HATHOR AND SEKHMET
Taking a curious turn from the works that went before them, the last two novels of Bill McCay's StarGate series, "Reconnaissance" and "Resistance," fail in their efforts to borrow from Egyptian myth and to stay "in theme." This theme is defined as such: can we face the truth (and deal with the potential threat) in uncovering the historical facts of the classical myths of the Egyptians?
That is the basis of the movie, the novels and the television series and McCay reiterates it when Daniel is translating the hieroglyphs in the caves of Abydos.1 The series premise is to deal with alien threats in a mythological scale.
Although revised for a science fiction audience and new age theorists, the idea of an alien pretending to be a classical period god is not too far-fetched - especially for the tales coming from Central America, where it is suggested that ancient astronauts, people from the stars, have visited native Americans. While some were hailed as visitors they could also be seen as gods.
But for the last two novels, there is no alien pretending to be a god. Rather, there is an alien race of cat-beasts that once served the alien-deity, Ra. The story is not one based on myths. Instead it is based on the remnants of what could not be said about Hathor, as a non-devil-may-care goddess and there is juxtaposition of names and representations. The reader is introduced to the character of Sekhmet.
She is a cat-beast amongst a troupe of warriors trapped on the planet. Their battle with the humans and Abydans is one of desperation, since the technology they were supposed to retrieve is interrupted and later found by the humans. With what they present, these two novels would make a great story-arc in the SG-1 universe, spanning at least four episodes. But with the character of Sekhmet, one has to wonder if McCay is exploring a gentler aspect of Hathor in this cat-beast.
By contrast to the first three novels, Hathor has been a ruthless, sultry villain of human origin. This cat-beast, Sekhmet, is second-in-command and is a cunning, obedient warrior. But she is not like the myths at all. In legends, she is a cruel goddess of war, often the champion; destroyer of men, namely the enemies of Ra, and her temper uncontrollable. None of these traits are featured in this cat-beast.
Instead, she obediently follows Merraq, her commander-in-chief, but problems arise during the course of the novel. As the war progresses in the human's favor, Merraq's commands become questionable and Sekhmet does take over. But she does not fight to the end and she reluctantly surrenders to the Stargate team. Neither of these actions would be considered trademarks of the mythical goddess.
However, like the mythical goddess, she has the head of a lioness, a cat. All the grace and beauty that the great cat has are found in her. She is able to leap tall buildings and pounce upon unsuspecting victims, but it isn't shown unless she is protecting her captain or fellow warriors. She is more like a protectress (a Hathor trait) in this manner. Often, she is more likely to be seen overseeing the battle than partaking in battle. She remains in that role until the end, when desperation falls upon the entire pride.
Even with the identity of the cat, there is confusion should Sekhmet be compared to Hathor from the first trilogy of books. These two characters are not related in the novel's point of view. For example, Hathor employed Horus-guards and the cat-beasts have none. While both wear the head of a cat, one is a mechanical mask while the other is natural. Also, there is no evidence in any of the novels suggesting that these two are related.
Although the five-novel run stays in lieu to the series namesake, there is a split in thematic direction between the first three books and the last two. The saga of the Abydans continues, but with their world literally destroyed and their sociological order displaced, should there be a need to worship gods or develop myths to explain their religious rites? No. They have a far greater concern to deal with, namely that of survival since their planet is destroyed and the Earth governments do not want them.
Because mythology is rejected in favor for survival, these novels are not inspired by the legends "A Distant Goddess" and "Story of Ra" at all. Instead, we are given some new "mythology" to ponder. Some history of Ra's original race, something resembling the aliens from Roswell, is revealed and the cat-beast's military-speak is a language based on "The Hunt;" their moves are like lions surrounding their prey.
While this tactic ultimately fails and they are defeated, the story sounds like the plot from the final episode of "Doctor Who," titled "Survival," where only the fittest live to fight for another day while struggling to control the beast, the savagery within.
The main issue of these final two novels is that the cat-beasts were given Egyptian-sounding names. They are better off having names not inspired from that culture and these final two novels would have read better. If McCay was trying to create a gentler version of Hathor through the character of Sekhmet, he failed because she is neither divine nor inspired from legend.
While some divine traits can be found in juxtaposing Hathor's protective nature over Sekhmet's violence, it doesn't feel like that was the author's intent and it is ultimately unimportant for the novel's purpose. Most of the action is concentrated in issue of war and survival - especially in the final novel, "Resistance." Also, not enough "screen-time" was given to develop Sekhmet's character.
As for why she and Hathor wore the head (or helmet) of a cat, it seems to be more of a thematic preoccupation with cats in general than with anything else. While cats are revered in Egyptian culture, there is hardly any focus on it in the novels. Hathor from the first three books fulfilled every mythical possibility that the goddess could have been; but Sekhmet had nothing from legend to make her stand out. It is because of these aspects that made these books weak.
1. McCay, Bill. "StarGate Rebellion." pp. 8-9.