I heard the song, Penny Lane by the Beatles today. That lead me to remembering that the ’60’s television series, “Lost In Space” had a character named, Penny, which took me further to thinking about the 19th century serial magazines nicknamed, “Penny Dreadfuls.” There was a movie released in 1966 called Fantastic Voyage starring Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, Donald Pleasence, and Arthur Kennedy. It was about a futuristic submarine that was shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a man so they could travel to his brain and destroy a blood clot before it killed him. If a micro submarine could travel through the avenues of my brain, they would find a lot of strange road signs. That’s just how my mind works, sorry.
Anyway, Penny Dreadfuls were weekly magazines consisting of eight pages and were filled with fiction stories about detectives, criminals, aliens, cowboys, and monsters. They were printed in the 1800’s in the U.K., and they cost a penny. They were very popular with youthful readers at a time when literacy was low and actually helped increase literacy rates in Britain. They were serial stories continued each week and a lot of them had dreadful content such as murder, monsters, vampires and the like. Thus the name, Penny Dreadful. I love this name. It is so full of portent, mystery, and suspense. They were popular for most of the 19th century.
When I was a kid growing up in the 60’s, mystery magazines were a favorite of mine. Bizarre Mystery magazine, Strange Tales, Batman comic books and those like them attracted my attention. Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke and Issac Asimov were favorite authors. When Stephen King released his first novel I was seventeen and I was hooked. Carrie, a story about a girl who is bullied and uses her new found telekinetic powers to get them back was right up my alley. Even today at 64 years old, these stories are still my favorites. I don’t know why I’m attracted to sci fi and fantasy other than to say that stories like that aren’t real, won’t every be real and so they are not scary to me. I don’t like contemporary crime fiction books or movies, because that to me, is scary. Those things perpetrated by humans are scary because they could really happen to you. Things that can’t possibly happen like elves or dragons or vampires, aren’t scary, they’re just fun.
I’ve always loved books where the author builds a detailed, believable world. The Lord of the Rings, Dune, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and many more are wonderful stories to get lost in. Not only that but you learn a lot by reading fiction. Many contemporary fiction stories are placed in real places with real things. In order for a story like that to be good it has to be believable from the aspect of the reader. They can’t get away with telling you about London if their London isn’t real.
Sci fi and fantasy fiction gave me something to escape into from my common, boring life, and it still does. A few of the fifteen books I read this past winter are Stephen King books. CBS just put out an eight episode remake of “The Stand” by Stephen King and it was great. King actually wrote the last episode new for the series. So dig out your scary books and read them before bedtime. I do.