What distinguishes Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Family (WNF) from the Wold Newton Universe (WNU), and both, in turn, from the Crossover Universe (CU)?

The Wold Newton Universe (or WNU) is a term coined by Win Scott Eckert to denote an expansion of Philip José Farmer’s original Wold Newton Family concept (introduced in Tarzan Alive [1972] and carried on in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life [1973]). Eckert introduced the term in 1997 on his website, An Expansion of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe. Eckert and others use Farmer’s concept of the Wold Newton Family (WNF) as a unifying device and expand the universe that the Wold Newton Family inhabits via various methodologies:

  1. by writing “creative mythography” essays in the vein of the Sherlockian “Game,” in which theories are proposed and supported by supplying contextual background information and persuasive argument;
  2. by writing fiction authorized by Farmer and Farmer’s Estate which adds elements and characters to the Wold Newton Family and/or the WNU;
  3. by writing other fiction which contains “Easter egg” references to the Wold Newton Family or the WNU, or which otherwise expands the overall mythos;
  4. and by documenting crossovers between fictional characters from various media and genres.

Characters incorporated into the WNU are not necessarily blood relatives, descendants, or ancestors of the coach travelers present at the 1795 Wold Cottage meteor strike, but these characters all exist in the same shared fictional universe.

Farmer himself penned a number of stories and novels set in what is now termed the Wold Newton Universe. This raises an interesting point: although the terms Wold Newton Family and Wold Newton Universe are used almost interchangeably, they should not be. Wold Newton Family members are descended from (or in some cases ancestors of) the coach travelers exposed to the Wold Cottage meteor strike, while Wold Newton Universe members are unrelated to the family but coexist in the same shared continuity. For example, in Farmer’s short story “After King Kong Fell,” several Wold Newton Family members were present at the death of King Kong, thus firmly placing Kong in the Wold Newton Universe, but Kong cannot be a member of the Wold Newton Family because he is not human.

Going beyond the WNU is Eckert’s Crossover Universe (CU), published in book form in two volumes in 2010 as Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World, in which a massive continuity is created in a “six degrees” game of linked crossover stories. Eckert’s Crossover Universe work is being carried forward by Sean Levin.The important distinction between a Wold Newton story and a crossover story is discussed at length by Eckert and Carey in their introduction to Tales of the Wold Newton Universe.

Are the characters Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban from Philip José Farmer’s Secrets of the Nine series (A Feast Unknown, Lord of the Trees, The Mad Goblin, and The Monster on Hold) members of the Wold Newton Family?

Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban are an important part of Farmer’s oeuvre of gamesmanship with, and homages to, the pulp fiction of his youth and associated mythology. There are many thematic similarities and connections between Grandrith and his Wold Newton Family counterpart, Lord Greystoke, and between Caliban and his WNF counterpart, Doc Wildman. Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban are not technically Wold Newton Family members (see the discussion of the Secrets of the Nine series on this page).

Philip José Farmer claimed that all fictional characters were related to one another and members of the Wold Newton Family, right?


Is [fill in the name of a fictional character] a member of the Wold Newton Family?

The easiest way to answer that question is to consult the genealogies presented in Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, the two biographies in which Philip José Farmer introduced the Wold Newton Family concept.

Okay, but is [fill in the name of a fictional character] in the Wold Newton Universe?

As has been explained above, Philip José Farmer did not coin the term “Wold Newton Universe.” This site is concerned only with Farmer’s canonical Wold Newton Family, so the question of whether a character may or may not exist in the Wold Newton Universe is not applicable here. However, if you were to ask the question to any experts on the WNU, they would likely ask you to explain why you believe the character might exist in the WNU, and to be prepared to defend your answer after studying the enormous number of post-Farmerian articles written by fans and aficionados of creative mythography that are available for free online.