Well, it is as I write this, anyway. December 13th.
What’s Wold Newton Day, you ask? Well, it’s the day a meteorite struck outside the village of Wold Newton, England, in 1795.
But it’s so much more than that!
Here’s the rundown: the Wold Newton Family is a group of heroic and villainous literary figures that science fiction author Philip José Farmer postulated belonged to the same genetic family. Some of these characters are adventurers, some are detectives, some explorers and scientists, some espionage agents, and some are evil geniuses.
According to Mr. Farmer, the Wold Newton family originated when a radioactive meteor landed in Wold Newton, England, in the year 1795.
The radiation caused a genetic mutation in those present, which endowed many of their descendants with extremely high intelligence and strength, as well as an exceptional capacity and drive to perform good, or, as the case may be, evil deeds.
Now, the biographies themselves are great fun, and Farmer wrote with such conviction that I actually believed Tarzan and Doc Savage were real people for the first few chapters of each book. (Look, I was thirteen, okay? In my defense, Farmer really sells it, especially in Tarzan Alive.)
But even when I realized it HAD to be fictional, I was already in love with the idea. Growing up on comics like the Justice League and the Avengers and The Brave and the Bold, I was already a fan of the idea of the ‘team-up.’ And here was the greatest team-up idea EVER.
Moreover, I already loved Sherlock Holmes and James Bond and Tarzan and Doc Savage, and clearly Farmer did too. So I approached the Wold Newton Family Tree that was printed in the Doc biography as a shopping list, basically.
My reasoning was, if the characters I didn’t know were included in the same family as so many of my other favorites, I’d be interested. And it was largely true. I found my way to all sorts of wonderful books just from poring over this one diagram. It is impossible to list them all, but here are a few of the various books and series I discovered and cherished because of the Wold Newton connection.
Never would have given these a second look without the Wold Newton shout-out in the Doc Savage biography, but when I happened across one on a miserable family vacation (some day I should figure out how many miserable vacation trips led me to amazing books, just in my desperation for something to distract me from being trapped with my family) I remembered that Farmer had said “Travis McGee’s autobiography is currently being edited by John D. MacDonald,” and that was enough to get me to pick it up. I found it impossible to put down– MacDonald knew how to keep it moving– and McGee’s footloose bachelor lifestyle is pretty much designed to be the fantasy ideal of every teenage boy. No job, works when he feels like it, surrounded by beautiful women, lives on a luxury houseboat he won in a poker game…. and yet MacDonald makes McGee something of a puritan and a crusader so it never comes off as douchey. Plus he writes some of the scariest villains ever seen in adventure fiction. I spent the rest of the ten-day trip hunting down as many others as I could find. (Since The Empty Copper Sea had just come out in hardcover, the whole series was back in print again.) The omnibus pictured above is a great starting place and you can find it fairly cheap. Treat yourself.
Technically, these are included in the Wold Newton crossover universe not by Mr. Farmer himself but rather by those that came after, Win Scott Eckert and others. But they are very worthy books just as books, and probably more evocative of the fun of The Man From UNCLE than any of the other tie-in novels or comics. Plus, McDaniel loved weaving in other characters from mystery fiction. He had Solo and Illya meeting Father Brown, the Saint, Steed and Mrs. Peel, and even a centenarian Sherlock Holmes. Moreover, I find McDaniel’s concept of THRUSH beginning in 1891, rising from the ashes of Professor Moriarty’s organization, to be an idea that delights me right down to the tips of my toes. (So much so, in fact, that I have even added to the literature of the subject myself– my first Sherlock Holmes story for the Consulting Detective series pitted Holmes against Colonel Sebastian Moran and the proto-THRUSH, and I have another confrontation between Holmes and the Technological Hierarchy due out some time next year.)
Speaking of Win Eckert, his own Wold Newton books are nothing but fun. I am particularly fond of his Pat Wildman novels, chronicling the adventures of the daughter of a certain bronze adventurer.
The Scarlet Jaguar is a bit pulpier and more of a straight-up adventure story but they are both good.
And Farmer himself followed up his two biographies with some original team-up stories of his own. Probably my favorites are these two: The Adventure of The Peerless Peer documents Sherlock Holmes meeting not only Tarzan, but also G-8 and the Shadow, during the course of his final confrontation with the German spy Von Bork (from Doyle’s His Last Bow.) It’s back in print in a new edition but you should try to find the one with the magnificent Victor Gadino cover painting seen here.
The Other Log of Phileas Fogg details what really happened during the race around the world in eighty days, and how Fogg was actually an agent for an alien civilization, fighting a secret war with Captain Nemo. This, along with several other Farmer classics, were reprinted in nice new editions from Titan Books a couple of years ago.
And let’s not forget the comics. Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane was a Farmer pick for Wold Newton inclusion, and that was what got me to pick up the Marvel Premiere adaptation of Red Shadows, back in the day. Which in turn led me to the prose collections.
Which was enough by itself, but my inner Wold Newton geek let out a little squeal of delight when I saw that Kane had actually fought Dracula himself.
Twice, actually. You can find those epic confrontations reprinted in The Saga of Solomon Kane.
I could go on and on. The Shadow. The Spider. Venus on the Half-Shell and from there to Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse-Five. Greatheart Silver and Cordwainer Bird.
All because of a meteor in 1795 and a science-fiction writer’s goof on the idea a couple of centuries later.
And it’s still going on. I got to consult on Adam Lance Garcia’s new Sherlock Holmes-Green Lama crossover, The Heir Apparent, a few weeks ago, and it’s terrific. (Adam was careful not to talk just to Holmesians but also ran the manuscript by noted Wold Newton expert Sean Levin.)
If you haven’t checked out Adam’s Green Lama books, they are one of the coolest things going in the New Pulp movement. Seriously.
And of course there is the wonderful Wold Newton Universe web site itself, a place where you can easily lose hours of time reading all the articles and chronologies. I often do. Maintained by the aforementioned Win Eckert and other like-minded folks. Check it out if you haven’t before, but only if you’ve got hours to spare. There’s always new interesting things to look at.
Anyway. That’s what we celebrate around here in December. You can have Christmas. Me, I’d much rather be nerding out over the greatest crossover story ever.
Back next week with something cool.