THE DEEP ONES: "This Is Not for You" by Gemma Files
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Discussion begins on March 18, 2020.
First published in the October 2014 online edition of Nightmare Magazine.
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That aside, from a mythological perspective the absence of Dionysos seems a little odd. Is there classical precedent for maenads not associated with him?
I agree. They're not exactly reconstructionists, and their feminism seems to have determined that they'd focus on Persephone rather than Bromios. The cult is a hybrid of Eleusinian and Bacchic mysteries, with perhaps a bit more of the former, aside from the actual sparagmos business.
This story reminded me a great deal of Aleister Crowley's Golden Twigs (also collected in The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works), especially "The Stone of Cybele." Crowley was riffing on episodes and themes from The Golden Bough by Frazer, and that story featured a Victorian cult reviving "The Myth and Ritual of Attis" with ether binges and priestly self-castration.
I appreciated the seeming historical veracity of Files's descriptions and terms: thyrsus / thyrsi, sparagmos, kykeon, and the various translations of the poem (from the Bacchae?).
The decision to structure the story as a nested flashback was exceedingly effective, putting the history of the group between the start of the ritual hunt, and the end of it. It extended the dramatic effect of the hunt, and then the tension of Aglaia's son; and it also brought in the necessary background to better appreciate specific interactions among the acolytes.
So, I did have a little bit of a feeling of "here we go again" when I started reading this story. But then I thought about it. Is Gemma Files playing with these conventions? Not only because the narrator is a woman (when the vast majority of the protagonists of these tales are male) but far more to the point, she is a psychopath. Is it in part a comment on all those detached, quickly appraising a situation and making judgements, not afraid to use violence, protagonists?
It didn't occur to me when reading the story, but yes, I could see that as a deliberate comment on tough-guy protagonists.
Relatedly, at some point in recent decades the default weird story protagonist seems to've gone from wealthy bachelor to a more working class sort of guy, at least in stories with contemporary settings.