Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pulp Perusals: Discovering Wold Newton

A long time ago in a country far, far away (well across an ocean anyway) I sat thinking about a movie that had just blown my teenage mind. A movie of iconic heroes and villains. Sure: it was set in space and had jaw dropping special effects; but on a basic gut instinct level it all seemed so familiar. As thoughts and ideas percolated I slipped a piece of paper into my trusty typewriter and jotted down some notes along the lines of "All heroes are connected--Luke Skywalker, James Bond, Robin Hood, King Arthur... There's a story here?" That piece of paper was filed away, and (when I subsequently heard about Joseph Campbell and his hero of a thousand faces) forgotten and eventually lost.

Then a few weeks ago, in a moment of madness, I signed up to write a new Allan Quatermain novella for the fine folks at Airship 27. I had this insane idea for a story with Quatermain in search of a mythical great white ape who turns out to be a certain vine swinging British aristocrat whose trademarked name will not be used.

As I started to do some background research in preparation for plotting the story I mentioned the basic idea to my buddy, and Raven co-writer, Rick Klaw. In the course of the conversation he casually asked me a question, "You know that Philip Jose Farmer proposed this idea that they are related?"

"What? That's cool."

Before I knew it I was diving deep into Farmer's idea and drawn into what is referred to as the Wold Newton universe.

For those, like me, unfamiliar with Wold Newton: it is based on an idea postulated by Farmer in two fictional biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage that the historical event of a meteor strike in the region of Wold Newton in Yorkshire, England in late 1795 was the catalyst for a new generation of heroes. Farmer’s idea was that the meteor was radioactive and that the occupants of a passing coach were affected, subsequently serving as progenitors of generations of descendants with exceptional abilities, intelligence, strength, and a general tendency to perform extraordinary good (and in some cases, evil) acts.

These descendants would serve as the real life inspiration for plethora of fiction's greatest adventurers.

Researcher and writer Win Scott Eckert expanded on Farmer’s Wold Newton Family idea and developed both an online and print Crossover Chronology placing many fictional characters in a shared Wold Newton Universe.

The list of Wold Newton descendants and participants is a long one and covers almost every subsequent generation of British adventure hero; but what really caught my attention was the inclusion of Allan Quatermain as well as the aforementioned Eighth Earl of Greystoke. As well as a whole new (well, new to me) universe of ideas to explore, I suddenly have a whole new subtext layer to my novella.

Seems that the germ of a concept that passed through my mind all those years ago might just get to see the light of day in what I'm currently writing.

And while I focus on the task at hand, please sit back and enjoy the next part of THE RAVEN: NAMELESS HERE FOR EVERMORE by Rick Klaw, and myself.

Part 1 - http://www.newpulpfiction.com/2011/10/pigskin-pulp.html
Part 2 - http://www.newpulpfiction.com/2011/11/pulp-perusals-3-brit-pulp.html
Part 3 - http://www.newpulpfiction.com/2011/11/so-which-ones-black-bat-anyway.html
Part 4 - http://www.newpulpfiction.com/2011/12/pulp-perusals-5-what-hollywood-can.html

(Part Five)
By Alan J. Porter & Rick Klaw
Finn replaced the receiver and smiled.
“It’s on?” questioned one of the goons standing on the far side of the room.
“Its on,” Finn confirmed. “You all know what to do. Just make sure that whatever happens you bring him here.” Finn gestured to the large mirror on the wall behind him. “The Boss is waiting.”
The goon who had spoke up looked at the mirror and gave an audible gulp. “You mean he’s here, watching now?”
Finn smiled, “You never know when he is watching, so make sure that you don’t ever mess up. Get it?”
“Yeah, I got it,” muttered the goon.
“Good, now get out of here!” shouted Finn.
The various goons scuttled out of the room.
Finn turned and smiled at the mirror. “Won’t be long now, Boss.”

