Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller

In 2018’s “Circe,” Madeline Miller sets out to tell the ancient Greek legend of Circe, daughter of the Titan Helios and a nymph, Perse. Like all great books, this one has a map in the front and a helpful list of characters in the back.

Circe never felt she fit in with the Titans. She has a lonely childhood then a doomed romance with a mortal. After being told she cannot marry the mortal, Circe discovers she is a witch who can use plants to cast spells. When her spell on him backfires, she turns a rival nymph, Scylla, into a monster. Circe justifies her actions by deciding she has turned Scylla into what she already was at heart, a monster.

After a fight with her father, Helios exiles Circe to live alone on the island of Aiaia.  Circe tames lions and wolves, the only company on her island. As Circe comes to appreciate her solitude, the gods begin sending wayward nymphs to join her exile. Unhappily, she tolerates them.

Next she is visited by sailors who have escaped Scylla and Charybdis and seek respite on the shores of Aiaia. Circe welcomes the sailors into her home. With full stomachs and drunk on her wine, a group of sailors attack Circe and rape her. She casts a spell on the men, turning them into pigs. “When it was over it remained only to drive them out to the pen....The gate closed after them and they pressed back against the posts, their piggy eyes still wet with the last of their human tears.”  She later thought to herself, “The truth is, men make terrible pigs.”

Much of the writing in this book is well-crafted. Miller writes about Ulysses’ year-long stay on the island, “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” And the storyline is engaging, even for someone who didn’t remember much about the Greek gods.

Madeline Miller artfully retells the ancient story of Circe from her own standpoint. Many Greek legends, including the Minotaur and The Odyssey, come to life in Circe’s tale. This is a legend for today’s audience.

Older fans of authors Rick Riordan and Neil Gaiman might enjoy Madeline Miller’s “Circe”. If you had Mrs. Harvey for junior high English, you might enjoy sticking a toe into mythology as an adult. You can find “Circe” in the fiction section next to “The Song of Achilles”, another retelling of Greek Legend by Madeline Miller at the Gering Public Library.