Pulp Friday: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Pan 1976Like so many people, I was enormously saddened by news this week of the death of David Bowie, from cancer at the age of 69.

There is no need for me to replicate all the sentiments that have been expressed elsewhere about Bowie’s passing, except to say that for me, as for so many of you, his death has left a huge hole in my popular culture landscape and the world is a less interesting place without him.

I did want to do something on this site to commemorate Bowie, however. And what better way to pay tribute to the man who once said his perfect idea of happiness is reading, than through books. So, my first Pulp Friday offering for 2016 is dedicated to the wonderful David Bowie: a selection of paperback tie ins for The Man Who Fell to Earth, directed by Nicolas Roeg, released in 1976.

It was only when I was doing research for an article on the ‘David Bowie Is’ exception that toured Melbourne last year, that I discovered The Man Who Fell to Earth was a book before it was a film. The Man Who Fell to Earth was first published in 1961. It was written by US novelist Walter Tevis whose debut work, The Hustler, featured as a Pulp Friday post here in 2013.

The books featured in this post are, in order from top to bottom: the 1976 UK Pn edition, the 1963 US book by Gold Medal, the 1967 Avon edition, the 1979 Oxford University Press edition, the Dell version released in the US in 1986, and the most recent one I am aware of, the 2009 Penguin edition.

The novel is the story of Thomas Jerome Newton, a super intelligent humanoid alien who comes to earth seeking materials to construct a space ship with which to ferry the survivors, including his family, from his war ravaged planet. Using the technology of his home world, Newton becomes a rich industrialist and has a relationship with a human woman, before being arrested by the CIA and then the FBI. Both agencies conduct experiments on him, concluding he is an alien but concealing the information for fear of creating public panic. It is while Newton is a prisoner of the FBI that he is blinded by the tests being conducted on him, forcing him to abandon his quest to rescue the survivors of his race.

The film largely kept to this story but added a few contemporary flourishes, including Newton succumbing to alcoholism and addiction to television. Bowie, who at that stage was in his career, was living on red peppers, cocaine, and milk and in the midst of his Thin White Duke persona, was perfect for the role of Newton. The film also starred Candy Clark and Rip Torn. It was the first of a number of major motion picture roles for the singer, including Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence (1982), the revisionist horror film The Hunger (1983) and Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ. A made for television movie of the book aired in the US in 1987, but I’ve never seen it.

Travel well in the next life, Bowie, you will be missed.

Gold Medal 1963

Avon 1976

Oxford University Press 1979

Dell 1986

Penguin 2009


2 Responses

  1. Tevis himself was an alcoholic and was permanently disabled by a childhood illness. He also wrote The Queen’s Gambit – about a drug-addicted chess champion – and Mockingbird, set in a world where the human race is illiterate and the population is declining…Both are well-worth reading.

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