Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Pynchon, Thomas

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(1937-    ) US writer, all of whose works are to varying degrees Fabulations. The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) is a cheerfully paranoid Fantasy of History revolving around a secret, alternative postal system operating in the world's Wainscots. Although often described as sf, Gravity's Rainbow (1973) contains numerous supernatural elements: characters communicate with the dead; an Angel appears; a bureaucratic Afterlife is described. In Vineland (1990) a subplot features the Thanatoids, people who are literally deceased yet cannot proceed to the next phase of astral existence (> Astral Plane); they live in Thanatoid communities, and Pynchon describes with a straight face their acceptance in the contemporary world, which is an otherwise untransformed USA. This characteristic of Pynchon's last two novels – that certain scenes are not set in the same universe as others – is one of the most radical features of his fiction; it is nearly unique in modern literature. This lack of ontological fixity – scenes in Gravity's Rainbow drift into Fantastic venues (Happyville, Baby Bulb Heaven, the Raketen-Stadt) which cannot be explained as fantasies by the characters, and are never integrated with the rest of the novel in terms of narrative mimesis – may have had its origin in James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), where the Nighttown episode becomes a phantasmagoria that cannot be explained as a Hallucination of any character or combination of characters, but seems – as Vladimir Nabokov, one of TP's professors at Cornell, has proposed – to be something strikingly more free-form: "The book is itself dreaming and having visions." This unmooring of narrative from the novelistic universe of discourse is a fantastic journey beside which most Genre Fantasy is home-bound. [GF]

other works: V. (1963); Slow Learner (coll 1984).

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.