One of my not so secret vices is that I read and write fanfiction–stories inspired by existing media, such as books, films, or (most often) television shows, and shared among friends or online for pleasure, not for profit. (What fandoms I read and write is a story for another blog….) In the fannish world we have a word, “crack!fic” (sometimes spelled without the !). Crackfic is any fanfic that causes you to wonder whether the author was smoking crack while she wrote it. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Bad crackfic is usually badly written, and the author entirely misses the absurdity of her premise and the inadequacy of her execution thereof. Good crackfic, on the other hand, written well and with an awareness of the implausibility, incredibility, and surreality of the premise, can be a good and joyful thing, upon which hilarity ensues.
Yesterday I finished reading a novel which is basically New Testament crack!fic. And it’s *good*: The Passion of Mary Magdalene. It is the story of Maeve, a Celtic woman raised by warrior witches, trained by druids, and exiled from her homeland for interfering with a sacrificial rite by setting free the intended victim–a wandering Jewish guy she calls Esus. With whom she falls madly, passionately in love, and vice versa.
All that happens in the prequel, which I haven’t read yet, Magdalene Rising. Because Maeve, the mouthy red-headed Celt, who is kidnapped by slavers and winds up working in a brothel in Rome, is the woman we all know as Mary Magdalene. I kid you not.
Maeve becomes a prostitute, bonds with her sister whores, is sold to a drunken Roman woman with daddy issues who rather resembles Tom’s daughter-in-law Marion in Waiting for God, becomes a healer priestess at a two-bit temple of Isis, and all the while keeps looking for Esus, alias Yeshua, who apparently was supposed to marry some girl from Bethany but instead the two of them ran away to live in the Essene community, and now Mary of Bethany has come home but nobody knows where Yeshua is. Or so Maeve’s friend Joseph–of Arimathea–informs her. But she can’t find him, so she sets up a temple of sacred prostitution in Magdala, a fishing town in Galilee, with some of her brothel friends, and eventually Yeshua comes to *her*.
And that’s just the first half of the book.
Maeve’s Celtic background is a mishmosh of British, Irish, and Gaulish influences, with a healthy dose of legend, that would make any scholar point and laugh, or possibly weep and shake his head. But Cunningham’s portrayal of Rome and Roman Palestine in the first century C.E. is obviously solidly researched, and so is her portrayal of Jesus, his movement, and his mission. The great joy of this book is that it not only gave me a wonderful female protagonist in Maeve, alias Mary, but it gave me a Jesus I can love. The last third of the book, in which Maeve somewhat reluctantly becomes part of her beloved’s movement, was, as Marcus Borg has put it, meeting Jesus again for the first time. Cunningham’s Jesus is a lover, a teacher, a healer, someone intensely present to and engaged with whomever is in front of him. He is also a man living moment by moment, listening for the voice of God, but not driven by an overarching plan. Sometimes he screws up. He is pretty much a disgrace and a source of despair to his family. But there were moments where Cunningham retells some incident from the Gospels where tears came to my eyes and the hair stood up on the back of my neck, something which I have not experienced in actually reading the Gospels for a long time. There are also places where Cunningham adds something to the story, something uniquely from Maeve’s point of view, that were equally moving and hair-raising, where I felt the thrill of conviction–yes, it really happened this way.
Cunningham’s retelling of a large-scale story from a female character’s point of view, and her masterful weaving together of disparate stories into a coherent whole, has to be compared to The Mists of Avalon. The Passion of Mary Magdalene is really a MoA for the Gospel story, and richer in characters than Bradley’s work. It is a complex blend of myth, legend, sex, mysticism, feminism, and humor (lots of humor) that will haunt me, I think, for a long time.