My Travels through the Wold Wide Web
By Dennis E. Power
My excursions into the mythology of the Wold Newton family began, like Philip José Farmer, through the pulps. However in my case it was he paperback reprints of Tarzan, Doc Savage and the Shadow. I must have been around eight when I was watching a Johnny Weismuller movie on television. When my father walked into the room he laughed at what I was watching. He commented, “That isn’t Tarzan.” A couple of days later he handed me a 1964 Whitman edition of Tarzan of the Apes. I remember that it was a new book so the stores must have still been carrying them in 1968. Once I had devoured that I bugged my parents for more Tarzan books. At that time Ballantine was still publishing their reprints so I was able to buy half of them and get the rest out of the library. Tarzan introduced me to the wider world of Burroughs and to adventure fiction in general. My father had small collection of science fiction paperbacks which included five or six Doc Savage novels and two Shadow novels. I also became hooked on Doc Savage and began collecting what paperbacks of his I could find.
My first exposure to the works of Philip José Farmer came from reading either A Private Cosmos, which was the third in his World of Tiers or The Fabulous Riverboat, the second in his Riverworld series. I remember really liking A Private Cosmos and while was intrigued by The Fabulous Riverboat, at 12, I was befuddled by it. Shortly after that I read Dare and Lord Tyger.
I was always a bit of an omnivorous reader but my two favorite subjects were science fiction/adventure fiction and history. I really enjoyed biographies and one day while perusing the biography section of the local library I found the first edition hardback of Tarzan Alive, which must have been out only a few months at that time. I grabbed it, thinking to myself that it was a good thing no one else had noticed this great book. Already familiar with most of the Tarzan books by that time it was a treat for Mr. Farmer to show how Burroughs had exaggerated some of the details of the books but had been fairly faithful to how it really happened. When I finished the book I was convinced for a time anyway, that Tarzan was indeed a real person. Especially since the book had been in the biography section of the library. It wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t true, would it? I was less convinced about the family tree but since I had already read some of Michael Harrison’s books about Sherlock Holmes, I thought maybe parts of the family tree were real.
However as I began to look up various members of the family tree and read their exploits, I knew that he had tricked me, but in a good way. One of the benefits of having read Tarzan Alive was that it introduced me to a wealth of literary figures that I knew nothing about, such as Professor Challenger, Wolf Larsen, A. J. Raffles, Alan Quatermain and the works of Sabatini, Austen, George MacDonald Fraser.
A couple of years later when I saw Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life on Walgreens bookrack I snatched it up. In addition to literary works such as Raintree County, The Sot-Weed Facto, A Prisoner of Zenda, and characters such as José ph Jorkens, Colonel Clay, and Arsene Lupin, I was pleased to see that Doc Savage was related to some of my favorite character such as James Bond Mr. Moto, The Avenger, Kickaha, Phileas Fogg and Sam Spade. I was also intrigued to see Manuel of Poictesme and Kilgore Trout among the members of this family tree. I had read Cabell’s Figures of Earth which had been reprinted by Ballantine and Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and this mention prompted to seek out and read more of their adventures. I was thrilled, and a bit confused, a few years later when Kilgore Trout came out with Venus on the Half Shell. Trout was a fictional character, right. Or was he?
Venus on the Half Shell was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager and I passed it around to a lot of my friends. It was years before I learned that it had actually been written by Philip José Farmer.
From the ages of 13 to 17, I was really fascinated by the concept of the Wold Newton family and such books like The Adventure of the Peerless Peer and The Other Log of Phileas Fogg only spurred my enthusiasm. Using graph paper I created a master family tree that incorporated both of the family trees in Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life and added on material found in The Other Log of Phileas Fogg and the The Lavalite World. Once that was done, I began expanding the tree on my own. I created extensive family trees adding in a mixture of fictional and historical gunslingers, criminals. I also added Asian characters such as Charlie Chan, characters from the James Bond novels, Mark Twain’s characters and characters from blaxploitation films. Inspired by Vincent McHugh’s Caleb Catlum’s America, which had America’s folk heroes as part of an extended family tree I also added some these folk heroes such as John Henry, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Stormalong. This was all done with idea of writing a Doc Savage book that would incorporate the Wold Newton family concept. Eventually I learned however that such a book would most likely never make it to print and so dropped the idea of the novel. However I did sporadically work on my family trees for amusement.
When I first got onto the internet back in 1997 once of the first things I did was search for anything Wold Newton related. Although I did not find anything I kept trying. If Win Eckert had anything up at that time I did not find it. This was in the pre-Google dark ages.
Eventually I found I did find Win Eckert’s An Expansion of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe site . At that time it consisted of a rather short crossover chronology, a couple of articles by Lou Mougin and a humongous graphic was a collage of several pulp cover scans. That graphic took forever to load in those days of 28.8 modems. I became a very frequent visitor to the site but was kind of disappointed that although the chronology grew a bit, there was a distinct lack of articles. Despite having created several Wold Newton derived genealogies in the eighties, I was not currently doing any Wold Newton related stuff but rather was currently involved in creating my El Head character and so was working exclusively on that. However it bugged me that no one was writing any articles about the Wold Newton family like was in Tarzan Alive or the Doc Savage biography.
