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 fictional biographies (Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life) that the 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 are 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 the coach travellers present at the 1795 Wold Cottage meteor strike, but these characters 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 authors – admirers of Farmer's Wold Newton biographies and fiction who write in Eckert’s vein – have published numerous further fictional characters in many literary styles and media, including works emulating the aesthetics of the Renaissance, Romantic and Victorian eras; such sub-genres of prose fiction as Gothic and steampunk; the fairy tale, mythology and folklore categories of traditional stories; publication formats like the graphic novel, the comic book, the pulp magazine and the penny dreadful; and the non-print media of motion pictures, television shows, radio programs and video games. WNU crossover characters are 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); in articles by WNU experts on the various WNU-themed websites; in 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 Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip José Farmer,[5] the prozine dedicated to and authorized by Farmer and published by Michael Croteau, webmaster of the Official Philip José Farmer Home Page [1].

Many post-Farmerian experts have attempted to expand the Wold Newton Universe by including characters of their liking into the WNU and often into the Wold Newton family proper. Among these attempted expansions is introducing comic book superheroes and supervillains whose published exploits, by their very nature, often prove difficult to reconcile with Farmer's original framework. But WNU’s root conceit has always been that characters known by the reader as fictional actually lived or are yet living, with their adventures based on true events embroidered by the genre authors who serve as their "biographers". Therefore, in order for aspects of larger fictional universes to adhere to WNU’s overall continuity and believability, certain accounts of these new characters' lives have been labeled as a distortion of actual events or dismissed as complete fabrication.

Family vs. Universe[edit]

Although the terms Wold Newton Family and Wold Newton Universe are used almost interchangeably, there is an important distinction: Wold Newton Family members are descended from or otherwise related to the coach travellers exposed to the Wold Cottage meteor strike, while Wold Newton Universe members are unrelated to the family but 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 Wold Newton Family members were present at the death of King Kong, thus firmly placing Kong in the Wold Newton Universe, but Kong cannot be a member of the Wold Newton Family because 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 Scott-Giles's 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 incorporates 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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