Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chapter 10: Subterranean Genres

Where the previous two chapters presented us with relatively conventional narratives one might expect to find in a historical novel, in Chapter 10, Pynchon again detonates our genre expectations. We find ourselves back with “The Chums of Chance,” monitoring electromagnetic emanations in the Indian Ocean, ostensibly on the side of the globe from Colorado Springs where Doctor Tesla is conducting his experiments. We learn more about the Chums, and hear that intrusive narrator common to the adolescent adventure novel. As we learn that Miles Blundell is as sensitive to the happenings of the spiritual universe as he is oblivious to the physical, the narrative plunges into pure fantasy as the boys receive orders to “proceed by way of the Telluric Interior to the north polar regions” (114). The boys proceed to the south polar ice where they enter “the great portal”(115) and traverse the axial route through the Earth’s interior, a journey where they encounter the “Legion of Gnomes” (117) and get caught up in the machinations of “the royal court of Chthonica, Princess of Plutonia” the story of which the narrators defers, instead “readers are referred to The Chums of Chance in the Bowels of the Earth” (117).

Pynchon’s deconstruction of readers’ genre expectations at this point reminds me of Woolf’s similar moves in The Years, where she disassembles the family sagas of her time (as well as her own family history), narratives such as Galworthy’s The Forsyte Saga.

The reference to Tunbridge Wells, England, refers to a common expression in England, where a conservative reader after writing a newspaper editor claiming some outrage of modernity signs the letter “Disgusted of Turnbridge Wells” ( The town is also the setting for some action of Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room with a View.

The boys received their orders via a pearl which is transformed to a calcite crystal known as “Iceland Spar” (114). This chapter concludes Part One of the novel, “The Light Over the Ranges” (pages 1-118). Part two is titled, “Iceland Spar.”


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