Friday, July 01, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 5

So, yeah, at this point it's pretty obvious I'm not going to be doing all 30 of these in June. Sorry about that.

Day 5 – A Book That Makes You Happy

Observant and regular readers will have probably noticed by this point that one of the things I look for in my fiction is coherent (or at least interesting) world-building. The acknowledged grandmaster of this, of course, is J.R.R. Tolkien; he even coined some of the terminology associated with this, such as "Secondary World" and "sub-creation".

Some authors and other scholars take this one step farther - treating their favorite stories as the lightly-fictionalized records of real events, analyzing broad swathes of literature to uncover the "true" events behind them, and connecting them. This game has been played with popular literature for quite some time, and has interested me ever since I first heard of it. Indeed, I've even dabbled in The Game myself, and was actually intending to make this post about Crossovers.

Then, I finally manged to get ahold of a copy of Myths for the Modern Age, a collection of essays exploring this kind of "Tertiary World"-building, edited by the same Win Scott Eckert as is behind Crossovers. As a compilation, naturally there are some pieces that are more interesting than others - for example, one of the early pieces, "Wold-Newtonry: Theory and Methodology for the Literary Archeology of the Wold Newton Universe"is a particular favorite of mine; not least because of the delightful phrase, "literary archeology".

But that's not the article that convinced me to use the book for this post - that honor falls to Eckert's own "Who's Going to Take Over the World When I'm Gone?", a genealogical* study of the Moriarty family. Imagine my delight and surprise when, seemingly out of the blue, the article mentions how one of the Professor's grandchildren is none other than Howling Mad Murdock of The A-Team (the television version, obviously). Since Murdock is pretty much my favorite A-Team member, and The A-Team itself one of my favorite television shows, I was quite pleased at this.

Amongst other amusing tidbits from that section was the idea that Murdock's first name is "Hamish" - in the show, Murdock is never given a first name, only an initial. And why is this so amusing? Because the name "Hamish" is a variant form of "James", which according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the first name of both Professor Moriarty and at least one of his brothers (the cavalier attitude some famous authors take towards continuity is part of what makes this kind of fandom so entertaining).

As if Murdock wasn't enough, both Eckert's article and a later one by Brad Mengel ("Watching the Detectives, Or, The Sherlock Holmes Family Tree") both theorize that Hannibal Smith was the son of Fu Manchu's great nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland Smith. Furthermore, it seems that Hannibal's grandfather was Fu Manchu himself (through his mother Fah lo Suee) - this Asian ancestry no doubt explains how Hannibal kept getting away with his "Mr. Lee the Chinese Laundry Man" persona.

This is a much better disguise in real life.

While the inclusion of half the A-Team is what qualified Myths for the Modern Age as a Book That Makes Me Happy, there's plenty of other good material to be found within. Admittedly, much of it is available on Eckert's Wold Newton Universe website, though I understand the published versions are more up-to-date. Indeed, a quick poke around the site shows that it includes only Hannibal's inclusion, not Murdock's. This is no criticism, merely an acknowledgement that the two sources are different - and it will surely inspire me to acquire my own copy of Myths, from a source other than the library.

*Genealogical studies linking various fictional characters being one of the major features of Wold Newton Universe scholarship.

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