If you come by here often, you may have recently read a recent Sunday Stories post where I lamented the fact that I dropped my mother’s copy of Circe in the bath. Luckily it lived to tell the tale (hair drier) and thank goodness because I loved it. (Also, my mum forgave me because she’s extremely kind. I’d have been livid.)
Circe is a rich and captivating retelling of the well-known character from ancient Greek mythology. Circe, the daughter of Helios, the god of the sun and most powerful of the Titans, is considered unimportant. A lowly nymph, she is pretty much ignored until it is discovered that she is capable of witchcraft. After causing a smidge of trouble, she is seen to risk the precarious balance of peace between the gods and the Titans and is banished to live her life in isolation on the island of Aiaia.
It is there that Circe hones her magical skills. She becomes a powerful witch, or pharmakis, and has a particular affinity with transformational magic. Although she is otherworldly, it is her human quality that makes her such an interesting character. Miller reminds us that ultimately Circe is a woman trapped and limited in life by tyrannical men who care not for her strength or talents. She may be immortal and able to whip up some handy brews, but she’s also vulnerable, lonely and angry. She acknowledges her flaws and learns to handle what life throws at her. It is this humanity that makes her relatable.
Be assured that the story isn’t just about Circe pottering about on Aiaia. (I would probably read it even if it was. She’s my new hero – I want to have lions and wolves as familiars!) No, as is so common with Greek mythology, a cast of quirky characters show up throughout the book. We watch through Circe’s eyes as Gods and mortals perform both wicked and wonderful deeds. It’s so fun to watch familiar stories play out, learning more about the people involved and what happened to them. Over time we also see relationships come and go, and how Circe’s love for mortals provides her with both joy and pain.
Although I am interested in Greek mythology, I can’t pretend to be an expert. However, I don’t think I need a PhD in Classics to know that women get a rough deal in them. Often simply erased out of stories, when they are mentioned they are at mercy of men. Or they’re the villain, used to make a point. That’s why I think Circe resonates with so many people. This feminist retelling gives a voice to one of the most famous villainesses of Greek mythology. It gives her a backstory, a drive, her substance. Circe is not someone to be easily dismissed, as she proves time and time again. And her strength comes from being a woman, not despite it. Basically, she is a BADASS.
This book is magical, warm and a sheer delight to read. Going backwards I know, but I’ve just bought The Song of Achilles because I want to get back into this world. Pun totally intended it’s spellbinding.