Vandemeer sat at his regular table with its panoramic view of the park. Similar to the countless times during the past seven years since the Tavern on the Green opened, he enjoyed the company of a beautiful woman. The venue and vista usually relaxed him. But not tonight. Lala's thoughts centered on another man, not on one of New York's most eligible bachelors, an altogether unfamiliar sensation for the playboy.
Additionally, an almost palpable tension hung in the air. Something momentous was about to happen, but what he couldn’t place. Like a half forgotten fact, it niggled at the back of his mind.
Consequently, the dinner conversation was strained. Both of them wanted to get away as soon as it would be seemly. For once passing up on his favorite dessert, Vandemeer called the valet for his Dusenberg.
The maître-d shuffled up to the waiting couple and gave an embarrassed cough. “I’m sorry, sir, there seems to be some delay in retrieving your vehicle.”
Vandemeer smiled knowingly. In fact he suspected that the valet boys often enjoyed a quick spin in the sports car, counting on the fact that Vandemeer customarily enjoyed a lengthy dinner. He normally humored them—assuming they didn’t add any dents or scratches to his car—but not tonight. “My good sir, Miss Ward and I will walk once around the park. I fully expect the Dusenberg, cleaned and gassed, waiting for me upon our return.”
Not waiting for a reply, Vandemeer turned to Lala. “Let’s stretch our legs while we wait.” She gave him a withering look. “It’s a crisp evening. Perfect for a stroll.”
“Sure, why not.” She sighed.
As the couple turned the first corner on the park path, hidden from the restaurant, six men, dressed in all black, appeared. Without a word, the nearest one swung his fist into Vandemeer’s stomach.
Appearing to collapse, Vandemeer toppled forward. Just before his head hit the ground, he swiftly pulled his arms away from his stomach, reached forward, and placed his palms flat on the pathway. Pushing himself up and over, the playboy flipped, landing neatly balanced on the balls of his feet in a fighting pose. He then pivoted on one foot, stretched his other leg straight and spun, using his limb almost as a scythe to mow down the three rushing assailants.
Vandemeer positioned himself between the girl and the remaining thugs. Without looking back, he spoke to her, but not in his usual foppish tones. Cold and commanding, a deep baritone voice rumbled, “Run, woman. Take the car. Tell Malone the trap is sprung.”
“What?” Puzzled, Lala just stared at this strange creature in front of her. First Edwin and now Raymond.
“Move! Now! Malone will know!” boomed the voice. He quickly glanced backward and looked straight at her. She gasped. Vandemeer’s eyes, always a comforting sparkling blue, now peered back at her in an unsettling blood red hue. The smiling face replaced by a cruel mouth. “Go!” he commanded.

