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Sunday, April 26, 2020

The gamma in literature

One thing that gradually begins to strike the reader of better-quality literature who is familiar with the socio-sexual hierarchy over time is the way the SSH was regularly utilized in implicit form by the more perceptive novelists of the past. It can be observed in everything from Homer's Iliad to Murasaki's The Tale of Genji, so it should not be a surprise that Tanith Lee also picked up on it and used it to great effect in her storytelling.

In Delusion's Master, the Lord of Madness, Chuz, is bitter because the Lord of Evil, Azharn, has rejected him as godfather to Azharn's daughter. So, out of pure spite, Chuz puts events in motion that will destroy the only mortal woman that Azharn has ever loved.

Chuz laughed softly. His awful eyes were fixed on her back. The jawbones spoke to him.

“Azhrarn should not have refused the gift to his child. Azhrarn should not have set himself against me.”

Chuz drew the mantle over the foul side of his face; he gazed at the sand, lowering his eyes. He was now beautiful. He himself murmured: “Sweet Azhrarn, who plays at usurping my title, I have no quarrel with you, I make exchange. Barter is not war. Be then yourself Delusion’s Master. And Chuz shall be the Bringer of Anguish, the Jackal, the Evil One.”

Needless to say, after Dunizel is killed as a result of Chuz's machinations, Azharn is furious with his not-cousin, who is foolish enough to approach Azharn's daughter and attempt to befriend her after the murder of her mother.

At sunset, Chuz entered the temple and crossed the mosaic with a cat’s-paw tread. He came up to the chair where, throughout the day, the blue-eyed child had lain on its belly, staring at him through the doorway.

Chuz was attired somewhat differently. On his left foot he wore a shoe, and on his left hand a glove of smooth purple cloth. The left side of his face was masked by a half-face of the blondest bronze, a face that matched the fleshly handsome side exactly. His hair was concealed. He was now a most beautiful, if quite abnormal sight.

“Pretty child,” said Chuz, to Dunizel’s daughter, Soveh, “I will conduct you from this uninteresting fane.”

The child, Soveh, lowered her eyes, much in the manner of Chuz himself, though not for the same reason.

“Should you not,” said Chuz, “wish to behold your inheritance? Do not be alarmed. I will shield you from the dregs of the sun, though it is almost out. I waited until sunset, from courtesy to you. I regret your mother and father have been called away on business. As your uncle, I propose to adopt you. In token of good faith, here is a gift.”

The blue jewels came up again, and focused on an amethyst one. It was the die.

Soveh did not take the die, but she regarded it, and as she did so, Chuz regarded her, and it might be noted that both his extraordinary optics were covered by sorcerous lenses of white jade, and black jet, and amber, that precisely mimicked a splendid pair of natural eyes. From a slight distance, one might be deceived entirely. Chuz had come out in his best, and no mistake, to woo the daughter of Azhrarn.

But still she did not take his gift, though she glanced at him occasionally, without mistrust or trepidation, while the day’s last spangles perished on the threshold.

“This is most hurtful,” lamented Chuz eventually. And, perhaps intending to provoke her, he turned his back to her. And found himself face to face with Azhrarn the Prince of Demons, who had that instant come up through the lake and the floor to stand seven paces away.

Chuz did not seem abashed. He smiled delightfully, and the bronze mask smiled with him in complete coordination.

“Well,” said Chuz, “I am not, it transpires, to play uncle after all. And I thought you had forgotten her, despite what it cost you to bring her about.”

Azhrarn’s face was hard to be sure of. Cloud seemed to enfold him. But his eyes smote through the cloud. Few but Chuz would have been ready to meet them.

“You and I,” said Azhrarn, “un-brother, un-cousin, are now also un-friends.”

“Oh, is it so? You sadden me.”

“Oh, it is so. And you shall be saddened, even if I must hunt you over the world’s edges to come at you.”

