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Writing that is out of this world
Wold Newton Cottage
Wold Newton Cottage former home of Edward Topham

A local meteorite strike inspired a body of science fiction literature.

The meteorite that landed near Wold Newton in East Yorkshire was the first observed fall in the United Kingdom.

It landed close to a house owned by landowner Edward Topham at 3:00 pm on 13 December 1795.

Topham, the local magistrate, took statements from witnesses and handed over the rock to the Natural History Museum.

The incident was a major advancement in the understanding of the Universe.

The quality and accuracy of the evidence coupled with the scientific analysis of the material finally proved that rocks from space existed, and were similar to the Earth's geology.

One lesser known aspect of the meteorite was that it inspired a body of science fiction literature, appropriately as Edward Topham was a poet and writer.

Win Scott Eckert is an American author and expert on the subject, known as the Wold Newton Family. He has written a number of fiction works and essays on the subject. In this interview he explains the history and evolution of the Family.

Can you explain the origins of the Wold Newton Family?

The Wold Newton Family is a group of heroic and villainous literary figures that science fiction writer Philip José Farmer postulated belonged to the same genetic family. Some of these characters are adventurers, some are detectives, some explorers and scientists, some espionage agents, and some are evil geniuses.

According to Mr. Farmer, the Wold Newton Family originated when a meteorite came plunging to the earth, landing near the English village of Wold Newton, on December 13, 1795. Pieces of the Wold Cottage meteorite are held at the London Natural History Museum and, in 1799, Edward Topham built a brick monument to commemorate the event:

On this Spot, Dec. 13th 1795

fell from the Atmosphere

AN EXTRAORDINARY STONE

In Breadth 28 inches

In Length 30 inches

and

Whose Weight was 56 Pounds

THIS COLUMN

In Memory of it

was erected by

EDWARD TOPHAM

1799

Win Scott Eckert at the Meteorite Monument.
Win Scott Eckert at the Meteorite Monument near Wold Newton.

According to Farmer, who revealed his research in the biographies Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke (1972) and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973), the meteor's ionization caused a genetic mutation in the occupants of passing coaches, which endowed many of their descendants 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. Those present were:

Coach Passengers (14)

• John Clayton, 3rd Duke of Greystoke, and his wife, Alicia Rutherford - Tarzan

• Sir Percy Blakeney, and his (second) wife, Alice Clarke Raffles - The Scarlet Pimpernel

• Fitzwilliam Darcy, and his wife, Elizabeth Bennett - Pride and Prejudice

• George Edward Rutherford (the 11th Baron Tennington), and his wife, Elizabeth Cavendish - The Lost World

• Honoré Delagardie, and his wife, Philippa Drummond - Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond

• Dr. Siger Holmes, and his wife, Violet Clarke - Sherlock Holmes

• Sir Hugh Drummond and his wife, Lady Georgia Dewhurst - Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond

Coachmen (4)

• Louis Lupin - Arsène Lupin

• Albert Lecoq - Monsieur Lecoq

• Albert Blake - Sexton Blake

• 1 unidentified by Farmer

In addition to Tarzan and Doc Savage, Farmer concluded that influential characters from popular literature were part of the "Wold Newton Family," including Solomon Kane (a pre-meteor strike ancestor); Captain Blood (a pre-meteor strike ancestor); The Scarlet Pimpernel (present at meteor strike); Harry Flashman; Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty (aka Captain Nemo); Phileas Fogg; The Time Traveler; Allan Quatermain; A.J. Raffles; Professor Challenger; Arsène Lupin; Richard Hannay; Bulldog Drummond; the evil Fu Manchu and his adversary, Sir Denis Nayland Smith; G-8; The Shadow; Sam Spade; The Spider; Nero Wolfe; Mr. Moto; The Avenger; Philip Marlowe; James Bond; Lew Archer; Travis McGee; and many more.

The Wold Newton Universe (or WNU) is a term I coined to expand the universe the Wold Newton Family inhabits by documenting crossovers between fictional characters appearing in various media and genres, or by writing additional articles about these characters in the spirit of Farmer's biographies (see Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe (2005).

Not all characters linked into the WNU are 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.

The genre has been built on and developed by other authors since Philip José Farmer. Why do you think the Wold Newton Universe has struck a chord with both writers and readers?

I think that writers and readers alike are entranced by the notion of their favorite characters interacting, perhaps in ways that their original creators never imagined.

People have been writing crossover stories or creating crossover myths about their favorite characters for centuries, and Farmer's Wold Newton Family is the ultimate expression of that.

Authors have constructed an entire parallel history for fictional characters. How does this alternative narrative interrelate with the original stories?

For the most part, the new background that the Wold Newton mythology meshes very well with the original canonical adventures of the various characters. In the Sherlockian tradition, Farmer treats his subjects as real people who actually lived.

Both Farmer and subsequent writers take pains to map out chronologies of the characters' adventures, and create overviews of their lives, based on details gleaned from the original books.

Sometimes minor details are altered to reconcile with other known facts, and very occasionally a few of the more fantastic original adventures are dismissed as totally "fictional" in relation to the otherwise "real" events described in the rest of a characters' original books or stories.

The additional Wold Newtonian details, then, become a sort of secret history: the truth behind the fiction.

Do fans of the original works dislike the characters being portrayed in alternative versions?

Some do. They prefer to have their favored characters stand alone in their own fictional universes. Many more, however, appreciate the rich tapestry created by the Wold Newton mythology.

The family membership is large; ranging from classic literature, pulp fiction through to film and TV characters. Is it difficult to stitch together such a diverse group of figures?

The key is to not add too many elements of the fantastic that violate the premise that these are all real people, and that the stories we read, of the films we see, about them, are "fictionalized" versions of real events.

Science Museum
The meteorite was sent to the Science Museum in London

The Wold Newton Universe needs to remain a place that we could imagine is real, and thus needs to resemble, at least on the surface, the world outside our window.

Where do you see the Wold Newton Universe heading?

An official Wold Newton novel was published this year, The Evil in Pemberley House (Subterranean Press), which I wrote in collaboration with Farmer from a manuscript he began in the 1970s.

I see more novels of this sort coming down the pike, as well as the Wold Newtonian flavored short stories in Black Coat Press' Tales of the Shadowmen anthology series.

Why do you think that a fairly obscure event, in a small English village, in the 18th Century has spawned such a body of work?

When Farmer created his mythology, his secret histories, he wanted to make them as realistic as possible.

Choosing a real event like the Wold Newton meteor strike served his imaginative purposes perfectly, as he was able to place characters from that time period, such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the Darcys, right at the event itself, and then tie them to popular British, American, and French characters from subsequent time frames.

In this way, Farmer ensured that his Wold Newton Family has something for everybody.




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