Mary Magdalene and Thomas Pynchon

Several years ago I posted very long blogs that were like mini-books. Let us start out easy.

John Presco

“The Naming of Oedipa Maas: Feminizing the Divine Pursuit of Knowledge in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49
Emma V. Miller
Durham University

Oedipa’s pursuit of knowledge, and ultimately a final revelation or epiphany, can be compared to Mary Magdalene’s own passage towards very similar goals. Magdalene is particularly interesting from a feminist perspective because she is reputedly the first witness of the Resurrection, although she is not given the status of Christ’s male followers either within the New Testament or historically. She follows Christ, presumably to learn from Him, as he is reputed as a teacher throughout the New Testament – and repeatedly called “teacher” in some translations44 – and she pursues the knowledge he can impart in a predominantly male environment. This mirrors Oedipa’s journey through Lot 49 where the information she desires is nearly always to be sought from men, although the men in Oedipa’s world are shown to be considerably less capable than she is:
My shrink, pursued by Israelis, has gone mad; my husband, on LSD, gropes like a child further and further into the rooms and endless rooms of the elaborate candy house of himself and away, hopelessly away from what has passed, I was hoping forever, for love; my one extra marital fella has eloped with a depraved fifteen-year-old; my best guide back to the Trystero has taken a Brody. Where am I? (105)

Interpreting Other Names in Lot 49
Although the situations of Oedipa and Mary Magdalene are comparable, it is not until other aspects of Lot 49 are considered that the significance of the connection becomes clear to the plot. Tresemer and Cannon assert that Magdalene “is considered the ‘apostle of apostles,’ and is so called even by Saint Augustine,”54 and Leloup goes on to say that “because she was the first witness of the Resurrection, she was considered by the apostle John as the founder of Christianity, long before Paul and his vision on the road to Damascus.”55 Pierce Inverarity, the writer of the will Oedipa executes and her former lover, has been interpreted by Thomas Hill Schaub to be closely connected to St Peter, who along with St Paul, is traditionally credited as being the founder of the Christian Church.56 J. Kerry Grant writes of Schaub’s interpretation of the text:

Vera Meroving
The Merovingian Dynasty ruled over the Franks (the Germanic tribe which conquered Gaul after the fall of the Roman Empire) from A.D. 475 to 751. There are those who believe that [to quote Steve Mizrach from his summary of the thesis of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)]
“Jesus and Mary Magdalene, legitimate nobility from the Judaic Houses of Benjamin and David, married and sired heirs. Jesus did not die on the cross but went either to England or India.The Magdalene’s heirs married into the Visigoth families of the time, and gave birth to the sacred Merovingian ruling family. The Visigoths of the area might have themselves been descended from the House of Benjamin, which had fled to the Arcadia region of Greece, and thence north into France, a thousand years earlier. The Merovingians were not wiped out by the Carolingian usurpers, and their lineage survives in some of the other royal families of Europe. […] The Merovingians were “sacred kings” who reigned but did not rule, leaving the secular governing function to chancellors known as the Mayors of the Palace. It was the one of the Mayors, Pepin the Fat, who founded the dynasty that came to supplant them–the Carolingians.”
Interestingly, History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours (539-594 A.D.) lists Merovingian women’s names and includes the names Leibovera and Audovera.

To plunge down the rabbit hole of Pynchon’s fiction is to commence a journey into an alternate world, a world — somewhat like our own but, as Pynchon put it “Maybe it’s not the world, but with a minor adjustment or two it’s what the world might be.” It’s a world infused with magic and mystery, wonderfully labyrinthine, where “real” history and fiction intersect and dissolve into dream. “Shall I project a world?” wonders Oedipa Maas, the heroine in Pynchon’s second, and some say most accessible, novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). Thomas Pynchon projects a world, and so does the reader. Onto Pynchon’s richly detailed and often ambiguous landscape the reader projects his/her own interpretation in order to bring the work “into pulsing stelliferous Meaning” (Lot 49, p.82). This provides, as another long-time fan expressed it, “the tremendous pleasure bestowed on the reader of being in on a joint venture of a sort.”

You might say it’s no fair to compare Dan Brown to Thomas Pynchon, and sure, it isn’t. But a sentence can do a lot of duty for your story, or not, whether you’re writing a smaller novel (and arguably Brown’s novel is hunting even bigger thematic game, in a sense, than Pynchon’s) or a major work.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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