This reading group guide for The Expected One includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kathleen McGowan. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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When journalist Maureen Paschal begins the research for a new book, she has no idea that she is stepping into an ancient mystery so complex and dangerous that thousands of people have killed and died for it. Disturbing visions of a woman in red veils haunt her dreams and color her life, driving Maureen to seek the help of experts on everything from religion to folklore to occult societies. Along with her cousin, Father Peter Healy, and a handful of new friends steeped in the history she finds herself inextricably linked to, Maureen travels to France to unravel the secrets of an undiscovered treasure resting somewhere in the rocky wilds of the French Pyrenees. A series of scrolls written in the first century by Mary Magdalene, these startling documents hold the power to redefine the events and characters of the New Testament. Protected by supernatural forces, the priceless cache can only be uncovered by a special seeker, one who has been chosen for the task by divine providence—The Expected One. Meanwhile, a renegade and ruthless secret society that has operated throughout Europe and the United States for centuries, The Guild of the Righteous is pathologically obsessed with the treasure. For their own shocking reasons they will stop at nothing to secure the priceless scrolls for themselves—and eliminate those who oppose them. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Maureen has her students take a vow to remember: “History is not what happened. History is what was written down.” She later discusses the importance of “experiential understanding” when touring the Cathar region of Languedoc, France with Jean-Claude. How do you feel about Maureen’s approach to studying the past? What are the benefits and drawbacks to relying on oral traditions for information?
2. Maureen’s book, Herstory
, proposes that, throughout history, male record-keepers and scholars have intentionally slandered women. Identify some of the historically important women mentioned in The Expected One
. Discuss and compare their stories as you first learned them to their stories as retold by characters in the novel.
3. Many characters in this novel struggle to reconcile the idea of religion with faith, “Church” with spiritual experience. Describe some of the personal conflicts that these characters encounter, such as Maureen’s visions versus her disdain for the Church. What concepts or situations in the novel leave you feeling similarly torn?
4. Father Peter Healy explains, “for people of faith the facts simply don’t matter. But don’t make the common mistake of confusing faith with ignorance.” Do you think his opinion has changed by the end of the novel? Do you think that faith and fact can coexist? What are the dangers of holding to faith to the exclusion of fact, and vice versa?
5. Why do you think the author chose to interject passages from the Arques Gospel of Mary Magdalene, The Book of Disciples, throughout the novel? Discuss how each cited passage relates to the text it precedes.
6. Names are an important factor in genealogy. Identify the characters with names that have significance to the story. For example, Maureen (“Little Mary”) and Paschal (which indicates her relation to Mary the Shepherdess and the Expected One prophecy).
7. As she pursues the truth about Mary Magdalene and Jesus, Maureen learns much about the politics of the early Christian movement. Discuss the ways in which politics influenced this novel’s version of biblical events.
8. In this novel, both John the Baptist and Jesus are martyred for different reasons and to different effects. How were the deaths of these two critical figures each beneficial and detrimental to the Christian movement as described in the novel?
9. When did you first suspect who the “Messiah” of the Guild of the Righteous was? Were you surprised to learn that followers of John have developed such a different variation of Christianity than followers of the Nazarenes?
10. Tammy and Maureen contemplate the resistance of most theologians to the idea of Jesus as a married man. Tammy says to Maureen, “How does that impact his divinity? I just don’t see it.” What do you think? Would it change your opinion of Christianity if Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children? Do you think he could have been both the Son of God and a family man? Why or why not?
11. Regardless of his motives, John the Baptist is portrayed as an abusive, controlling husband to Mary. Yet Mary prays for his forgiveness for the rest of her life. Is this a realistic response? Contrast this with Salome, who schemes to have John arrested and whose manipulations ultimately lead to his death.
12. Love and forgiveness are critical elements of Christianity, or “The Way” as the Jesus and Mary Magdalene of this novel taught it. For Maureen, forgiving her cousin Peter for his betrayal seems to come so easily. Which other characters are also in a position to forgive? Which choose to do so and why?
13. It is clear early on that someone is watching Maureen very closely. Were you surprised to find out that it was Peter all along? Did you expect Peter to steal the scrolls to give them to the Church? What clues, if any, did you pick up on throughout the novel?
14. Many of the characters in The Expected One
turn out to be quite different than they appear. Which characters’ true roles in the plot were you most surprised to discover, and why?
15. If the information presented in this novel turned out to be true, how do you think it would change Christianity? Do you think it could change the world? Why or why not?
16. Every story has two sides. Identify and discuss the alternate views presented in the novel regarding historical figures, events, and works of art or literature such as the execution of John the Baptist, Joan of Arc, da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Mary Magdalene. Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit the author’s website at www.theexpectedone.com to learn more about The Magdalene Line series and the books that influenced the author’s research.
2. Attend a local art exhibit or bring photocopies or printouts of da Vinci’s and Botticelli’s various works depicting Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, and Jesus to the next meeting of your reading group. Examine their symbolism together and see if you agree or disagree with the interpretations given in the novel.
