The Twilight Patrol—Rare Pulp Magazine Treasure or Outrageous Hoax?
By Stuart Hopen
The Twilight Patrol is considered the rarest and most obscure of the Depression era pulps. The title, previously all but unknown, came to national attention weeks ago when the only existing copies of all seven issues fetched the astonishing price of Fifty Thousand Dollars in a private auction. The magazines date back to 1935, but they look as if they were printed yesterday. They were sold in protective plastic sealed bags that can never be opened without risking damage to the absolutely pristine condition. Very few people have even read them. Though a badge of authenticity completed the package, they still give off an aura of unreality, like objects snatched from dreams.
I first learned of the series back in the 1970’s, when I read an article in a mimeograph and photocopy pulp fanzine with a literary bent called Brow-Beaten to a Bloody Pulp. According to the article: “Very few people have read any portion of the Twilight Patrol stories. And nobody living has read the whole thing. It is surely not for everybody’s tastes—but the series does have admirers among those patient seekers who are willing to hunt among the darkest and dustiest of literature’s most obscure and esoteric cellars. Those who believe it to be genuine have called it the greatest of the old pulps, combining elements from the best of its contemporaries. Written in a style full of rampant excess, it calls to mind visionary poetry—or literary punk-rock played at eardrum shattering volume. Reminiscent of Norvell Page’s Spider, we get white hot emotions of extraordinary characters pushed to point of breaking, omnipresent unfolding disasters, and tongue in cheek dark humor. The prose is so beyond purple, it will make your teeth glow in the dark. Reminiscent of Lester Dent’s Doc Savage, we get world spanning adventures and exotic locales mingled with screwball comedy. Reminiscent of Clarke Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore, and Robert E. Howard, we get dense poetry/prose combining pulse pounding adventure with Lovecraftian horror. We get Operator Number Five’s military horror and alternate history, G-8’s surrealistic and Dada sensibilities— all this in a brew that also anticipates– years before their time– Tolkien, Borges, Calvino, Ballard, Pynchon, Robbins, and Boroughs (William, not Edgar Rice).”
The fanzine had tracked down one of the Twilight Patrol’s former editors, who gave an interview on the condition that he remain anonymous. The man had many bad memories associated with magazine and its demise, and he did not want to renew any kind of public association with it.
The article contained a number of black and white cover reproductions, and some of the pen and ink interior art. There were a few plot summaries and excerpts.
I recall, very vividly, sensing a kind of magic at work, some kind of potent, forgotten and half forbidden aesthetic. It was darker, and even more subversive than comic books that had already seized my youthful imagination—a magic not diluted by the prudish and prissy Authority of the Comics Code.
The anonymous editor would not reveal the name of the mysterious creator of this series, though he described him as a dark and driven individual who looked something like a cross between Hamlet and Raskolnikov. While the title was faltering, the publishers urged him to write something else—something salable, like another Shadow knock-off, or another Tarzan knock-off, or something with vampires and zombies, or formula mysteries, or formula romances. But this author with a fake name refused to let go of his strange artistic vision, and wrote and drew himself into obscurity. He was quoted as saying, “These may seem like harmless pulp adventure stories, but they are parables about the conflict between science and spirit — and the way to deal with both as equally important. It is a mythology about the nature of truth and reality. It doesn’t matter that no one is reading my work. I’m not writing for this age. I’m writing for decades hence, when the meaning and message will assume a different kind of significance. The works need to be made available because they are masterpieces. But they are the species of masterpiece that no one wants to read, and no one ever reads them but me.”
I was struck by the intensity of the creator’s dedication, his commitment to his artistic vision— even if he was only buying into a myth that all neglected writers invoke in order to keep themselves going, a dreamy delusion of immortality shared by many on their way to literary cremation.
It seemed sadly ironic that the series was finally gaining some measure of fame because of its exorbitant sale price, which owed to its extreme rarity, which owed to the fact that no one ever read it.
There was also a mystery at play here, in addition to the sad, almost mystical irony, but in order to understand it, one would have to break the seal that has entombed the seven issues of the Twilight Patrol and read their contents, thereby destroying the very quality that makes them so precious in monetary terms.
And so, I started my own search for copies of the Twilight Patrol. It hasn’t been easy. Whole original copies are nowhere to be found. I worked to slowly accumulate whatever crumbling fragments I could find of old issues of the magazine, all of which were in far too poor a condition to have any value, except — as the antique dealers ironically put it– for reading. And I’ve been forced to supplement these fragments with pages from rare old paperback reprints from the 60’s, and bits and pieces from questionable and illegal pirated editions.
As more and more of portions of the magazines came into my hands, I was amazed to find they seemed perfectly tailored for my unique and demanding literary tastes. They were rich in invocations of the folkloric and mythic elements of the depression era pulps, which form the bedrock of our cultural collective subconscious.
