For a break from Lester Dent I read DOC SAVAGE: His Apocalyptic Life as the Archangel of Technopolis and Exotica, as the Golden-Eyed Hero of 181 Super-Sagas, as the Bronze Knight of the Running Board, Including his Final Battle Against the Forces of Hell Itself for the first time in around 40 years.
This was Philip José Farmer’s biography of Doc, including working him into Farmer’s Wold Newton mythos (more below), and like a lot of reference books it worked better when I wasn’t as familiar with the subject. Even given that, the book is full of interesting details: a map of Doc’s HQ based on the stories, what we know about the Crime College and the Hidalgo Company warehouse, biographical information on Doc and his aides. There’s also a one-chapter bio of Lester Dent that I liked. On the downside, some of this is also Farmer just being self-indulgent, like a chapter explaining how Lester Dent, William Burroughs and Henry Miller are all reflections of the same “apocalyptic” mindset.
And then there’s Wold Newton.
A couple of years before this book, Farmer wrote Tarzan Alive, a biography of Tarzan that claimed (as Burroughs does in the first page of Tarzan of the Apes) that Lord Greystoke was a real person, though fictionalized by Burroughs. Farmer tops this by claiming that Tarzan’s amazing physical prowess was because a radioactive meteor striking a village called Wold Newton in England centuries earlier had triggered a mutation in several travelers passing through. Tarzan was their descendant, ditto Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, the Shadow and various other heroes explored in the family tree. Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life extends this, filling in Doc’s “real” background (his father was the kidnapper in the Holmes story “The Adventure of the Priory School,” atoning for his sins by creating a champion of justice in Doc) and adding new branches (Fu Manchu) to the family tree (Monk, it turns out, is a distant relative).
This comes off now as a forerunner for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though the genealogical aspect makes it a little more cumbersome. It doesn’t hook me the way it did back when I first read these books, and actually wrote some articles for a Wold Newton fanzine (it folded before publication alas), probably because I don’t immerse myself in my fiction the way I did when I was lonelier. Still I couldn’t help thinking of new additions to the canon (“If Arsene Lupin is in the genealogy, obviously Lupin III is a descendant …”).
Farmer also wrote a Doc Savage pastiche The Mad Goblin which I remember as being fun; I’ll get to it eventually. I suppose at some point I’ll read his later book Escape From Loki, though I’m not looking forward to it. A lot of Farmer’s later work was way below his peak—the Wold Newton Sherlock Holmes/Tarzan crossover The Adventure of the Peerless Peer was a horrible mess. Then again, as noted at the link, it’s a seminal work for a lot of later writers … so maybe.
(All rights to cover reside with current holder. Art is uncredited but it’s Roger Kastel’s image of Doc superimposed on pulp artist William Baumhofer’s work, as noted in the first comment [I originally put James Bama rather than Kastel])