“I see you condemn me out of hand. You suppose I incited the stone-worshippers deliberately to attack me, that my toys might be scattered and the lethal thing with them. Yet who permitted the whip to cut his palm and the three drops of his blood to fall and change to adamant?”

“Chuz,” said Azhrarn so quietly he was barely to be heard, yet not a mote of dust that did not hear him, “find a deep cave and burrow into it, and there listen for the baying of hounds.”

“Do you think I shake at you?” Chuz said idly. “I am only the world’s servant. I have done my duty. And you, my dear, have known madness. Did you relish it?”

Azhrarn’s face came from the cloud; it was the face of a black leopard, a cobra, a lightning bolt.

“There is a war between us,” Azhrarn said. “And I have done you the kindness of informing you.”

“I admire you too well to wrangle.”

And like a wisp of vapor, Chuz was gone, though somewhere an ass brayed wrackingly, three times.

This conflict between the two Lords of Darkness is a veritable masterclass in the conflict between Alpha and Gamma. Notice in particular the relentless dishonesty of Chuz, both with himself and with others, the sardonic pose of superiority, the denial of responsibility for his own actions, and, when his transparent narrative-spinning fails in the end, the inevitable attempt to avoid direct conflict through flight, complete with a verbal Parthian shot. Even his rejection by the young girl flawlessly fits the model.

And, of course, underlying the entire conflict is the Gamma's rage at the Alpha's refusal to accept him as an equal, even though he knows perfectly well he does not merit it. Remember, this was written in 1981, decades before I first articulated the hierarchy. It has always been there, we simply didn't happen to have the words to describe it.

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42 Comments:

Blogger Sterling Pilgrim April 26, 2020 12:06 PM  

The three ass brays is an interesting detail. Brings to mind Puzzle from the Last Battle as well as Peter from the gospels. The last allusion may seem far fetched, yet Chuz seems the type who would concoct his own twisted versions of Messianic signaling.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine April 26, 2020 12:10 PM  

"though somewhere an ass brayed wrackingly, three times."

Even the ass knows.

Blogger Azimus April 26, 2020 12:15 PM  

Who was the gamma in the Iliad? Achilles? He seemed kind of gamma in the beginning. The whole Achaean army when they wanted to go home? The whole Achaean Army when they were white-knighting for Helen? Paris? Surely not Hector. Some of the gods were gamma-ish. I read it a few years agonand never considered SSH - curious for who the gammas were.

Blogger Daniel April 26, 2020 12:27 PM  

Dona Tarrt nails this character in the first person in The Secret History. He is a lonely freshman at a third tier liberal arts school joins a murder conspiracy against an Alpha in ordr to become a neoclassical secret god-king.

I think she lucked out by writing what she knew.

Blogger Jab Burrwalky April 26, 2020 12:37 PM  

I have noticed that the more recently a book was written, the more likely the hero/protagonist is to be a gamma, or at least an underdog. Is that because more authors are gammas, or because even non-gamma authors have been trained to sympathize with the gamma as an oppressed, tragic character deserving of pity instead of the loathsome schemers they are?

Blogger Bellomy April 26, 2020 12:46 PM  

Perhaps the best portrayal of a gamma in literature is Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

Blogger Shane Bradman April 26, 2020 12:51 PM  

It's even present in Goethe's work. Who does Mephistopheles remind you of?

Blogger HanSolo April 26, 2020 12:57 PM  

What is Satan? An alpha? A gamma? A mix? He's the father of lies and the "accuser of our brethren" (gamma) but he's also the leader of his angels (alpha). He may have seen himself as the secret king of heaven (gamma) but actually tried to lead a rebellion (alpha).

Revelation 12:7-12 "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time."

Blogger VD April 26, 2020 1:01 PM  

Perhaps the best portrayal of a gamma in literature is Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

(nods)

Blogger VD April 26, 2020 1:01 PM  

What is Satan? An alpha? A gamma? A mix?

What part of "fractal" do you find hard to understand? What is his general pattern of behavior?

