Wold Newton family

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The Wold Newton family is a literary concept derived from a form of crossover fiction developed by the science fiction writer Philip José Farmer. Farmer suggested in two "biographies" of fictional characters (Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life), that the real meteorite (Wold Cottage meteorite) which fell near Wold Newton, Yorkshire, England, on December 13, 1795, was radioactive and caused genetic mutations in the occupants of a passing coach. Many of their descendants were thus endowed 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. The progeny of these travellers were purported to have been the real-life originals of fictionalised characters, both heroic and villainous, over the last few hundred years, such as Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Doc Savage, and Lord Peter Wimsey.

Other popular characters included by Farmer as members of the Wold Newton family are: Solomon Kane; Captain Blood; The Scarlet Pimpernel; Sherlock Holmes's nemesis Professor Moriarty; Phileas Fogg; The Time Traveller (main character of The Time Machine by H. G. Wells); Allan Quatermain; A. J. Raffles; Professor Challenger; Richard Hannay; Bulldog Drummond; the evil Fu Manchu and his adversary, Sir Denis Nayland Smith; G-8; The Shadow; Sam Spade; Doc Savage's cousin Patricia Savage, and one of his five assistants, Monk Mayfair; The Spider; Nero Wolfe; Mr. Moto; The Avenger; Philip Marlowe; James Bond; Lew Archer; Travis McGee; Monsieur Lecoq; and Arsène Lupin.

The Wold Newton Universe[edit]

The Wold Newton Universe (or WNU) is a term coined by Win Scott Eckert to denote an expansion of Philip José Farmer's original Wold Newton Family concept (introduced in Tarzan Alive (1972)). Eckert introduced the term in 1997 on his website, An Expansion of Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe.[1] Eckert uses Farmer's concept of the Wold Newton Family as a unifying device, and expands the universe that the Wold Newton Family inhabits by documenting crossovers between fictional characters from various media and genres. Characters incorporated into the WNU are not necessarily blood relatives, descendants, or ancestors of those present at the 1795 Wold Newton meteor strike, but they all exist in the same shared fictional universe. Farmer himself penned a number of crossover fiction stories and novels set in what is now termed the Wold Newton Universe; not all characters in Farmer's Wold Newton fiction are core members of the Wold Newton Family, but all are linked into the larger WNU via connections with Farmer's primary Wold Newton Family works, Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.[2]

Eckert and other "post-Farmerian" writers (denoting authors working with or in a similar vein as Eckert, who are admirers of Farmer's Wold Newton biographies and fiction) have – through crossovers documented in Eckert's massive online Crossover Chronology[3] (published in book form by Black Coat Press in two volumes in 2010 as Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World), and through parascholarly articles such as those appearing on the various WNU-themed websites online; Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe (edited by Win Scott Eckert, MonkeyBrain Books, 2005, a 2007 Locus Award finalist [4]) and in various issues of the pro-zine dedicated to and authorized by Farmer, Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip José Farmer[5] (published by Michael Croteau, webmaster of the Official Philip José Farmer Home Page [1]) – brought numerous further fictional characters into the WNU. These characters have appeared in literary fiction – including penny dreadfuls, pulp comics, Victorian, Romanticism and Renaissance literature, steampunk, Gothic novels, fairy tales, mythology and folklore – as well as in film, television programs, comic book series and graphic novels, radio shows, and even video games.

Many post-Farmerian "parascholars" have attempted to expand the WNU to include characters of their liking into the WNU, and often into the Wold Newton family proper. These attempts have included efforts to fit in comic book superheroes and supervillains, whose published exploits, by their very nature, often prove difficult to reconcile with Farmer's original framework. Therefore, in order for aspects of larger fictional universes to adhere to certain conditions of the overall continuity and even believability of the WNU (whose root conceit has always been that characters the world knows as fictional actually lived, or are yet living, and that their adventures are based on true events embroidered by the genre authors who serve as their "biographers"), certain accounts of the characters' lives that overly strain suspension of disbelief are often labeled as "distortion" of actual events, or dismissed as complete fabrication.

Family vs. Universe[edit]

Although the two terms are used almost interchangeably, there is an important distinction: Wold Newton Family members – those who are descended from or otherwise related to the individuals exposed to the meteor strike, and Wold Newton Universe members, unrelated to the family, who have met one or more family members in crossovers. Examples of this can be found in the works of Farmer that created the concept: several family members were present at the death of King Kong, thus firmly placing Kong in the universe, but Kong cannot be a family member as he is not human.

Similar creations[edit]

An earlier proponent of this sort of fiction was William S. Baring-Gould, who wrote a fictional biography of Sherlock Holmes entitled Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.[6] In 1977 C. W. Scott-Giles, an expert in heraldry, published a history of Lord Peter Wimsey's family, going back to 1066 (but describing the loss of the family tree going back to Adam and Eve); the book is based on material from his correspondence with Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote at least two of the family anecdotes in the book, one of them in the French language of the Middle Ages. For details, see Duke of Denver.

Warren Ellis's comic book series Planetary has a similar premise of fitting many different superhero, science fiction, and fantasy elements into the same universe. (For the most part, constrained by the needs of the story and copyright, Ellis does not use the originals but rather his own re-interpretations of the archetypes). Author Kim Newman has stated that his Anno Dracula series was partially inspired by the Wold Newton family.[7]

The anthology series Tales of the Shadowmen edited by Jean-Marc Lofficier is also based on the Wold Newton concept and includes characters from French literature.

Alan Moore did likewise in his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book (and its sequels) in which various Victorian era literary characters meet and join up with the eponymous League (though they are not descended from a single family). Over the course of the series, the world of the League began to incorporate many works of fiction from many different eras—not just Victorian literature—into its universe. Moore calls the Wold Newton stories "a seminal influence upon the League".[8]

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