3. Research the Languedoc region of France, the setting for most of The Expected One
and the location in which Mary Magdalene is reported to have spent the latter part of her life. You can start with photos and descriptions at http://www.languedoc-france.info and read more about the Cathar doctrines at http://www.le-guide.com/catharindex.html
4. Names are important to Maureen (“Little Mary”), as they provide clues to our genealogy. Have everyone in the group research the origin of his or her name, and then write the history on an index card. Read the cards out loud and have everyone guess which name is which.
5. The author subtly touches on the controversies surrounding the bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code
, when Maureen explains to her students that she didn’t address the issue of Jesus and Mary’s potentially intimate relationship because she “doesn’t believe there is any evidence to back up those claims.” If you’ve read The Da Vinci Code
, compare its version of the Mary Magdalene secrets to those revealed in The Expected One
6. If you enjoyed The Expected One
, you might try one of the following books. After you’ve read both have a meeting to discuss them. Which stories, characters, and mysteries did you most appreciate? The Secret Supper The Da Vinci Code The Templar Legacy The Last Templar The Knights Templar The Templar Revelation The Templar Papers The Knight’s Templar Chronology The Lost Colony of the Templars The Jesus Papers The Judas Gospels The Jesus Dynasty Resurrection Of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, And The Christian Testament St. Mary Magdalene The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene, the Companion of Jesus The Lost Sisterhood: The Return of Mary Magdalene, The Mother Mary, and Other Holy Women Searching for Mary Magdalene: A Journey Through Art and Literature The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau: A Mystery Solved Botticelli A Conversation with Kathleen McGowan 1. You began your research with the intent of producing a nonfiction book that tackled the injustice historians have committed against significant female figures. What made you choose to introduce your findings about Mary Magdalene as fiction?
I started on this project back in the late 1980s, approaching the book, which I tentatively called Maligned and Misunderstood
, from a journalist’s perspective. But as I discovered the rich legacy of folklore surrounding my subjects, Mary Magdalene specifically, everything changed. I had no idea when I set out on this journey just how much privileged information I would gain access to. It took many years for me to uncover the entire story of Mary that I tell in The Expected One
. Had I continued to write nonfiction, I would not have been able to use the most important and exciting discoveries I had made. I had to protect my sources and will continue to do so as the astounding information continues to flow.
The interesting twist here is that, as I allowed myself the freedom that comes with fiction, I was able to tell a complete version of this story, which in many ways is far more honest than anything I could have done within the confines of nonfiction! 2. Many of the major players in The Expected One, both past and present, are male. In your research, have you found that, despite their female icon, men are still mostly in control of the secrets and organizations that protect the Magdalene myths?
Yes, that is absolutely true. There are even secret societies that claim to revere aspects of the Divine Feminine, and yet they won’t allow female members! I’m still trying to figure that one out… But this is evolving, particularly in Europe where there are more couples working together to preserve the traditions of Divine Union, which is beautiful to see. 3. In the novel, Maureen has written a book called Herstory, the description of which seems to match the book you mention in your afterword as the original impetus for your research. Do you think you will ever write that book?
I am dying to write that book!! I have some ideas about how to go about it, which I am still toying with. Stay tuned! 4. The Expected One takes place in several European countries. Did you travel to all these locations to research your book? What is the most remarkable place you visited?
It is an important personal rule for me that I only write about locations I have visited. I think readers can sense authenticity immediately, and I strive to provide that in my writing. So yes, I have been to all of these locations, some of them many times.
All of the locations are remarkable – there is certainly no place in the world to match Jerusalem or Masada – but in terms of this research, I am constantly captivated by the Languedoc. I think I could spend the rest of my life there and still just scratch the surface of the layers of mystery and beauty in that place. 5. You were raised in Hollywood. What made you decide to move to Ireland as a young woman? What was the biggest culture shock?
I was raised in a very proud Irish-American family, so Ireland already felt like a second home to me. In fact, I am writing this from Ireland right now! The culture shock came from the different pace of life out in the country, which is what I have learned to embrace and enjoy to the fullest when I am here. Ireland is the one place in the world where I can completely relax. 6. In your afterword, you say that it took you years to process the revelation that Mary was first married to John the Baptist. How did you come across this information, and what makes it seem plausible to you?
I can’t reveal the main sources of that information, other than to say it was presented to me much in the same way as it appears in the book; it was shown to me by both sides of the argument, by someone who was fanatically devoted to the Baptist tradition and by those who preserve Magdalene’s legacy and the traditions of her children. This version is absolutely plausible to me as it explains many previously ambiguous aspects of her story. More will be revealed in future books that will show just how plausible this story is. For me, the importance of “Little John,” the son of Magdalene and the Baptist, is what clinched the deal for me. Once I realized who he was, I knew without any doubt that this was the truth. Read on..! 7. The media has caused a stir over the release of the Gospel of Judas, a set of coptic scrolls that portray Judas as a loyal disciple following Jesus’ directive in betraying him to the Romans. You support this perspective in your story. How much has this and other “Gnostic Gospels” influenced your work?
