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May 06, 2006

Geeky Timesuck: The Wold "Newtonverse"

When I was a kid, I found a book in the detective section of the library -- I think about pulp hero Doc Savage -- that had a strange geneology printed on the flypaper. It was lifted from sci-fi writer Philip Jose Farmer, who'd written a couple of fictitious biographies, one for Tarzan, the other for Doc Savage.

He postulated that in 1795 a strange meteor struck in Wold Newton, England, irradiating eighteen passers-by in two coaches with weird energies. The meteor strike affected everyone in those coaches, as well as all their unborn progeny for decades to come, causing them to have high levels of intelligence and strength and other gifts.

Long story short: he constructed a "Wold Newton" family tree of all those affected by the meteor strike, and their descendants, and it turns out that most of the great characters of pulp and detective fiction are closely related, all descended from those original 18 present at the Wold Newton meteor strike.

Doc Savage, The Shadow, Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarity, the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Nero Wolfe, Dracula, Van Helsing, Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, Allen Quartermain and even James Bond and Batman are close cousins of each other, all basically low-level superheroes due to the same cosmic blast. And of course John Carter of Mars, the Continental Op, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Travis McGee, and Lew Archer.

It's kind of a cool idea, at least to a twelve year old. Some links make sense; The Lone Ranger (John Reid) and the Green Hornet (Britt Reid) share a last name, so they're grandfather-grandson. The Shadow's squeeze, Margo Lane, is obviously the sister of Superman's belle, Lois. Etc.

Other links are, of course, just dopey.

I saw the idea again mentioned in a website about The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (the comic book); apparently Alan Moore is a fan of the theory, and incorporated subtle nods to the Wold Newton family tree in his books about the characters. He invented a character named "Campion Bond," for example, in his comic book, one of the ancestors, it seems, of James Bond.

Anyway, cruising the Internet last night, I came across this goofy geneology for the third time. And apparently it's a cool idea to a lot of adults, too, who really should be doing better things with their time. But they've taken Farmer's idea and basically attempted to link virtually every fictitious hero to the Wold Newton strike, from James West and Artemis Gordon of The Wild, Wild West to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Conan to, um, Michael Knight, aka, The Knight Rider.

Goofy stuff. There's a big circle of "Wold Newton geneologists" who crank out long essays attempting to link every heroic character you can think of, and furthermore ret-con their chronologies, so that everything is supposed to fit in the "Newtonverse" with as few contradictions as possible.

Basically, it's a big waste of time, although an occasionally fun one. I got sucked in for a couple of hours last night, and was surprised to learn that Victor Von Frankenstein had raped (?) an assistant's finance named Anna Spengler, who would one day have a great-great-great-granchild named Egon Spengler, who operated with a team of paranormal eliminators called The Ghostbusters.

See? It's GOOFY. And there are maybe a hundred or more essays about this by dozens of writers making connections and referring back to eachother's "discoveries' as if it's an academic discipline. But it's kind of fun, if you like, as most twelve-year-olds due, the "crossover" story where Superman teams up with Batman, or Batman teams up with Sherlock Holmes. I think they need to put the breaks on trying to link everyone, no matter how lame; why the short-lived 1970's series The Invisible Man had to be linked into this I have no good idea. No one remembers it, and no one liked it at the time; why bother bringing in lame characters?

And of course no geekiness is complete without linking in Star Trek. Yes, indeed, Spock traces his human parentage to none other than Sherlock Holmes, of course.

I felt dirty reading it. I took the night off from porn, but wound up indulging in something far less healthy. That's how geeky it all is.

A Link... I remember that Roger Zelazny said that his entire Chronicles of Amber series was just based on an idea of Philip Jose Farmer's. I wonder if he was referring to the Wold Newton thing, given that the Chronicles of Amber are all about a large family of superheroes all gifted by the same background event. (In Zelazny, the fact that they're all from another dimension and have walked the power-bestowing "Pattern.")

Bond And Philip Marlowe Are Related, Of Course: At least in real life. Ian Fleming's Bond series was going nowhere, with indifferent sales, and he decided to kill Bond off. Fleming's friend, Raymond Chandler, urged him not to do so, feeling the character had a lot of potential, and just needed to find his audience.

From Russia, With Love ends, strangely, with Bond apparently (but not definitely) killed by Rosa Klubb's poison-dagger-shoes; I think this is where Fleming decided to half-take Chandler's advice and leave Bond's fate vague. If the book sold well, Bond would be given a reprieve; if it went nowhere, well, he died in that hotel room.

Of course, soon after, John F. Kennedy mentioned that one of the books he was reading was From Russia, With Love, thus skyrocketing that book (and the books that came before it) on to the best seller lists, and ultimately getting a pair of producers interested in making films about Bond.

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posted by Ace at 01:13 PM

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