Doc’s Coat of Arms

Following on our post on Philip José Farmer’s “The Arms of Tarzan,” we’re pleased to share Mr. Farmer’s work on his other favorite pulp hero, Doc Savage:dshal_cvr_final

Doc’s Coat of Arms

Reconstructed by Win Scott Eckert and illustrated by Keith Howell, from notes by Philip José Farmer

“Doc’s Coat of Arms” previously appeared in:


From Philip José Farmer’s “The Arms of Tarzan (The English Nobleman whom Edgar Rice Burroughs called John Clayton, Lord Greystoke)”[1] and Tarzan Alive, we know of his decoat-of-armsep and abiding interest in heraldry, and the symbolism contained therein. While he published a lot on Greystoke’s arms, less saw print regarding the arms of Doc Savage, aka Dr. James Clarke Wildman, Jr. In Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (DS:HAL), Farmer described the coat of arms of the Clarke Wildman family thusly:

ARMS—Argent, a fesse chequy gules and azure, in chief an alchemical pelican between two fleams, in base a demisavage holding on his sinister shoulder a club. Crest—A demihuntsman proper winding a horn gules. Mottoes—Free for a Blast; Inicissimus Maleficorum.

The lower[2] motto means: The Greatest Enemy of Evildoers, a very appropriate motto for Doc Savage.

This description formed the basis for Keith Howell’s back cover illustration, coupled with information in four pages of handwritten notes and drawings by Farmer, showing his progressive research on the Clarke Wildman arms (including a lot of non-Clarke Wildman arms scribblings, such as notes for Mayfair and Rassendyll.) On the last page Farmer writes essentially the lines from DS:HAL quoted above, demonstrating that these notes do indeed culminate in the final version. With additional research and educated guesses based on Farmer’s notes, there are a few “charges” (iconic images) added to Keith’s final version, which are not reflected in Farmer’s quote from DS:HAL.

What does this all mean?

In heraldry, coats of arms have formal descriptions that are expressed as a blazon. Tinctures are the colors which blazon a coat of arms. Argent is the tincture of silver.

The escutcheon (also called scutcheon) is the shield in a coat of arms. A fesse is a wide horizontal band across the middle section of the escutcheon. Gules (pronounced with a hard “g”) is the tincture of red. Chequy is a small alternating patterns of squares of two tinctures. A fleam is a handheld instrument used for bloodletting.

The fleams and the alchemical pelican evoke the cycle of life, blood, and rebirth. In this way, the alchemical pelican is similar to the Ouroboros. “The female pelican was believed to wound her breast with her long, curved bill, drawing blood to feed her young. For this noble act, the bird became a symbol of piety, self-sacrifice, and virtue. It also symbolizes the duties of a parent or parental love.” Somewhere in Tyme, Coat of Arms Charges.

A demisavage and demihuntsman are depictions of the upper half of the body of a savage and a huntsman; the symbolism in the context of the Wildman family is clear.

The motto “Free for a Blast” is common among the arms of Clarke and Clerk families.

With Farmer’s description from DS:HAL covered, two charges were added based on Farmer’s handwritten notes, which follow:

  • A boar’s head couped (a straight line at neck as if cut by a guillotine) sable (black), above the fesse chequy gules and azure; this is called “charging” the shield with the boar’s head couped sable.
  • Above the fesse chequy gules and azure, two clubs saltirized (crossed, as in an X) proper (“proper” means in their proper or natural color, in this case brown).

[1] Burroughs Bulletin No. 22, Summer 1971. Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe. Win Scott Eckert, ed. Austin, TX: MonkeyBrain Books, 2005. Pearls from Peoria. Paul Spiteri, ed. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2006. —WSE

[2] The British paperback edition of DS:HAL (Panther, 1975) says “lower,” while both the U.S. paperback edition (Bantam, 1975) and the 1981 Playboy Books reprint say “latter.” Both are contextually correct in this case. —WSE