Blogger Bibliotheca Servare April 26, 2020 1:20 PM  

Satan is the frigging Gamma archetype, for goodness sake. Everything he does is out of either spite, jealousy, or hatred. God is the Alpha he hates and believes he deserves to replace, and Michael is the Chad Bravo that God will eventually send to beat Satan's Gamma ass into an unrecognizable pulp, before throwing him into a lake of fire.

Blogger Bellomy April 26, 2020 1:33 PM  

I ain't no expert at this but Achilles's pettiness at the start of the Iliad always struck me as extremely gamma behavior.

Blogger Noah B. April 26, 2020 1:49 PM  

Walter White is a gamma. Aside from being a skilled chemist, his success is mostly due to others in his life who keep taking pity on him and giving him new chances that he doesn't deserve. And that decision always, always comes back to burn them.

Blogger Doktor Jeep April 26, 2020 1:52 PM  

How did awareness of SSH become so lost or forgotten and when?
And ultimately, who was behind it? There's a whiff of egalitarianism in the air.

Blogger Daniel April 26, 2020 1:57 PM  

Achilles, as portrayed in the Illiad, gets pissed off over a pedestalized woman and any perceived slight even though he contains the universe on his shield. He's skilled at something, but when he risks the entire operation by withholding his leadership for no other reason than his one (stunted) male relationship, thousands die needlessly.

I'd argue Homer's Achilles is gamma, confirmed.

Blogger Aziz P. April 26, 2020 2:03 PM  

I think Chuz gets the girl though. Unless I am misremembering the characters

Blogger Greg from the Piedmont April 26, 2020 2:11 PM  

With God as the standard, CS Lewis said in "That Hideous Strength", "What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it."

We all submit from the heart or perish in rebellion. But to the world, a Christian man must have much of the alpha about him: no surrender to sin, no compromise with the world, and an absolute love for the battle, even though the strength does not come from him, but the Holy Spirit within him. Not surrendering has cost, but nothing I could not live without.

I will say this much. When I was younger I preferred conflict to be open and settled by a fight. If I had known the last time I would get an opportunity to legally beat someone down was at age 18, I would have continued to play football. Now at 62, the spirit is willing and the flesh is as well, but the limits are somewhat lower and no opportunities have come in decades.

Blogger Balkan Yankee April 26, 2020 2:25 PM  

Holden Morrisey Caulfield: Perhaps the greatest gamma in 20th Century American literature?

Blogger Vaughan Williams April 26, 2020 2:27 PM  

@12 Hard to tell a Lamba apart from a Gamma, Bellomy.

Blogger MichaelJMaier April 26, 2020 3:15 PM  

Bellomy wrote:I ain't no expert at this but Achilles's pettiness at the start of the Iliad always struck me as extremely gamma behavior.

So he's a heel?

Blogger Kraemer April 26, 2020 3:55 PM  

@HanSolo gammas can lead. But they tend to fail colossally at the undertakings that they're in charge of.

Blogger Sterling Pilgrim April 26, 2020 4:03 PM  

Shift vs Eustace for Gamma King of Narnia would be a good essay.

Blogger Grooveware April 26, 2020 4:34 PM  

Did God create Satan as the original gamma male to expose the rest of the secert kings in heaven?

Blogger Emmett Fitz-Hume April 26, 2020 4:57 PM  

MichaelJMaier wrote:Bellomy wrote:I ain't no expert at this but Achilles's pettiness at the start of the Iliad always struck me as extremely gamma behavior.

So he's a heel?


Credit where its due: that's pretty good.

Blogger Emmett Fitz-Hume April 26, 2020 4:59 PM  

Longtime Lurker wrote:Holden Morrisey Caulfield: Perhaps the greatest gamma in 20th Century American literature?


Just thinking about that book, and it being required reading to pass 9th grade English still makes me shudder.

If there's a more overrated American book, I can't think of it right now.

