were generally written in the vernacular and were commonly targeted at adolescent readers, which is why "You sound like a dime novel" is a disparaging remark. Many at the time worried that dime novels glorified low-brow discourse and would have a disastrous effect on American culture. You will not be surprised to learn that by our modern standards, dime novels seem quite innocent and even rather intellectual.

Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road is the first of a series of 64 Deadwood Dick adventures, originally published between 1878 and 1884 by Beadle & Adams, the very first dime novel publisher, then reprinted by the Arthur Westbrook Co., beginning in 1899 with the Book of the Week. Deadwood Dick was among the most popular heroes of the dime novels. Although Deadwood Dick has long been forgotten by everyone save a handful of collectors, he had a lasting cultural impact. As shown in the cover illustration of this book, Deadwood Dick was a masked crusader of the Old West. He almost certainly inspired the creators of the Lone Ranger and Zorro, who came along decades later. (If you thought Zorro was a centuries-old legend, or perhaps even an actual historical figure, you have been hoodwinked by Hollywood. Zorro was invented by pulp writer Johnston McCulley and first appeared in 1919 in the pages of the pulp magazine All-Story.)

Dime novels were squeezed out of the market by the growing popularity of pulp magazines in the 1910's and 20's. Dell Books attempted to resurrect the dime novel format in 1951. Next week's Book of the Week will be an example of the Dell series of dime novels.

1 comment:

Steph said...

What is the plot of this short story?