We might recount the story of Odysseus in the Odyssey, but fail to reflect on the those left in Odysseus’s path – particularly one key figure, Circe, the demi-goddess of Helios turned banished-seaside-witch in this Epic of her life.
The most we probably know about Circe is that upon Odysseus’s visit to the island of Aeaea, Circe lured Odysseus’s unsuspecting shipmates into her den and turned them into swine. But have we ever stopped to think why? What might have driven Circe to distrust these passers-by so much?
Circe delves into the backstory before this fateful encounter with Odysseus and his men and extrapolates beyond it tracking the story of her relationship with Odysseus on his quest to return to Ithaca. The novel ties in several figures from mythology (Glaucus and Scylla, Hermes, Daedalus and Icarus, and more). If Greek mythology is your thing, the book provides an engrossing, detailed environment of mythological intersection. Even if it’s not your thing, the spellbinding nature of story makes it worth reading. Circe is a woman living in her father’s godly shadow, who must fight against prejudice, her own limitations, her corrupted family, her passions, even the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, and discover what it means to find contentment and repentance in a world intent on despoiling all that she holds dear.
Miller’s novel is not a glorified version of the Odyssey – in fact – the Odyssey – the supposed quintessential adventure – is only one part of the larger adventure in Circe. We come to understand the geography of her home kingdom and her new home of Aeaea as well as we know the male-dominated Shire in Lord of the Rings. This new geography feels wholly full of femininity – that is in the goddess sense meaning earthen, magical – and provides an updated adventuring realm that rivals the usual male-centric Greek myths. Circe becomes a kind of keeper of stories in Aeaea as individuals share their travels, their trespasses, and their secrets. Circe is no Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark – filled with impossible talent to survive. Though she becomes skilled at witchcraft, she is fallible, and in her fallibility she possesses great strength. She does not feel fallible in a way that makes it okay for a misogynist to accept her character – quite the opposite. She is fallible in that she – just like anyone – must own and learn from her mistakes in order to grow into a powerful witch and guardian and maybe even find love. Miller’s ability to craft such a three dimensional protagonist is what makes Circe so compelling to read from beginning to end.
Perhaps the late Homer has a run for his money…