Blogger furor kek tonicus ( no need to be racist, Ratchets can Karen better than anybody ) April 26, 2020 5:41 PM  

speaking of fictional socio-sexual stuff, i've picked up Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'
...
twice in the first 10 pages of the story, she has expressed vignettes of a woman foolishly taking up with a bad boy, and a White Knight rescuing said woman from the obvious consequences of her stupid decisions by cucking and gifting money to the couple.

which, when you realize that Mary's father ( Godwin ) was a cuck who married TWO different women who already had children, and who had a household with 5 different children in it, no pair of which had the same set of parents ( all of them being step siblings ) makes a lot of sense.

and that's without even getting into all of the stupidity that Percy got involved in.

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 26, 2020 6:32 PM  

Then there are Gamma characters in games.

In the newest expansion pack for Hearthstone, I was reintroduced to the one of the biggest gammas in the history of gaming. Illidan Stormage. Back when I used to play WOW (and before I became familiar the SSH), I couldn't stand the character. I couldn't put my finger on the reason why but I knew it wasn't just because he was supposed to be a bad guy.

For the benefit of those who never met this soppy elf:

Illidan started out as a World of Warcraft character who was destined for greatness but couldn’t get there because Tyrande, the chick he had oneitis for, friendzoned him to bang his totally boss alpha male brother for ten thousand years. And after ten thousand years Illidan still pines for her. He still resents his brother for being super-cool and great with all the girls while he, the so much more worthy elf languishes and cries himself to sleep at night in his bitter loneliness. He's pathetic!

Blogger My Dead Gramps April 26, 2020 6:44 PM  

No, Achillies isnt a gamma, he's an alpha given to hubris. He runs directly towards conflict and the men serving under him respect him.

Blogger Meng Greenleaf April 26, 2020 7:40 PM  

I felt Achilleus was weird at the time, but just assumed it was a cultureal difference, but on reflection, he does seem like a gamma at the start. When Hector turns and runs, my jaw fell open.

Blogger VD April 26, 2020 8:25 PM  

I think Chuz gets the girl though.

Only as a fortuitous result of completely forgetting who he is in hiding from her father. But yes, the Secret King does win again....

Blogger Apathy Is Death April 26, 2020 8:34 PM  

@27

The Warcraft writers have a bad habit of bending over backwards to make you sympathize with Sylvanas too, despite the many awful things she has done. They must defend the pretty woman who "deserves better" at all costs!

Blogger VFM #7634 April 26, 2020 8:41 PM  

Alphas are prone to complaining loudly if they feel they're not being respected. Gammas will hold it in and turn traitor. I'd say Achilles is Alpha.

As for the Iliad's prime Gamma, I'd pick Paris. If Helen hadn't had a hex on her courtesy of Aphrodite she'd completely ignore him.

Blogger VFM #7634 April 26, 2020 8:56 PM  

Did God create Satan as the original gamma male to expose the rest of the secert kings in heaven?

Well, it worked...

Blogger Azimus April 26, 2020 9:14 PM  

So who's the gamma then in your opinion, MD Gramps?

Blogger Bellomy April 26, 2020 10:25 PM  

No he doesn't run toward conflict though. He refused and allows his men to die because he's still mad at the king. He won't put aside his petty bitterness even for the sake of his countrymen.

Blogger The Kurgan April 27, 2020 4:24 AM  

My Main problem with Alphas is that they are too socially conscious to smear gammas on the nearest wall like thin paste.

I mean....a lord of darkness and he "informs" his enemy, and not while having him strapped down and plucking out his eyes?
Weak. That's the Alpha's weakness.

Blogger Avalanche April 27, 2020 8:25 AM  

@17 "With God as the standard, CS Lewis said in "That Hideous Strength", "What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it."

We all submit from the heart or perish in rebellion. But to the world, a Christian man must have much of the alpha about him: no surrender to sin, no compromise with the world, and an absolute love for the battle, even though the strength does not come from him, but the Holy Spirit within him. Not surrendering has cost, but nothing I could not live without."

