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THE DEEP ONES: "Mysterium Tremendum" by Molly Tanzer

The Weird Tradition

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Dec 21, 2018, 9:54am Top

Online for me.

Edited: Dec 21, 2018, 10:23am Top

>2 RandyStafford:

And for me.

Something about that title always has me thinking delirium tremens and I can't wait to find out whether there's anything to it!

Edited: Dec 26, 2018, 10:17am Top

Mentions of Arkham and the "Black Pharaoh" place it in Lovecraft territory, of course, but it stays a superficial connection at best. What I found most interesting was that Marjorie seemed to be set up to become something like an occult detective (or maybe a weird librarian, heh), but John Thunstone she's not. Instead, she's merely a dupe, left high and dry - rather than insane or dead - at the end.

Edited: Dec 26, 2018, 8:58am Top

I should add that one thing that Tanzer pulls off quite nicely is an making Zupan a pure pulp bad guy. Rather than horror, though, his character gives the story more of a 30s adventure/crime pulp feel. It's almost as if Doc Savage is about to make his appearance in Chapter Two.

Edited: Dec 26, 2018, 11:08am Top

I thought this story was a lot of fun. It was definitely not Lovecraft pastiche, despite the presence of Yog-Sothothery in Arkham and Nephren-Ka. In the mood and details, it couldn't be further removed from the usual HPL orientations. But having those for a background gives the reader a lot of added uncertainty about where the story is going. Is Zupan Nyarlathotep or "merely" a reincarnation of Nephren-Ka? Will the heroine die? Go insane? Will the world be destroyed?

One thing that was very Grandpa was having the main motivation of the controlling character of the story be affection for his cat.

Dec 26, 2018, 11:16am Top

Most appreciated the hints at recreating Egyptian ritual, both the symbolism and prescribed enactments. Made no effort to confirm the veracity of anything however.

It occurs to me Tanzer may be attempting to draw parallels between ancient Egyptian sacred practices and early 20c. American social practices: reference to Colliers was it? But it's a stretch and not particularly successful if attempted, I think.

Dec 26, 2018, 3:56pm Top

>4 KentonSem: ... she's merely a dupe, left high and dry ...

Yes, I felt a little cheated - I thought she was being set up (in a quite different, positive way) for something and then it never materialised.

Dec 28, 2018, 1:23pm Top

>3 elenchus:

Apart from the vague party-going of Edgar, there wasn't much inebriation or withdrawal in the story, despite my association of the title with delirium tremens. Ah, well.

Dec 29, 2018, 4:41am Top

Warning: this post is probably totally devoid of logic.

This story has kept cropping up in my memory in odd moments over Christmas, and I can't help feeling that Tanzer has been really nasty to poor Marjorie. Perhaps she was 'working out some issues'?

Edited: Dec 29, 2018, 8:21am Top

>10 alaudacorax:

Marjorie is condescended to by her father, socially bulldozed by Mrs. Quildring, stuck on a date with that wanker Edgar, spiritually and symbolically raped by Zupan (maybe physically, too, who knows?), framed, tied up, and left to be discovered by Mrs. Quildring and the police, her reputation and career in ruins. You're right - Tanzer really does chew her up and spit her out to an extraordinary degree!

Jan 2, 6:51pm Top

>10 alaudacorax:
>11 KentonSem:

This is something I noticed too, but was puzzled, for a while, by the tone of the story, in a way, its air of anti-climax. One the one hand, the treatment of Marjorie is all you say - I would have listed evisceration too, but curiously even though the magical procedure revived the cat, Marjorie wasn't left as a corpse at the end (I'm sure HPL and 99% of his successors would have ended the story with her a rotting or mummified corpse, her life force transferred away into the cat). But that didn't happen; in fact I couldn't shake the thought that the ending Tanzer gives us could be a farce or sitcom ending: Marjorie looking straight to camera and exclaiming whatever would be the 1920s Rhode Island version of "Oh, crikey!".

There's something here that reminds me of Victoria Wood's undercutting of tired storytelling clichés in e.g. TV soap opera and costume drams, especially those clichés that ultimately descend from Gothic and Romantic fiction. Where Wood often seems to be saying "come on, we all know life isn't really lived like that, it's grounded in the mundane and everyday" - a stance that itself is a cliché now, probably, for a (British) Northern writer and also for a woman writer (despite the counter examples of Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights!). Tanzer's take adds something much more barbed about the treatment of women, in families, by academe, by men, even by Lovecrftian monsters (as it turns out).

I did enjoy this story, but more on reflection, once I'd worked out what it was saying and doing below the surface.

Jan 3, 8:50am Top

>12 housefulofpaper:

I did enjoy this story, but more on reflection, once I'd worked out what it was saying and doing below the surface.

Exactly! The only thing by Tanzer in my collection is something in the wonderfully strange Starry Wisdom Library book. She has some other short fiction online. I'll check for a possible Spring 2019 nomination.

Jan 3, 9:56am Top

>12 housefulofpaper: Tanzer's take adds something much more barbed about the treatment of women, in families, by academe, by men, even by Lovecrftian monsters (as it turns out).

That's an intriguing interpretation, and while I missed it on my own reading I have to agree the story supports it. Whether or not Tanzer intended it or not is a relevant question, but I'm a believer in texts having their own agency apart from their authors.

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