I found myself swept up in a fantasy of an epic fantasy, something straight out of H.P. Lovecraft– as if I were chasing the Necronomicon of pulp magazines. The Twilight Patrol pulled me into its dream– and I followed the dream, to see what it might reveal.
The work brought me to the outermost boundaries of unreality— arriving at a point of pure imagination, and then it led me back to my own life, showing me reality in ways I’d never seen it before. It was as if someone had designed a Tarot or I-Ching tailored to my peculiar sensibilities, and it revealed a kind of truth that was naked in its fraudulence.
The series brushes against the outermost edges of dream reality in Book 5, “The City Annihilator”. It is a kind of creation myth.
In Book 6, there is a chapter that takes place in an absolute perfect vacuum, a complete void– and that is the outermost point of unreality, which lies beyond the dream. That chapter is also quite clearly a reflection on the author’s experience laboring on this project for so long without a readership.
The remainder of Book 6, “The World Without Pain and Death“, is a satire of the healthcare industry, where I have worked most of my adult life. It was part of the author’s way of escorting me back to waking consciousness—as if he had foreseen that I would be a reader and this particular novel would address my particular needs.
During the course of compiling the fragments of Book 6, I found that I was continually encountering Mercury, in all manifestations, the god, the element, and the symbol—even engraved on the dime of the depression era which was the price of a pulp magazine. Mercury was not exactly the God of lies, but rather he was the god of trickery and communication. The profile on the so-called Mercury head dime wasn’t even supposed to be Mercury. It was supposed to be youthful “Liberty” and the model wasn’t a man, but rather the wife of the poet Wallace Stevens. But everyone immediately recognized the spirit depicted on the coin. Talk about trickery in communication.
Mercury is also the god of commerce– and I began to see the continual appearance of these symbols as an indication that I should stop trying to give away my compilations of the Twilight Patrol for free on my website, and instead seek to gain a readership by placing it in commerce.
Mercury, the guardian of boundaries, lords over remarkable coincidences. Certainly, there is something remarkable about the way I was able to connect this pulp related work with Bold Venture Press, which strangely is located in my backyard.
But the most remarkable coincidence of all occurred when I discovered enough pages from the Twilight Patrol to learn that the series had been penned and illustrated by someone named “Stuart Hopen”. People might think that this is my handiwork, but I hadn’t even been born when the magazine was published. According to the old fanzine, “Stuart Hopen”, though not named in the article, was merely a pseudonym, a house name, in keeping with the prevailing custom of most pulp publishers, so they could easily replace any author with the fans being none the wiser.
I have not been able to learn anything about the real author of the work—for that mystery has proven as elusive as trying to learn the nature of the true self.
I know it sounds like a satire of a post-modern cliché—a writer pursuing the work of a writer with his own name who isn’t himself, praising the work as if it were not his own to lend an objective air to what would otherwise be self-indulgent hype—especially in a plot that sounds uncomfortably like the antics of someone intent on fooling others, but is only fooling himself.
Consider this peculiar passage from the editorial page of the August, 1935 issue:
“There are all kinds of predictions being made right now, in the pages of other pulp magazines like The Spider and Operator #5 that will weirdly prove accurate, in their own quirky way—but they don’t hold a candle to what we at Pastmodern Pulpblications could pull off, if we wanted to prove a point. How is that we are able to accurately and uncannily predict the future? Well, it is a sort of a con. It is an artistic trick– but what is Art, if not another form of Magic? If we told you that our information comes from the actual future, you wouldn’t believe us, any more than you’d believe us if we told you that the person you think you are, reading this in 1935, doesn’t exist.
So why aren’t we revealing the actual future instead of running tales of the Great War that aren’t even historically accurate? Not only do the Twilight Patrol stories mangle history, these stories don’t adhere to the rules or order of our world. They don’t even adhere to the conventions of formal fantasy or science fiction, but rather they incline more toward the impulses of surrealism or Dada. What do you expect from an author who is a lawyer, and used to altering reality with mere words? And what do you expect from an author who is nothing more than what we in the business call a “house name”, a kind of a fiction, who we don’t have to pay because he doesn’t exist in 1935?”
Beneath its pulpy surface, the Twilight Patrol is an extended parable about the nature of the conflict between science and spirit, a mythology about the nature of truth. It is something very much needed as we enter an age that is becoming increasingly post-physical, and in which the interface of idea and matter is increasingly uncertain.
America wasn’t ready for this message in 1935. Perhaps that’s why copies of the Twilight Patrol vanished from newsstands back in its day. Perhaps its distribution was also sabotaged by rival publishers. The editors of the Twilight Patrol would often complain that their financial luck was so ill, it seemed they were the victims of the malevolent conspirators portrayed in their very pages—the Mysteriarchs of the Abyss.
Or perhaps the original magazines have become so extraordinarily rare and obscure because they didn’t exist at all.
- Stuart Hopen, 2017
Reprints of all 7 issues of The Twilight Patrol are now available from Bold Venture Press, completing the series. You can access their Twilight Patrol Page below: