Friday at Pemberley House with Win Scott Eckert
Well, this is a completely different introduction than the one I set out to write a few days ago.
This column is about Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton books and the new one that’s coming out in that series. It was originally scheduled to go up Friday, February 27th.
Unfortunately, Philip José Farmer passed away on Wednesday, February 25th, at the age of 91.
I was extremely saddened to hear this. Mr. Farmer’s books have been a big part of my life since 1975.
Though he did not specifically work in comics, Mr. Farmer’s books about pulp adventure characters like Doc Savage and Tarzan are well-known to many readers of this blog. Certainly, I’ve talked about those books several times here and I was very pleased to be bringing you news of a new one, courtesy of Win Eckert.
Win Scott Eckert is the webmaster of the Wold Newton Universe web page at pjfarmer.com, and we had corresponded once or twice after I recommended his book of essays about Farmer’s Wold Newton work, Myths For The Modern Age.
A few weeks ago Win very kindly offered to send me an advance review copy of his new novel, a book done in collaboration with Phil Farmer himself, titled The Evil In Pemberley House. I suggested, rather than just having me do a review, that instead Win could answer some questions and we’d do a little interview. He graciously agreed and that’s what the column was originally going to be. I was very excited to see a new Wold Newton project from Mr. Farmer, and pleased to be able to give Win’s work a push here, as well.
But now it all feels somewhat bittersweet. It hit me all over again when I realized that this week’s column is mostly about what is likely the last new Farmer novel. I knew that Philip José Farmer was getting older, and largely retired from writing, but I was still stumbling across new books of his I’d been unaware of, here and there. (Pearls From Peoria arrived here a couple of weeks ago, just to name one.) As far as I was concerned it felt like he was still a working writer. And it was nice to think that he was still out there, talking to the guys that worked on the web pages and so on.
It just seemed like he was going to be here for years longer, despite his age, and it was a shock to hear he was gone. Though it’s some comfort to remember that right up until the end of his life, Philip José Farmer was involved with putting out cool books that played with genre conventions in all kinds of ways.
Anyway, here is the interview, and I hope it leads you to checking out not just this new novel from Eckert and Farmer when it hits bookstores in a couple of months, but also to Mr. Farmer’s other books in the Wold Newton cycle, if you haven’t discovered them already.
For readers that may be new to the whole Wold Newton cycle of books by Philip José Farmer and others, can you sketch out the premise for us? It’s almost a Unified Field theory of adventure fiction, isn’t it? What’s a good ‘jumping-on’ point in the cycle for a new reader?
The Wold Newton Family is a group of heroic and villainous literary figures that science fiction author 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 radioactive meteor landed in Wold Newton, England, on December 13, 1795. The meteor strike is a real historical event.
The radiation caused a genetic mutation in those present, 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.
Popular characters that Philip José Farmer concluded were members of the Wold Newton mutant family include: Solomon Kane (a pre-meteor strike ancestor); Captain Blood (a pre-meteor strike ancestor); The Scarlet Pimpernel (present at the meteor strike); Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet (present at the meteor strike); Harry Flashman; Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty; Phileas Fogg; The Time Traveler; Allan Quatermain; Monsieur Lecoq; Tarzan and his son Korak; 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; Doc Savage, his cousin Pat Savage, and one of his five assistants, Monk Mayfair; The Spider; Nero Wolfe; Mr. Moto; The Avenger; Philip Marlowe; James Bond; Lew Archer; and Travis McGee.
Subsequent writers have written articles in Farmer’s continuity, either adding characters to the Wold Newton Family tree, or discussing characters that might exist in the continuity but are not necessarily Family members. The overall continuity is called the Wold Newton Universe and has several websites devoted to it, the first of which was my own, An Expansion of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe; there’s also an online discussion forum, the Wold Newton Family.
A central conceit of the Wold Newton Universe is that the characters are real, that the events all really happened, and that the stories and novels are fictionalizations of real historical events. This derives from Sherlock Holmes fandom, where Holmes and Watson are treated as real people, and Sherlockians write speculative articles reconciling contradictions in the original stories.
The best place to start is the book that started it all, Farmer’s Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke; it was recently reprinted by Bison Books in 2006, so it’s readily available.
The follow-up biography is Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, in which Farmer revealed that Doc Savage’s “real” name was Dr. James Clarke Wildman, Jr.
It was in these two books that Farmer outlined the whole Wold Newton Family tree.
After writing the two biographies, Farmer expanded his Wold Newton mythos in novels such as The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (a “secret history” behind Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days), The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (a Sherlock Holmes-Tarzan crossover, recently reprinted in Farmer’s collection from Subterranean Press, Venus on the Half-Shell and Others)….
There’s also Hadon of Ancient Opar, Flight to Opar (the Opar books take place in prehistoric Africa of the Wold Newton Universe, and are tightly related to his time-travel novel Time’s Last Gift), The Dark Heart of Time: A Tarzan Novel, and Escape from Loki: Doc Savage’s First Adventure.
Tell us about the new book, The Evil in Pemberley House.
The Evil in Pemberley House, the latest addition to Farmer’s Wold Newton cycle, plays with the Gothic horror tradition. Patricia Wildman, the daughter of the world-renowned adventurer and crimefighter of the 1930s and ‘40s, Dr. James Clarke “Doc” Wildman, is all alone in the world when she inherits the family estate in Derbyshire, England—old, dark, and supposedly haunted.
But Farmer, characteristically, turns convention on its ear. Is the ghost of Bess of Pemberley real, or a clever sham? In Patricia Wildman, Farmer creates an introspective character who struggles to reconcile the supernatural with her rational scientific upbringing, while also attempting to work through unresolved feelings about her late parents. He sets the action at Pemberley from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (remember, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet were at the Wold Newton meteor strike; they are ancestors of Patricia Wildman) and ingrains the various mysteries in the Canon of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
The book is darkly erotic, following in Farmer’s tradition of frank treatment of sex, although it is not a graphic as A Feast Unknown or Image of the Beast. Hopefully it will appeal to readers of pulp and popular literature, particularly followers of Doc Savage, Sherlockians, and fans of Farmer’s own Wold Newton Family.
The Limited Edition will come with an exclusive chapbook of bonus materials that includes Farmer’s original outline for the novel, as well as an extensive chart outlining the additions to the Wold Newton Family tree that are revealed in the novel.
The Evil in Pemberley House will be published by Subterranean Press and is currently scheduled for release in September 2009. The dust jacket will be by the fabulous Glen Orbik.
How did you get involved with this project? This is the first new Wold Newton fiction from Mr. Farmer in quite some time, isn’t it? Was this something he’d been meaning to get to for years that finally came to pass, or did the two of you come up with the idea together just recently?
The novel was a new discovery. I can still recall the day Mike Croteau (webmaster of Phil Farmer’s Official Philip Jose Farmer Home Page) and I were in Phil’s basement, July 4, 2005. It was the first time I met Phil and Bette Farmer, and I was invited to come meet them on very short notice. The Farmers very generously invited me to stay with them for the one night I was there. I was allowed to help Mike go through some files in his never-ending quest for more material suitable for Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip Jose Farmer and we found a file labeled “The Evil in Pemberley House.” Of course that triggered thoughts of Pride and Prejudice and the Darcys. Then I opened the file and read the first line on the first page: “A nightmare, Patricia thought.”
Well, there goes Phil with the “Patricia” name again, I thought to myself. Pat Savage was Doc Savage’s cousin in the original pulp novels, and Phil had used a name variant for Pat’s analogue in his Doc Caliban novels (A Feast Unknown and The Mad Goblin), Trish Wilde.
I was intrigued and excited, flipping rapidly through the rest of the manuscript. Patricia had bronze skin and gold-flecked eyes. Her father was a famous surgeon and crimefighter. He ran a “college” for treating criminals in upstate New York. Clearly, Patricia Wildman was the daughter of a very famous bronze-skinned pulp hero.
Long story short, the file contained the beginning chapters of the novel—I’m not going to reveal exactly how many chapters—as well as an outline, and a few pages of typewritten and handwritten notes.
The book is credited to Philip José Farmer and you together. Who did what and how did that work? Were you just going off his outline, this being an older project that you finished, or did you alternate chapters, or… what was the division of labor, I guess is what I’m asking.
The book is one of Phil’s older projects that he never finished, and yes, I definitely followed his outline, although I was allowed to add a few elements of my own into the mix.
With the Farmers’ permission, I completed the novel, sending them a few chapters at a time for their approval. Many other aspects of the manuscript and associated materials led to massive amounts of research to reconcile aspects of the family tree described therein with the established trees in the “fictional biographies” Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage. In particular, Patricia had to be the sole inheritor of Pemberley House, or else the plot was gutted. Ensuring this was much more difficult than it might sound, especially when you consider something as complex as the Wold Newton Family. I also did extensive research on peerage titles and how they do and don’t pass, and created a spot for Bess of Pemberley in the extended family tree so that she could pass on the Curse—if there is a Curse!—to Patricia and other Wold Newton Family members.
