Fodder for Pulp Fiction

If Mary Butler Renville’s A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity has the distinction of being the earliest extended Dakota War  narrative to appear in print, Josephine Huggins’s has another: It is the earliest to be co-opted for novelization.

Cover, Dime Tales, Traditions and Romances of Border and Revolutionary Times no. 2

“Mrs Huggins, The Minnesota Captive” first appeared in the Beadle and Adams series Dime Tales, Traditions and Romances of Border and Revolutionary Times, no. 7. The entire 12 volume series, edited by Edward Sylvester Ellis, appeared between 1863 and 1864.

While I have yet to find an original of volume 7 to examine, a Beadle and Adams bibliography tells us Ellis did not spin Josephine’s story to dime novel-length (about 100 pages). Instead, he anthologized it with three other short stories within the same volume. Printed and bound in the cheapest paper manufactured in the 19th century, this genre eventually became known as “pulp fiction.”

Until eight years ago when my friend, literature and pop-culture critic Zabelle Stodola, introduced me to the dime novel, I’d never read one. But I recognized the dime novel’s modern cognates: serial detective stories  (Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, anyone?), Westerns, and Romance novels.

Cover, Boys’ Book of Romance and Adventure no. 18

A decade later, Edward Sylvester Ellis recycled Josephine Huggins’s story in Beadle and Adams Boys’ Book of Romance and Adventure no. 10, July 1874.  Recycling stories, sometimes slightly altered, sometimes copied wholesale, was common in this genre. “Dimes” were published so cheaply that most did not survive; ten years later, a story was new again.

Edward Sylvester Ellis was one of the most prolific –and most popular –authors of the 19th century. What did he do with Josephine Huggins’s 1862 captivity story? Until I find a copy, I can only guess.

But Ellis himself is quite a character. Zabelle introduced me to him during her research for The War in Words. (Chapter 3 is “Edward S. Ellis and the Captivity Narrative Tradition.”) Since then, I continue to bump into his unseen influence on the received story of 1862.

In fact, Ellis may be the most influential source on the Dakota War you’ve never heard of. More about that in the next post.

Photo credit: Northern Illinois University Dime Novel archive

This entry was posted in Edward Sylvester Ellis, Fiction, Josephine Huggins, Zabelle Stodola. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Fodder for Pulp Fiction

  1. Pingback: The Remarkable Story of Edward S. Ellis | A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War of 1862

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