This, oh THIS! A major thing that drove me off from my Northern Baptist upbringing was the (ha) *ungodly* weak cuck men who filled that (Long Island NY) church. Where-oh-where was the Onward Christian Soldier -- and how was I to respect, follow, and subordinate myself to these surrendered men?

Blogger JohnofAustria April 27, 2020 9:12 AM  

Yeah, they dont understand the venom of the gamma, so they never think it's worth crushing them outright before they can.

Blogger VD April 27, 2020 9:42 AM  

That's the Alpha's weakness.

Because the Alpha's main responsibility is to preserve the group. He can't destroy every petty challenger or failure, or he will destroy the group.

What you see as weakness is why Alphas always beat the lone hero. They have armies and armies always defeat individuals.

Blogger tublecane April 27, 2020 1:20 PM  

@15- "Achilles...gets pissed off over a pedastalized woman"

That was a slave, first of all. Secondly, it's not so much about the woman as it is a matter of honor. Losing her was not a perceived slight. It was a slight in fact.

The way the story goes, Agamemnon caused a plague in the Greek camp because he refused to return a girl he took to someone beloved of the god Apollo. Achilles calls the generals together to talk this over, and Agamemnon yields. But being Top Dog, he thinks himself entitled to choose a replacement. He has Achilles' slave stolen, and this pisses Achilles off.

What follows is a long stretch of Greek misfortune, fervently wished for by Achilles. Who spends his days pouting in his tent. Which I admit could be considered gamma-like. Because not only does he hold back his contribution to the war effort, he actively works to undermine his countrymen via his river-goddess mother.

However, Achilles is no gamma. He is a king and leader of men. His sense of honor has sent him spiraling down into an absolutely shameful pit of despair. But he snaps out of it upon the death of Patrtolclus and consciously chooses death over further dishonor.

Bear in mind: Agamemnon was a bad leader. This whole operation started to get his brother's wife back, and for most it's merely an opportunity for plunder. For a man like Achilles it's an opportunity for glory.

These old-timey Greek army consists of a bunch of separate kingdoms. They're not on a crusade. Not bound by nationhood or ideology. Homer doesn't write it as though you even have to root for the Greeks.

So if one general wants to sit it out, as the leader it's your job to keep him in or get him back. Agamemnon does a wretched job of this.

Here are a couple of alphas, one greater and one lesser, butting heads. The greater caused the breach and cannot manage to heal it. The lesser will end up being the greater in history's eye because of what he accomplishes. But only after he realizes what an ass he's been.

Blogger tublecane April 27, 2020 1:30 PM  

@13- I can see that. There are hints that Walter White had previously been on an upward trajectory and that he had settled. However, he carries around a decades-long grudge against his former partners despite voluntarily accepting a buyout.

Also, every time he's memorably badass, he's really just play-acting. The famous "I'm the one who knocks" line comes when he's basically just annoyed by his wife and wants her to shut up.

I would, however, have to disagree that his success is always due to others giving extra chances. He's not usually good at lying or manipulation, but there are many examples where he comes up with and carries out schemes that don't require people bending over backwards.

For instance, he manipulates his partner Jesse consistently. At least until the final season. He uses his brother-in-law Hank, playing upon Hank's low opinion of him. He intimidates his lawyer. He establishes business relationships with Gus, Todd, and Lydia on his own initiative after introductions. It doesn't just all fall into his lap.

One character he can never possibly manipulate is Mike.

Blogger tublecane April 27, 2020 1:45 PM  

@32- I don't know if it's covered in the Iliad, but I think Paris had his luck with the ladies beforehand. Anyway, this goddess just-so happened to assert herself on the side of a man who's handsome and intelligent and a prince.

My choice for Iliad gamma would be a minor character called Thersites. He's only in one scene as I recall. He is lame with sunken shoulders and messy hair. Gets chastised by Odysseus for bitching against Agamemnon. One hit and he's crying in a ball on the ground.

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