How Thomas Pynchon Turned Seattle Into Nazi Germany Tim Appelo

Here’s big news for literature buffs: Gravity’s Rainbow, the masterpiece by Thomas Pynchon, Seattle’s most-honored and influential writer, turns out to be a savage act of vengeance against our town, inspired by our 1962 Century 21 Exhibition. “Seattle World’s Fair scenes have been exaggerated, parodied, remixed,” writes University of British Columbia scholar Jeffrey Severs in the latest issue of Twentieth Century Literature, “making Gravity’s Rainbow in part a Seattle history.” The book won the 1974 National Book Award and should’ve won the Pulitzer Prize, but the board overruled the judges and awarded no Pulitzer that year.

We’ve long known that Pynchon started his career at Boeing in 1960, writing articles on the Minuteman nuclear missile system. Weirdly secretive, Pynchon surrounded his Boeing desk with enormous, stiff sheets of engineer’s paper, providing privacy while he wrote articles like “The Mad Hatter and the Mercury Wetted Relays,” which warned nuclear launch officers that mercury tubes in their nuke switches could break and make them crazy. (Hat makers often went insane, poisoned by mercury in hat felt, and inspired Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter character).

Pynchon blended the Fair with Nazi Germany. Both Century 21 and the novel’s setting—a combination of Germany 1945 and a nuclear apocalypse—were billed as Cities of the Future. Jet City, as Seattle was known thanks to Boeing, became Pynchon’s Rocket City, an “oppressive realm of performance, spectacle and exhibitions,” Severs notes, with Monorail-like elevated trains and a mad photographer who is “a habitué of mercury fumes,” like Mad Hatters and switch-crazed nuke-launchers.

 Rocket City has a flame-topped tower (like the Space Needle’s natural gas flame in ’62), with an observation deck looking out on Seattle weather “washed and darkening cloud sheets…a magnificent sky, marble carried to a wildness of white billow and candescence.” Its futuristically fast elevator combines the Needle with the Bubbleator, whose operators, like the novel’s, were all tall, striking females.

Elvis Presley shot a movie at the Fair, putting real fairgoers in a fantasy story; Rocket City has a filmmaker who calls the entire world a giant film set. The Fair’s burlesque shows boasted “Girls of the Galaxy,” posing in space-wear as tourists snapped naughty shots on rented cameras; their counterparts show up in Gravity’s Rainbow. The Fair’s X-rated puppet show, Les Poupées de Paris, created by the future creators of H.R. Pufnstuff and the Banana Splits, may have inspired some of Pynchon’s obscene cartoonish scenes, as did Walt Disney, who consulted on Seattle’s Fair.


Despre Claudiu Degeratu
Expert in securitate nationala, internationala, NATO, UE, aparare si studii strategice

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