Technically, it actually doesn’t have a name, it’s just a bunch of italics, but whatever. It’s a prologue, and I know perfectly well that it’s a prologue.
In the great city of Itjtawy, the air was think and heavy, reflecting the mood of the men in the temple, especially the countenance of the king and the terrible burden he carried in his heart. (1)
So, this is almost a good sentence. We’ve got a hint that something bad is going to happen, and we’ve got a sense of location. All good ways to start a story.
However, there’s a major problem.
Itjtawy (and yes, that is being spelled correctly) was a real city. It was mentioned as the location for the 12th dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat I’s royal city. So, Houck has dated herself to be in the Middle Kingdom.
Egyptian history is usually categorized into three periods, the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, along with two Intermediate Periods where the entire structure of the society collapsed and had to be remade. We do this because Egyptian history is just too big to tackle without some division.
To give some context, it means that the pyramids have already been built (at least the ones that we really think about) but the Valley of the Kings isn’t in use. They built smaller pyramids, and texts and tombs are starting to be available to the common person.
The problem with dating a work like this means that we know what was going on at the time. Amenemhat and his sons actually lived in a time of relative peace, since it was the 11th dynasty Pharaohs like Montuhotep II had actually reunited Egypt from a bunch of petty warlords, which brought Egypt out of the First Intermediate Period.
So, in other words, Houck, by using Itjtawy has invoked a time and dynasty that we’re very familiar with, and thus a time that we know contradicts what she’s trying to do.
She continues with talking about a King Heru who is looking at the gathered people and “wondered if the answer her advisers and priests had given was their salvation or instead, their utter destruction.” (1)
There is no King Heru in the Middle Kingdom. Worse, that sounds like an Old Kingdom name.
It would have been so much easier if she had set this in an Intermediate period. We’ve got literally nothing from back then other than vague statements like “there were 100 kings in 100 days.”
So, our king is a bundle of nerves, pacing around, and clearly scared for something that is a paragraph later mentioned being some kind of demand that is being proposed by Set. Here called “Seth” which is the more…Westernized translation of the name, which would actually be closer to “Sutekh”. Set (Seth, whatever) is the god of chaos, storms, foreigners, and other such outside events of Egyptian civilization. In mythology, he has both positive and negative traits, both fighting against Osiris and the Divine Order that he imposed and at the same time fighting to protect Ra from Aphis, who personified primordial chaos (as opposed to the more normal kind).
We’re not going to see those positive traits here.
Heru mentions that this is the first time that a king has ever gone to the people for advice, which makes sense, given that Pharaoh was a god-king. They weren’t known for really worrying too much about what people thought about their decisions.
A king held his position precisely because it was his right, his duty, to see to the needs of his people, and a king who could not make a wise decision, however difficult, was ripe deposing. Heru knew that by allowing the people decide, he had proved himself a weakling, a coward, and yet there was no other outlet he could see that would allow him to live with the consequences. (1-2)
Heru is an awful king. I’ll just say that right now. He’s refusing to make a choice for himself because he knows it’s hard, so he’s forcing others to do the thing that he’s supposed to do. The reason he lives in the fancy house with the good food and everything else is because he makes decisions. However, let’s be honest, if he’s going to be a king in Egypt, he wouldn’t be deposed.
He’d be assassinated.
Now, we get some backstory. Heru claims that twenty years ago, Egypt was suffering what sounds like an intermediate period, drought, plague, “marauders and old enemies” (who had a name) and cities vanished. He claims that after that, he invites some of the other kings, Khalfani of Asyut and Nassor of Waset and they have a meeting as to what they’re going to do.
Asyut was, at this time, a little funerary city on the Western bank in Upper Egypt (which, confusingly enough is the lower part). Waset is Thebes. It WAS the capital for a while, but then it was moved. So, there would be no king there.
Again, also, this is the essentially the golden age of the Middle Kingdom. Egypt is united for the first time in about a century, things are stable. if Haru somehow was some forgotten Pharaoh of this time, he’d be a happy, rich guy who didn’t do very much other than go down the Nile, beat up the Nubians and steal their gold. By having a city that we know, from a time period that we know, Houck has absolutely made her story make no sense.
But things are going to get dumber.
Because rather than actually doing something about the plagues, the raiders, or doing some stuff about the drought, they’re going to focus on…changing the religion around a little bit.
Heru claims that all the cities worshiped a different god (this is only so true, it was more that they had a patron). Asyut worshipped Anubis, which is was true, Waset worshiped Khonsu, which is not true, and “King Heru’s people, skilled in pottery and stone cutting, worshiped Amon-Ra and his son, Horus” (2).
While the Egyptian cities would sometimes have patron deities, like say, Asyut having a relationship with Anubis because of their location on the West bank of the Nile (the west was associated with death because that was where the sun set) but that didn’t imply that they ONLY worshiped the patron god. This almost is like Houck has decided to pretend that somehow, there was a weird monotheism going on here, when there most certainly wasn’t.
Also…Horus isn’t Ra’s son. In any story. You’ve either got Horus the Elder who is the son of Nut and Geb, brother of Set, Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys, or you’ve got Horus the younger, who is the son of Isis and Osiris. Ra is Ra. He doesn’t have a son.