So after a great deal of trepidation, I sent Win a rather long email about my theory to incorporate Charlie Chan into the Wold Newton Family. I did not hear from him for some time, so I figured he thought the idea had no merit. One day out of the blue his email popped up with a request for me to turn the theory into an article. This became the Asian Detectives in the Wold Newton Universe article , which I believe was the first to delve into Wold Newton speculative genealogy on his site.
I kept working on El Head stories but kept coming back to Win’s page. I saw that other people had also begun putting up articles and Win’s chronology had grown to incorporate the Highlander type Immortals, Star Trek, the X-Files and things like that. After my Asian Detectives article had appeared Mark Brown had submitted From Pygmalion to Casablanca: The Genealogy of Henry Higgins and a couple of other speculative articles to Win’s site.
Around that time the film The Wild Wild West came out, I began to wonder how to reconcile the film with the television series. I thought of my old genealogy which I had created over twenty years before. By cannibalizing my Wold Newton family tree and incorporating some of the mythology that Farmer had created when he wrote The Other Log of Phileas Fogg I began writing The Wild Wild West article which blossomed into a Wold Wold West article which not only reconciled the Wild Wild West film and television show but it also incorporated many of the Western characters that had been in my Wold Newton Family Tree. As I was working on the Wold Wold West article I began to think on how to reconcile the existence of Star Trek, the Highlander Immortals, X-Files and what not with the Capelleans and the World of Tiers series. This lead to an Aliens Among Us article. In creating the two articles, to help me keep things straight I used Win’s The Wold Newton Universe Crossover Chronology and added in my own stuff which lead to the creation of The Revised Wold Newton Crossover Chronology Crossover Chronology
I submitted the articles to Win. He replied that he really enjoyed them but that at that time he was not going to have the time to put articles on his website. He said that one of his other contributors was planning on creating an ancillary site and suggested I do so as well. He also thought because of the length of the articles and the revised chronology that it would be a good start for a new site. We worked out the details which would distinguish his work from mine. Since my site was intended to be a sort of look behind the history on Win’s site, I called it The Secret History of the Wold Newton Universe. I have since shortened slightly to The Wold Newton Universe: A Secret History.
It was about this time that Win invited me to join a Wold Newton email group. The email group was eventually transmogrified into a Wold Newton e-group, the latest version of which is simply called Wold Newton Family
Shortly after I put my site up I was joined by another site, The Wold Newton Chronicles < http://www.pjfarmer.com/chronicles/index.ht> site Mark Brown. One of his first articles on that site was The Magnificent Gordons, which was in part an extension of the Gordon genealogy I had created for The Wold Wold West article. This was one of the first instances of cross-referencing between articles created by the early writers of Wold Newton speculation.
After Win’s Mark’s and my sites had been up for a while, Jess Nevins created Jess Nevins’ Wold Newton site, <http://ratmmjess.tripod.com/wold.html> where he posted his own Wold Newton speculation. A bit later Jean Marc Lofficier created the French Wold Newton site which provided a Gallic-centric version of the Wold Newton Universe.
Mark, Win’s and my sites were on three different servers for a while. Eventually Mike Croteau and Rick Beaulieu offered to host our three sites on the www.pjfarmer.com domain, where the Official Philip José Farmer homepage is hosted. Our sites were chosen because there was some cross referencing between the three, creating an informal “consensus” Wold Newton Universe. This cross referencing came about in a couple of different ways. One way was that various authors had articles posted on two or three of the sites. For example Win has articles posted on his site and the Chronicles site. I have articles posted on my site and Win’s site. Brad Mengel and Art Bollman have articles posted on all three sites.
Another manner in which this cross fertilization took place was in the process of article creation. Mark, Win and I provided each other, and article writers who followed, with feedback and suggestions as they created their articles. This was either through the public message board or in private emails. For instance, Matthew Baugh, Mark Brown and I helped Win with The Amazing Lanes, his first foray into speculative genealogy. I also remember providing feedback and suggestions to Jess Nevins, Brad Mengel, Chuck Loridans, Art Bollman, Matthew Baugh, David Kennedy and a few others.
Another form of the cross fertilization took place in the form of what could be termed spring boarding, that is one piece leading either to another’s creation or providing the impetus for the article to be created. Mark Brown’s The Magnificent Gordons spring boarded from my Wold Wold article. I think Mark had previously been working on a Gordon’s genealogy but when my article appeared; he had something else to link it two. Another example is John Small’s Kiss of the Vampire. John took an email I had written speculating on the connection between Lady Rawhide and Vampirella and turned it into a gem of an article. Another of couple springboards was Win’s Amazing Lane’s article which led to my series of articles about the Jekyll and Hyde family and Peter Coogan’s John Carter is Phra the Phoenician which led to John Carter: Torn from Phoenician Dreams and the subsequent articles in our John Carter series.
This cross pollination between our sites led to the creation of the book Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, Monkeybrain books, November 2005. This volume articles from Philip José Farmer and articles from each of the owners of the three www.pjfarmer.com hosted sites, and I believe at least one article from each of the sites from other contributors. These articles were revised and expanded for print publication.
Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe was the crowning achievement of the “consensus” for it gave their fannish scribblings a sense of legitimacy. However, it was also for all intents and purposes the peak of the Woldnewtonry on the internet, as many of the authors of those pieces went onto other writing projects; some Wold Newton related, others tangentially so. Most Wold Newton related activity on the internet now comes from message boards.
I do however remain hopeful that their will be a renaissance from a new generation of Wold Newton researchers who will write new articles and create their own sites.