Pemberley House is billed as a ‘darkly erotic’ novel, and it certainly is. Do you worry that’s going to put off some fans? I mean, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Mr. Farmer’s work and as you pointed out this novel wasn’t as extreme as, say, his novel IMAGE OF THE BEAST…. but it’s definitely not a boys’-adventure pulp story. The brutality is no-holds-barred, right from the beginning. What led you guys to go to the dark scary places the book is exploring?
I think that the book could well put off a few hardcore purists who don’t care to have any erotic elements mixed in with their boys’ adventure pulps. As a long-time Doc Savage fan, I can see both sides. I think there’s room for both interpretations, both the pure pulp pastiche, and the more grown-up view. Neither Phil nor I have any agenda to push in terms of Pemberley House being accepted by Doc purists, and the book was not intended to pastiche pulp writing, despite Patricia’s origins. Still, there are enough Doc and pulp fans out there who are broad-minded enough to read the book and enjoy it (hopefully) on its own terms.
All that said, I admit the erotic aspect was daunting at first. The sexual content starts on page one, there’s no escaping it! I wrestled with it for a while, and discussed it extensively with the Farmers. In the end, as I continued to review the plot, and then fleshed out the outline for Phil and Bette’s final approval before beginning to write in earnest, I concluded that the sex scenes were inextricably tied to Phil’s plot.
Plus, in the intervening time I had tested myself by writing a short story with some graphic sexual content, “Les Lèvres Rouges” in Tales of the Shadowmen Vol. 3: Danse Macabre. So, with Phil and Bette’s blessing, I proceeded to write the novel with the sex scenes as originally outlined by Phil. I agree with you that the scenes in Pemberley House are not as graphic as those Phil wrote in A Feast Unknown, Image of the Beast, and Blown. Phil’s other Gothic, Love Song, is a special favorite of mine and it certainly served as an inspiration while I was writing.
In the introductions and notes for many of his Wold Newton books and other story collections Mr. Farmer often hinted at other ‘to-do’ projects of his that we have not yet seen. Are there further collaborations in the pipeline?
Funny you should ask! Mike Croteau and I also discovered, during the same trip described above, extensive notes and an outline for completing the third novel in Phil’s Khokarsa series, which began with Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar.
Christopher Paul Carey, another expert in all things Farmerian, Wold Newtonian, and Burroughsian, received permission from the Farmers to complete the novel, which is called The Song of Kwasin. The book is a stirring conclusion to the saga of the ancient empire of Khokarsa (the ancient Africa of the Wold Newton Universe), which fans of H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and, of course, Phil Farmer, are going to absolutely love. The book is currently being shopped and we hope it sells soon.
Tell us about your other upcoming Wold Newton book, the crossover chronology; the little I’ve heard suggests it’s the kind of project CBR readers would love.
The book is called Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World, and is due out from MonkeyBrain Books in 2010. It is essentially a combination of an encyclopedia and a cohesive fictional timeline, documenting crossover stories in chronological order, linking together different characters, situations, and universes. Sources for Crossovers include novels, stories, pulps, dime novels, comics, television episodes, and films. The example I like to use is David McDaniel’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. novel The Rainbow Affair, which brings together U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, Nayland Smith, and James Bond, The Avengers (John Steed and Emma Peel), The Saint, Inspector West, Department Z, and Miss Marple.
Most of these are copyrighted characters, so the references are oblique, but readers familiar with the characters will recognize them.
Other well-known examples are Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsène Lupin; the Universal horror crossover films with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, etc.; the Rocketeer graphic novels by Dave Stevens, which feature unnamed appearances by Doc Savage and The Shadow; and the comics series Batman and Tarzan: Claws of the Catwoman.
Regarding the latter, there are some superhero crossovers included, but following the Wold-Newtonian “real world” convention, the superheroes may be somewhat less powerful than portrayed in the comics, and many have realistic life spans and timelines, as opposed to “comic book time.”
Additionally, many crossover entries are much, much more obscure than the examples listed above. So, no need to write to me telling me, for example, that Doc Savage met The Thing from the Fantastic Four, or that Spider-Man met Red Sonja (twice).
The book also has an appendix covering alternate universe crossover stories which don’t fit into the main timeline, and another appendix devoted exclusively all the meta-fictional references in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula books. It’s a massive tome, with thousands of entries, an Introduction by Kim Newman, and a Foreword by pulp and Victoriana guru Jess Nevins. The manuscript currently clocks in at 280,000 words, and counting.
Any other upcoming projects you want us to know about?
WSE: Sure, thanks for asking. I’ll be delivering another tale for the yearly crossover anthology Tales of the Shadowmen for Black Coat Press; some of my stories center on Doc Ardan, the “French Doc Savage,” and could even be seen as standalone prequels to The Evil in Pemberley House. I recently contributed a tale to Moonstone’s The Avenger Chronicles, about the 1940s pulp hero.
