I learned this morning of the death of author Philip Jose Farmer. If you've been reading this blog you know what a huge fan and admirer of Farmer I am. I've gone on at length about A Feast Unknown, Lord of the Trees, and Tarzan Alive. I've talked about Times Last Gift, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, The Dark Heart of Time, and about all things Wold Newton, because the Wold Newton Universe was Farmer's grandest game and he invited us all to play along.
But my favorite of Farmer's writing is a short story called 'After King Kong Fell.' It's exactly what it sounds like, a story about the events occurring immediately after the giant ape from Skull Island took his fatal plunge from the Empire State Building. But amazingly it's also about a life changing moment, a childhood ending moment in a boy's life. And that's what Farmer did. He wrote stories about people and about how amazing occurrences entered their lives. But along with that startling look at humans and human nature he took us to the gritty streets of New York and showed us the huge, broken body of Kong and he made you see it. I remember reading the story when I was eleven or twelve and becoming amazed and excited as Farmer described some of the people in the crowd of onlookers. One man had a hawk nose and strange burning eyes. (The Shadow. Has to be the Shadow.) Another had bronze skin and hair of darker bronze. (It's Doc! OMG it's Doc!)
Broken down, some of his plots sound like overblown fan fiction. Tarzan meets Doc Savage and they fight. The Shadow and Doc Savage show up after Kong Falls. Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan fight the Nazis. A barnstorming pilot from the real world lands in Oz. But Farmer's skill as a writer lifts those stories out of all that and into the realm of serious fiction. Because in Farmer's stories, these archetypes become people. Human beings.
However, I think that Farmer loved Doc and Tarzan and Holmes every bit as much as I do and as so many of us do. I think that even when he was turning out his provocative and daring prose, he still felt that same excitement at putting Doc and the Shadow in the crowd that I felt in seeing those characters there. His writing has that kind of energy to it.
I haven't touched upon Farmer's major science fiction series Riverword or any of his other SF novels. I'll leave that to others. I just wanted to say a few words about a story that blew me away when I was just a kid. So thank you Mr. Farmer for 'After King Kong Fell' and for all your wonderful, thought provoking, daring stories. You'll be missed.