Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Maddening Secret Cries of Lot 49: A Wold Newtonian Explanation

“That is not danger, it is inevitable destruction. You stand in the way not merely of an individual but of a mighty organization, the full extent of which you, with all of your cleverness have been unable to realize.” Professor Moriarty in “The Final Problem.”

The Crying of Lot 49 presents a problem for the Wold Newton researcher. It must logically be included in the universe due to crossovers found in the Nicholas Meyer Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Canary Trainer, the 1984 science fiction film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension , and the television series Angel. So clearly this novel must take place in the confines of the Wold Newton Universe—despite the drug fueled nature of the work.

THRUSHing out the Nine
The main thrust of Pyston’s novel is that a woman, Opedia Maass, uncovers a long lasting war between two secret societies of postal carriers: Thurn and Taxis, and Trystero. The war supposedly began sometime in the sixteen hundreds. For what we know of the Wold Newton Universe (Henceforth WNU) there were two combative groups in operation during this time frame.

In Philip José Farmer’s The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, the Eridaneans and Capelleans had been in a secret war that began sometime in the sixteen hundreds. The battle between them ended, supposedly, in 1872 when the last of the Capellean Old Ones was killed. This seems logical, until certain facts come to light. Professor James Moriarty was one of the higher agents of the Capellean hierarchy; most of Moriarty’s agents joined him in his later criminal pursuits; during his meeting with Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty stated that he was the head of a “mighty organization” that even the heights of Holmes’ “cleverness [was] unable to realize” (“The Final Problem”); all indications point that the Capellean organization remained at work though Moriarty’s reign.

What then? Surely at the Napoleon of Crime’s death the group ended. Not so, in The Man From UNCLE: The Dagger Affair, a novel by David McDaniel, the true history of THRUSH is recounted. Shortly, the terrorist organization THRUSH (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity) is the current face of the once Moriarty gang.

This is all well and dandy, you may say, but who in Hades were the Eridaneans? I believe they were the immortal Nine (from Farmer's Nine trilogy). During The Other Log of Phileas Fogg many references are dropped to immortality—just as are in the Nine trilogy, also by Philip Jose Farmer. (However, digging deeper into this theory goes far beyond the scope of this paper.)

I believe that Trystero—a representation of the chaotic subculture of the 1960s—is thinly veiled sub-division of THRUSH. Opposed to Trystero in its mission (to do what is never made clear in Pynchon’s novel) is Thurn and Taxis—a representation of the establishment. To continue the dynamic furthor: I propose for Other Logg, it seems likely that the “establishment” forces are, in truth, the Nine—secret rulers of the world. Thankfully, Pynchon seems to understand the evil of both groups, unlike many in the 1960s who built up THRUSH as the catalyst for the ultimate society (see “The Cap and Gown Affair” and my forthcoming article on THRUSH for full information).

The Ring of Thoth-Amon
During her investigations in chapter 4, Oedipa encountered the Alzheimer’s ridden Mr. Thoth. He gave her a “dull gold signet ring” engraved with the WASTE posthorn. In truth, this scene happened much as described. Only Mr. Thoth’s name was changed by Pynchon in order to give the careful reader a clue to the signet ring’s true nature. In the Robert E. Howard penned Conan the Barbarian novella “The Phoenix on the Sword” the enslaved Egyptian warlock Thoth-amon lusts after his lost ring, a thing with which he may free himself from his bonds, and in turn, enslave the world. “It was of a metal like copper, and was made in the form of a scaled serpent, coiled in three loops, with its tail in its mouth. Its eyes were yellow gems which glittered balefully.”

Admittedly, these two descriptions disagree on all counts except that the ring is of a yellowish metal. The reader may now make this objection to my statements: does not Lot 49 reference gold, while Phoenix references copper? The answer for this seeming dichotomy lies within the works of Plato. In his Critias, the dialogue where the legends of Atlantis originate, mentions how the sides of the city’s walls “flashed with the red light of orichalcum.” It is likely that Thoth-amon’s ring was, due to its great age even by the time of the prehistoric Conan stories, orichalcum. Some historians have theorized that the Atlantian metal was a gold copper alloy—this could possibly account for the ring’s seeming property change. The author takes this theory to be true.

A far more weighty matter is the shifting designs; the ring was a coiled snake with yellow gem eyes, to a plain ring with a muted posthorn. One passable idea is that over the many millennia the ring’s signature engravings were whittled away, but Robert E. Howard write a present-day set semi-sequel to Phoenix entitled “The Haunter of the Ring.” This story involves a man using the power of the ring in order to destroy the life of a former lover; the crux of the matter for us is that the ring remains true to the description from Phoenix. “Haunter of the Ring” was first published in 1934, leaving a thirty-two year gap between it and Lot 49; it seems unlikely that during that hiatus the ring’s engraving was filed down, though the possibility does exist.

I take the truth of the matter of the ring to be a combination of Howard and Pynchon. Oedipa did in fact receive the ring of Thoth-amon, as hinted by forcing the name “Mr. Thoth” upon the old man, and the ring did have the snake-line markings. However, “Mr. Thoth” was most likely an agent of THRUSH during his youth and had picked up the ring on a mission. Inside the orichalcum band he marked what he thought be the symbol of his masters. Perhaps he did this as a sign of adoration, or a warning against those who may discover the ring in the future. Whatever his intent, the influence of Alzheimer’s made him offer this trophy Oedipa Maass.

Dangerous Doctors
Dr. Hilarious is another issue. He is presented as a German mad scientist who was instrumental in devising ways to kill Jews by mental means. These included making faces that drove the watcher into a comatic madness. Clearly this cannot work in the real world, so another explanation is needed. The clue to Hilarious’ true identity is contained within Pynchon's express interest in one of the doctor's funny faces: the “Fu Manchu.”

In the 1950s, Atlas Comics (later Marvel Comics) published a short lived series entitled Yellow Claw. The main villain, the titular Yellow Claw, was a blatant a rip-off of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. The creators made Yellow Claw so close to the then popular Devil Doctor that from my stand point the two characters can be used interchagiblely. (It also helps that the comic stories slip neatly into the Fu Manchu chronology. Scholar Dennis E. Power disagrees and theorizes that the Yellow Claw is a soul clone of Fu Manchu.)

Returning to “Dr. Hilarious,” in the first Yellow Claw story “The Coming of the Yellow Claw” the Yellow Claw forces the Nazi war criminal Fritz Voltzmann into his service. Volzmann is a liability: a complete believer in Nazi ideology—but he is a scientific genius of that comic book kind, that man capable of work in any cutting-edge fringe science.

The end point of Voltzmann’s service to the Yellow Claw was chronicled in the first issue of the comic book Agents of Atlas—where the German only appeared for a few panels. Yellow Claw escapes the incoming American forces, leaving Voltzmann to either die or be captured. (In one panel he is seen being tied up by one of the Americans, yet in the closing interior shot of the American plane, Voltzmann is nowhere to be seen. Since it’s highly likely Voltzmann would be executed for his actions from WW2 to the late 1950s, it seems that he took the chaos of the self-destructing base to escape.) His trail after this event becomes blurred. From the sources I have been able to locate, it seems that he returned to America and set up a successful (hallucinogenic drug fueled) psyologist office. After he seemingly lost his mind and went on a shooting spree, he disappeared. Perhaps the Israeli agents he screamed about were after him.


The inconclusive ending to The Crying of Lot 49 causes more questions. Was Oedipa insane? Exactly what was the goal of Trystero? Who was the unknown bidder? These questions will forever lack answers. But hopefully I have shed some light into darkened corners.

1 comment: