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.