You’re messing up the basics, Houck. If you can’t get one of the easier stories right, I’m not looking forwards to your trying to muddle through the creation myth.
Moving on, the priests, because priests are always bad in these kinds of stories, say that the patron gods have abandoned them for reasons, and rather than bothering to figure out what offended them so much, they should totally become one nation and “appease a new god, namely the dark god, Seth” (2).
Because the god of chaos, storms, violence, and foreigners will totally keep you guys safe from those things.
Also I’m not even going to touch the whole ‘dark god’ thing. By the Middle Kingdom, there was actually a bit of a cult to Set growing since while being the god of chaos he also helped fight against the monster that representing primordial chaos, since chaos (the normal everyday kind), while dangerous, was necessary in small doses. Never confuse Egypt’s system for a duelistic one. It wasn’t.
Apparently, things go pretty good. The rains come (which is not something that Egypt really worried about) the Nile flooded (which WAS something Egypt really worried about), livestock are happy, women are having children (which wasn’t something that was listed as a problem, but whatever). Also, the queens of all three cities conceived, even though they were against this.
Houck seems to have forgotten about the raiders. Also, I’m aware that the women being against the whole change and then having kids is supposed to be a sign that they we wrong, but in the ancient mind, it wouldn’t have been. Their being punished would have been proof they were wrong.
Gods were mean.
Houck decides to randomly go into third person omniscient point of view for a moment, and mentions that
As the three queens each gave their husbands a healthy son, they acknowledged their blessings, especially the wife of Heru, who had never had a child and was well past her baring years. Though in their hearts, the new mothers still paid homage to the gods of old, they agreed that from that time forever they would never speak ill of the dark one (2)
Assuming that we’re still using Heru’s point of view, how does he know what’s going on in their hearts. Also, um, at this point, the Egyptians didn’t have a ‘queen’ as much as they had a ‘great wife’. As in ‘the head wife’. As in there was more than one. Because Egyptian rule was determined matrlineally, they were usually the daughter of the last king. Thus the reason why Pharaohs had a bad habit of inbreeding. However, there was more than one woman of royal blood, and if this woman hadn’t had children, the king would have been forced, for the sake of the succession, to make another women, who had royal blood and had born a child, the great wife.
What’s more, Houck IS using a narrative for this. A BIBLICAL one. It’s actually a pretty repeating theme in the Old Testament, and used with the birth of St. John the Baptist, where a woman who was too old to have children is given a son.
Houck is attempting to use this narrative as a way to show the miraculous nature of this event, and how blessed that Heru would feel, but in the context of Egypt, it doesn’t work. This woman would have been replaced already. If Heru is an old man, he would already have had a successor lined up and in training for the throne, if not a son, then a general or a nephew.
So, Heru goes on and says how the queens raised the three as brothers in hopes that they would one day unite all of Egypt under one ruler. Because apparently, Egypt is still divided, or Houck is under the vague impression that she’s writing pre-dynastic Egypt.
The temples of the other gods are getting abandoned. Which is again laughable.
The three boys see all three kings as ‘father’ and all three queens as ‘mother’, and they’re super close and popular and I’m not entirely sure how they think that this is going to prevent problems with them fighting over rule. Actually, this all strikes me as bad, since it feels like the lead to a war, but then, we all know that that can’t happen!
Heru comes back to the present, noticing all three standing together, and feels bad because he’s about the ask “a favor that no king, no father, should ask of his son.” (3)
Ok, Houck, enough with the build up. You’re not that subtle.
He stands up and gives a kind of painfully written exposition speech that takes up half a page and basically boils down to “Set (or Seth) wants a new sacrifice.”
Heru’s son accepts. Heru tells him not to just into this and that their priest Runihura (which is an Egyptian name that I’m thinking is New Kingdom and means destroyer, Houck is clever you see) says that Set doesn’t want the normal kind of sacrifice.
“The god Seth demands that three young men of royal blood be sacrificed to him and that they serve him indefinitely in the afterlife. ” Heru sighed heavily. “If this doesn’t happen, he vows to rain destruction upon all of Egypt.”
All three cities.
Also, the “afterlife” wasn’t called that. It was called Duat.
And that’s it.
That’s the end.
This is actually one reason why prologues have a bad rep with people. I don’t care about King Heru. I know that, other than this and some other intermissions, I’m not going to see him. Therefore, his struggle means nothing to me. All I end up thinking is that he was a weak king. And that the others were obviously no better.
Seth’s goals while obviously having something to do with the disappearance of the other gods, is too ambiguous other than ‘take over the world’, and I don’t care enough about the world itself to really get invested.
Next chapter we meet our heroine. Who is a giant Mary Sue in the truest sense of that word.
Until next time!
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2 thoughts on “Reawakened: Prologue”
So an old, barren woman gives birth…AND her husband has to sacrifice their son to a god (but said son will nevertheless wind up fine by the end)?
This story seems…familiar, somehow.
Pretty much. I mean, this time around, it’s not exactly the god’s intent for the kid to end up fine, and he’s sort of dead but…yeah…