For one day, 30th Street Station was transformed.
One hundred thirty-eight posters and banners hung on every wall that’s available for promotional space. Faber Books, a newsstand in the station, became an impromptu bookstore. As they walked inside the store, customers became subjects for overeager photographers.
The crowd was there to celebrate a person well-known in pop culture: L. Ron Hubbard, the famous author and founding father of the Church of Scientology.
The lavish decorations kicked off the launch of Hubbard’s 80 newly republished books. All pulp fiction, they range from stories about cowboys and space aliens to swashbuckling buccaneers. For the event, some people dressed up as their favorite characters, most of whom were pirates.
Galaxy Press, the company responsible for releasing all of Hubbard’s literary works, organized the event. To get an idea of how much literature that entails, the 2006 Guinness World Records declared that Hubbard was the most published and translated author in the world, with 1,084 fiction and non-fiction pieces.
When the event at the station began on Sept. 2, Galaxy Press’ public relations representative Claude Goodwin hovered around a book stand, lauding Hubbard’s publications. The stand was where TV personality and director of the audio books Jim Meskimen would have been giving autographs. But Meskimen was late.
To distract onlookers from Meskimen’s tardiness, Goodwin talked about how revolutionary this event was – in the insular world of cheap ‘40s literature. These short stories are now prototypes for some of today’s most popular fantasy and science fiction films. Before he ever released a religious text, Hubbard was famous for these works. The books on display were part of a series released by Galaxy Press known as the Golden Age Stories.
Goodwin explained a few of the novels’ plots, including one that had a cover illustration of the rum mascot Captain Morgan. Pirates are a mainstay in Hubbard’s texts, which use suspense to garner an audience.
“Classic pulp fiction is about telling a good yarn,” Goodwin said. “It pulls you from page to page. Otherwise, you aren’t going to pick up the same author twice.”
Hubbard’s ability to tell a good tale wasn’t discernable at this event, however. Even after Meskimen showed up, the lines remained short.
“Hubbard creates vast environments and brings his characters to life,” Meskimen said. “It puts you there.”
Meskimen helps create that lifelike quality, too. The audio books feature talented voice acting, movie-quality sound effects and a unique musical score. Meskimen was able to transform mid-20th century fiction into a full listening experience, and he hopes Hubbard’s books will go further than that.
“I hope it will inspire people to make films,” Meskimen said.
Throughout the entire event, one thing seemed to be missing: Scientology. It wasn’t mentioned once. When questioned, the Galaxy Press representatives wouldn’t address the Church of Scientology directly.
“I asked if it had anything to do with Scientology, and they sort of avoided the question,” said a Faber Books employee, who wished to remain anonymous. “I think it’s pretty subversive.”
Scientologists didn’t attend the event, either. Instead, it attracted a small collection of nerds, commuters and people who just wanted a free poster. While the launch may not have started with the bang they were hoping for, it won’t stop Galaxy Press. The event will be touring the country for the next eight years.
Passers-by seemed largely unimpressed, but one particularly annoyed man seemed to sum up the public’s reaction when approached by the pushy pirate.
“Don’t work so hard,” he said.
James Barbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.