For early fans, the US Postal Service was the vehicle for social media. Active fans wrote relentlessly — to each other, to the professional authors, to the editors of the pulps, to publishing executives, to movie producers — to anyone with a common interest.
Fortunately, many early fans were also fanatical collectors. Many letters have survived, though undoubtedly a tiny fraction of those that were written. The most interesting examples give a sense of these fans as people, the circumstances in which they lived, and how science fiction influenced and affected them.
As we’ve researched this history, a number of extraordinary letters have surfaced. Here we present one that we found exceptional but representative in many regards. It’s alternately playful and serious, reflecting the deep friendship between sender and recipient. It’s “of the period,” evidencing the misogyny that was more often openly spoken at that time. It contains poetry and art, speaks of spatulas and sponges and then leaps without pause to commentary on the latest issue of Weird Tales. Photography geekdom and club news and a pretty awesome rocket ship. Sublime and ridiculous and a true window into the psyche early fans.
The sender, William H. Dellenback, was an active Chicago fan beginning in the very early 1930s. Dellenback and the letter’s recipient, “Jack Darrow,” (the fan-pseudonym of Clifford Kornoelje), participated in the earliest science fiction correspondence clubs. They collaborated to found Chapter #14 of the Science Fiction League in February 1935. They were both contributors to the club’s publication, The Fourteen Leaflet.
With kind permission from Doug Ellis, we’re delighted to offer this letter from his collection without further editorial comment, as the insightful artifact of the period that it is. Enjoy!