Review: Come Hither, No Malice by J. D. Buffington
Author: J. D. Buffington Website
Synopsis: Perseus seeks to destroy the monstrous Gorgons. But not all monsters are beasts. Once a beautiful young woman—transformed after being attacked, cursed, and persecuted—Medusa presides over a haven for the abused. Their lives in each other’s hands, only patience, compassion, and their free will as mortals can break the cycle of cruelty.
Review: Over the past few years, feminist retellings of ancient Greek Mythology have risen to the forefront with best sellers such as The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, Circe by Madeleine Miller, and most recently, Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes, just to name a small handful. These stories examine familiar myths that typically centered on the male heroes and relegated the female characters to supporting roles and position those supporting females into the starring roles. Come Hither, No Malice by J.D. Buffington fits into this category with what the author calls a love letter to Medusa in his opening acknowledgments.
Medusa’s story is rife with tragedy. A beautiful maiden is raped by Poseidon while claiming sanctuary in Athena’s temple. Instead of compensating the girl she failed to protect, Athena punishes her and transforms her into a hideous monster. Medusa is forced to hide in a cave with the hideous Gorgons, and everyone who gazes upon her turns to stone. Even for Athena, a goddess who does not flinch from doling out nasty punishments, it is an especial cruelty. Athena’s other victims at least contributed to their fates somewhat (Arachne who brags she is better than Athena at weaving, Myrmex who takes credit for one of Athena’s inventions, Teiresias who saw her naked), but Medusa does nothing wrong. When Cassandra, virgin priestess of Troy, was raped in one of Athena’s temples, Athena punished Ajax, the perpetrator, not the victim.
Even after this transformation, Medusa’s punishment is not done. The gods send Perseus to behead her while she is sleeping and then her murderer claims her head and gives it to Athena. There is no escape for Medusa, even in death.
It is this cruelty, along with the excitement of Perseus’ story, that has continued to fascinate us. Buffington, with his work, seeks to offer Medusa a better story. One that grants her agency and purpose. A story that casts the monstrous as a hero and I feel he succeeded.
Buffington does not shy away from the cruelty Medusa faced, which is an integral part of the story, but instead of leaving her broken, or indulging in a cliche revenge plot, he gives her a new purpose. His Medusa is not a monster, but a protector. She grants others the sanctuary she was denied. This elevates her story without detracting from its core.
The story is still told from Perseus’ point of view, but Medusa is more than a supporting role. She is a main character in her own right, and the interplay between these two characters is the heart of Buffington’s tale. Their exchange is well written and complex and I’ll avoid summarizing because it is best to read it directly.
Another aspect I appreciated is that Buffington restores Medusa’s dignity, but does so without recasting Perseus as a monster. Greek heroes often do quite terrible things, and I can appreciate stories that examine that, but I think simply swapping the hero for the villain is tired and I preferred this more nuanced approach.
J.D. Buffington’s novella is a fresh approach to the Medusa myth that I enjoyed reading and recommend to any fans of mythological retellings.