The Gospel of Judas was revealed after my work was first self-published, so it had no impact on my storytelling; however, I was exhilarated when it came out because it does support my theories! I believe this is just the beginning, that more material will be discovered or released that proves the truths in Magdalene’s story as it is presented here.
I think the Gnostic Gospels are such important and beautiful documents, material that everyone should read if they have an interest in the origins of Christianity. I am currently working on a manuscript that uses the Gnostic material and other early Christian writings to create what I believe is ironclad proof of Magdalene’s story. 8. There’s a tremendous amount of art influenced by the Bible, most famously da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” What is your favorite biblical work of art?
I am madly in love with Alessandro Botticelli, which is probably quite evident from the book. I think his “Lamentation Over the Dead Christ” is stunning in its tragedy and power. All of Sandro’s Madonnas are gorgeous and full of hidden symbolism. His work can never be taken at face value. I am particularly fond of a piece that is in the Louvre, called “The Virgin and Child with John the Baptist.” Look closely at this painting, where the Madonna is in a red robe, “John the Baptist” is a beautiful child, and the baby she is holding is wearing a pink velvet sash and looks decidedly female… I am convinced that this is a portrait of Magdalene with her two oldest children. 9. After all you have experienced and learned, do you feel that you can classify yourself with a religious affiliation? Do you consider yourself a Christian, for example, or do you feel that your opinions differ enough from traditional Christian thought to make that label insufficient?
I am most certainly a devout Christian in the sense that I believe in and pray to Jesus Christ every single day of my life. I have also witnessed His miracles firsthand – my youngest son was born with a life-threatening illness and I believe with all my faith that it was the intervention of Jesus that saved my child. Obviously, I am not traditional in my beliefs, but I hope that others who call themselves Christians will also call me their sister. I do not believe in any way that believing in Jesus as a husband and father diminishes his divinity or his importance. For me, the opposite is true. The Bible is clear on the sanctity of marriage and family, and I believe this story enforces that very Christian ideal. 10. Are there other historical women whose stories have moved you enough to inspire future novels?
Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of my great muses. I had planned to incorporate her into this series, as she was the greatest of the Grail Queens, but she is so larger-than-life and her story is so huge that she may need a book devoted entirely to her. I hope to do her justice in the not too distant future. And somebody needs to tell Joan of Ark’s true story one day, but that’s a major undertaking that I haven’t quite committed to yet. Lucrezia Borgia remains an inspiration for me as one of the most severely maligned women in history, so she may take a lead role in a future book. And Anne of Austria, the mother of Louis XIV, was the fantastic and inspiring muse for the next book in this series, The Book of Love
. 11. If you could spend the day with three religious figures, which would they be?
Mary Magdalene, of course, The Great (Virgin) Mary, and Francis and Clare of Assisi. That’s four, but I would meet with Francis and Clare together, as I believe they would want it that way. Oh, and that reminds me: Clare of Assisi – that’s another book that is in the works. Such a brave, brilliant and underappreciated woman! 12. What effect would you like to see The Expected One have on American readers? What change, if any, do you hope to affect in the world?
I would be thrilled if this book inspires people to open their minds and hearts to the possibilities that are presented within the book, and subsequently to continue on their own personal journeys of discovery. I hope people will go out and read the early Christian writings and the Gnostic material and expand their horizons, or even travel to the places I write about and find their own inspiration in these places. I recently took a group of Americans over to France with me, and I can promise you that every single one of them was entirely changed by their experience with these cultures.
I have also received wonderful mail from Americans who tell me that this version of the story caused them to go back to Christianity, as this version feels real and warm and welcoming to them. I hear from young people who tell me that they went to church or to Bible study for the first time after reading my book. All of that is very exciting and a tribute to the power of Mary and Easa’s story, I think.
In terms of affecting the world, I hope that exploring the past and gaining an understanding of how many people have suffered for their beliefs will help to lead us all to a place of greater tolerance. On this last trip to France, I was fortunate to travel with an amazing Englishwoman named Isobel who spends half of her year in Bosnia. As we journeyed through Cathar Country and honored the memory of hundreds of thousands of people who were slaughtered 800 years ago, Isobel reminded me that as recently as 1995 the people of Bosnia were the victims of a similarly horrific attempt at genocide. When I asked her what the survivors of Bosnia wanted in terms of help, she told me that the women there asked only one thing of the world: to live with more tolerance.
That’s really the one thing that will save the world. For all of us to live with more tolerance. 13. Are you working on another novel? And, if so, what is it about?
I’m working on the sequel to The Expected One
, which is called The Book of Love
. In the sequel, we go in search of a gospel written in the hand of Jesus himself while asking the questions: if such an astounding document existed, why doesn’t the world know that it ever existed? What happened to it? What important historical personages had it or were looking for it?
I’m very excited about it as it contains a lot of amazing information that the public hasn’t been exposed to yet.