The Raven scampered up the access ladder to the roof. Stealthily running across the rooftop, he reached a skylight. Looking down, he saw a man he recognized as Finn, right hand man and fixer for the crime lord known simply as The Boss. Everything was falling into place. After defeating the men in the park, The Raven forced them to reveal their plans. He now knew they had laid a trap for him. Knowing this, he decided to use this information and turn the tables on the villains. He now wielded the element of surprise.
Standing straight, The Raven leapt forward, smashing through the skylight with his booted feet. Amidst a shower of falling glass, he dropped quickly and neatly to the ground right behind the surprised Finn. Before Finn reacted, The Raven delivered a forearm blow to the back of Finn’s neck. The big man staggered, regained his footing, and spun hoping to land a right hook on his assailant. Moving deftly to his right, the Raven easily dodged the flailing Finn. The Raven stepped in and delivered another blow, this time to the side of Finn’s head, hoping to further disorientate the big man. Finn dropped like a stone, crashing to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The Raven stopped and took a breath, then rose to the balls of his feet, taking a defensive stance in anticipation of the arrival of more of The Boss’s hired help. None came.
“Bravo, sir!” came a voice, “I congratulate you on subduing Mr. Finn so quickly.”
The Raven did a quick 360-degree check. Save for him and the unconscious Finn, the room appeared empty. Across from him stood a couple of heavy draped curtains that threw the far wall into deep shadow.
He looked harder, his red eyes straining. The curtains parted ever so slightly and the dim outline of a man’s head and shoulders could be seen.
“It was too easy. I expected more of you.” The Raven responded as he inched closer to the curtain.
“In what way have I disappointed you?” countered the voice from the shadows.
“You have a reputation for trickery and deceit. Ruthlessness to both your victims and your own men. I expected more of a challenge.” He slowly continued moving toward the outline.
“I think that's far enough, Raven. Or perhaps you prefer Raymond Vandemeer?”
“Raymond Vandemeer no longer exists. That is just a name. Names can be such temporary things. So what do I call you? Is it just ‘The Boss.'’’?
“Ah,” came the voice “We are all nameless here for evermore.”
“Poe,” said the Raven,” how appropriate.”
“So quoth The Raven.” chuckled the voice.
“I assume that you have Edward Sparrow somewhere on the premises?
Where is he?”
“That’s an excellent question Raven, and one I think that you can answer just as well as I.”
The Raven paused, a fleeting look of puzzlement flashing across his face. “What the hell do you mean by that?”
“Perhaps I can answer that old chap.” A familiar British accent spoke from somewhere behind The Raven.
The Raven answered without turning around, there was no way he was taking his eyes of the shadowy figure of The Boss. “What the hell are you doing here? It wasn’t part of my plan.”
“It may not have been part of your plan, my dear boy, but some of us had other plans in mind for this evening’s tête-à-tête. Isn’t that right Captain Malone?”
The voice from the shadows chuckled, “Well it seems that after I dispose of you I will have a few others to entertain me this evening.”
“You’re outnumbered,” said the steely voiced Raven. “You can’t hide in the shadows any longer.”

The Raven took a couple of determined strides towards the heavy curtains. “I don’t think ye want to be doing that laddy,” Malone’s voice was almost a plea.
“No, Captain.” The British agent laid a restraining hand on the police Captain’s arm as he made to move forward and stop the vigilante. “Let him see this through to the end. He must face his nemesis before the night is out.”

Ignoring the conversation, the man known as The Raven reached the heavy drapes. He grasped one in each hand and swiftly and dramatically pulled them back to reveal the bloody and beaten body of a man lashed to a chair. The Raven crouched down, cupped the lifeless chin in one hand and gently raised the man’s head to get a better look at is face. The face was gone. Brutally beaten, and slashed, as if his attacker had been hell-bent on erasing any trace of his victim’s identity. “They say he was the man of a thousand faces,” laughed the shadowy voice, “I just reduced the count to zero.”
The Raven took a step back. He stared at the disfigured remains slumped in front of him. “Oh my God, Edwin.”
Enraged, The Raven’s gaze swept up to the mirror mounted on the wall above his friend’s body. “A one-way mirror won’t protect you. You are mine.”

The Raven drew on of his Colt .45s, took a steady and careful aim, and gently squeezed on the trigger. The mirror shattered into a thousand shards.

The Raven stared in disbelief at the solid brick wall behind the shattered mirror frame.

With a horrible realization of the truth of his existence, the man known as The Raven was suddenly nameless. Unable to process this new reality, he threw his Colt in the direction of the wall and then collapsed to his knees, an incoherent racking sob emanating from his throat.




  1. I actually started to play with Wold Newton-type ideas when I was still a teenager. I was actually working on a comic idea that would have combined several characters in to a super-team... only for Alan Moore to do it first (and honestly, much much better).

    When I found out a year or two later that someone's been doing this kind of thing for years I was completely amazed. I still marvel at the work some of the Wold Newton 'scholars' put in to their theories.

  2. Thanks for the shout out! There's a Wold Newton discussion group on Yahoo and a Wold Newton forum on Facebook. Titan Books is reissuing many of Farmer's books under a common "Wold Newton" banner, with bonus materials (forewords, afterwords, chronologies, etc.) by myself and other Wold Newton experts. And new Wold Newton stories are also being authorized by Farmer's estate, appearing in the annual anthology THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSE FARMER (Meteor House). The following sites always have the latest news (as well as Facebook:)


    Best regards,



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