And I’ve been asked to contribute to other the prose anthologies Moonstone is doing, such as More Tales of Zorro and Captain Midnight: Declassified. Beyond that, I’ll just point out that some of the well-known characters to which Moonstone has prose rights include The Phantom, Captain Action, and The Green Hornet.
Longer term, I’d like to write more Patricia Wildman novels, and there’s another Farmer project I’d like to complete. Subscribe to my blog at WinScottEckert.com for the latest news, and also check out The Evil in Pemberley House blog. And thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
That’s the interview. I was ready to put it up and in fact already had it scheduled to post when I saw the news of Phil Farmer’s death. I threw out everything I’d written in the original introduction and started over, and was still wrestling with that when I got an e-mail from Win.
Win asked if we could hold off on running the interview, because he wanted to add a memorial piece to it. Of course I agreed; it seemed crass to publish this on the same Friday Win was flying out to the funeral, anyway, and I told him we’d go ahead whenever he wanted.
Win’s eulogy arrived a couple of days ago, and here is that piece.
My introduction to Phil Farmer occurred way back in 1975, when I was eight years old and had my first taste of Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. Then Tarzan Alive, and The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, and The Grand Adventure (including the magnificent “After King Kong Fell”), Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar, and The Adventure of the Peerless Peer. Time’s Last Gift?time traveling Jungle Lord, holy cow!
Then, over ten years ago, the Wold Newton Universe website, and several more years of fandom, followed by a book from MonkeyBrain, Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, and an invitation to meet Phil himself.
Phil and Bette generously invited me to stay over at their house. Mike Croteau (webmaster of Phil’s official website) and I were up late mining the “Magic Filing Cabinet” in Phil’s basement for more gems for the ’zine Farmerphile, and I inadvertently set off their motion sensor burglar alarm at 2 am. All was forgiven, of course.
Since then I’ve visited Phil and Bette once or twice a year. The great thing about Phil is how many friendships he created, by bringing together so many people who otherwise never would have met.
That, and his mind-blowing imagination and captivating prose. Phil is responsible for this overflowing library (my wife also thanks him for that), for my varied reading tastes: SF to adventure pulp to hard boiled detective to…Pride and Prejudice? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. Because that’s the kind of well-rounded guy Phil was. And he passed it on.
Thank you, Phil. Thank you so much.
Because of you, and that book when I was eight, and your generosity thirty years after that, allowing me and my fellow Wold Newton essayists to expand upon the Creative Mythographical foundation you created, I am a writer. Because of your generosity and encouragement, many others are writers.
Since Phil passed on Feb. 25, I’ve received several notes that read something like, “I didn’t know him as well as you, but this still hit me hard…” or “I never had the chance to meet Phil in person, but he helped shape me as a writer…”
The thing about a writer like Phil, whose work spoke to so many people in so many different ways, is that you didn’t need to know him personally to be hit hard by his death. His books have been a part of our lives for so long, his ideas and curiosity have permeated our beings, and his envelope-pushing?or breaking?imagery is seared indelibly into our brains. That’s what counts.
I last saw Phil Farmer on January 25, 2009. His 91st birthday fell on a Monday, and we had come in the preceding weekend to celebrate with him and his wife Bette. “The boys” (Bette’s affectionate term for us “Farmerphiles”) were there: me, Mike Croteau, Christopher Paul Carey, Paul Spiteri, and Dennis Power. Phil and Bette’s family came in and out at various times. Their close friends were there. Sandwiches and cake and laughter and great conversation ensued.
I showed Phil the Doc Wildman Coat of Arms drawn up by Keith Howell for Farmerphile and for the chapbook for Subterranean Press’ The Evil in Pemberley House, from Phil’s description and notes. He loved it; he didn’t say much, but he got the biggest grin. And although he didn’t talk much that weekend, he’d smile and give a little wave to let us know he was listening in and enjoying it all.
When it came time to leave, I said my goodbyes; I waved at Phil and smiled. He waved back, smiled, and thanked us for coming. Him thanking us, our hero, thanking us. Because that’s how he was.
We hugged Bette and left, and I knew I wouldn’t see Phil again. Just knew it. And at the airport, by myself, I cried.
And again, the day Phil died, more tears.
Exit Phil Farmer, smiling.
—Win Scott Eckert
March 3, 2009
Thanks again to Win Eckert for his time and also for supplying several of the scans that illustrate this column. Our condolences go out to him and the other Farmerphiles and also, of course, to Bette Farmer.
Rest in peace, Mr. Farmer. It was a great ride.
See you next week.