By Kathryn Hutchinson
In ninth grade English, the first classical work read is Homer’s The Odyssey. Madeline Miller retells this classic in Circe, but from a different perspective. In Greek mythology, Circe is the daughter of Helios, God of the sun, and Perse, a water nymph. She is very different from the rest of her siblings as she has a mortal voice and no special power of her own, or so she thinks. In reality, she is the witch of transformation and upon this realization, Zeus banishes her to the Island of Aeaea where she perfects her magic. In the retelling, Miller included famous Greek heroes and figures including Jason, the Minotaur, Deadalus and his son Icarus, and of course Odysseus.
The story had the potential to be amazing but just was not. Circe was published after The Song of Achilles which won an Orange Award. The Song of Achilles left Miller with a lot of pressure to create another just like it. But it is very clear from the writing in Circe alone that she is riding off the high that was The Song of Achilles. While this could be due to the author’s personal writing style, that simply cannot be the case. In The Song of Achilles Patroclus says “He is half of my soul as the poets say” in referring to his lover Achilles. This specific line has been quoted many many times. It was a genius piece of writing for the theme of the story. Circe says “He is half of my son” when referring to Odysseus. The placement was very random and not necessarily “fitting” considering this is about Circe’s personal development–not her development with Odysseus. There is a difference between a writing style and outright re-writing a famous line to try and make a book better.
While Circe’s character development is clear and consistent throughout the book, it relied too heavily on other characters. Good character development is defined by the protagonist managing to find their best qualities by themselves. Circe’s development relied too heavily on her interactions with other characters, most notably Daedalus and Prometheus. They helped her love mortals and she helped them when they needed it. Again, this could be the “meeting the mentor” stage of epic tales, but how many mentors are too many mentors? Most of these characters were never heard from again and we just used to take up page space. From the amount of these encounters, some of them it seemed like Miller did not want to be writing that section at all. Overall, Circe is a boring and repetitive retelling of The Odyssey. There are better stories of greek retelling that leave Circe with a 2.5/5. The plot was weak and too convoluted while the character development was mediocre. If you are looking for a Greek retelling, The Song of Achilles is probably one of the best in that arena.