How Do You Talk To An Angel

I’ve always loved Greek mythology.  Reading Greek myths is one of my earliest childhood reading memories (others include Scholastic book catalogues, The Children’s Bible, World Book Encyclopedia, etc.); and I have mentioned before that I would love to write a novel of the Trojan War. Mark Merlis’ brilliant An Arrow’s Flight is one of my favorite gay novels of all time. I also loved Mary Renault’s novels based on Greek myths (The King Must Die, The Bull from the Sea) as much as I loved the ones based on Greek history. And of course, I love love LOVE Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and the sequel series, The Lost Hero.

But Madeline Miller’s Circe…it’s just amazing. Absolutely amazing.

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When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.

My mother was one of them, a naiad, guardian of fountains and streams. She caught my father’s eye when he came to visit the halls of her own father, Oceanos. Helios and Oceanos were often at each other’s tables in those days. They were cousins, and equal in age, though they did not look it. My father glowed bright as just-forged bronze, while Oceanos has been born with rheumy eyes and a white beard to his lap. Yet they were both Titans, and preferred each other’s company to those new-squeaking gods upon Olympus who had not seen the making of the world.

Oceanos’ palace was a great wonder, set deep in the earth’s rock. Its high-arched halls were gilded, the stone floors smoothed by centuries of divine feet. Through every room ran the faint sound of Oceanos’ river, source of the world’s fresh waters, so dark you could not tell where it ended and the rock-bed began. On its banks grew grass and soft gray flowers, and also the unencumbered children of Oceanos, naiads and nymphs and river-gods. Otter-sleek, laughing, their faces bright against the dusky air, they passed golden goblets among themselves and wrestled, playing games of love. In their midst, outshining all that lily beauty, sat my mother.

The one upside to being sick is it gave me the chance to finish reading Circe. 

It’s…incredible, marvelous, a joy to read and truly exceptional.

It is just as good as The Song of Achilles, her first novel, as beautifully written and lovingly told, and like Achilles, the end of Circe also made me weepy.

Miller, who holds both a BA and MA in Classics from Brown, writes absolutely beautifully. Like Renault, she is able to capture the magical music of words, so that the prose reads like a poem, a song, something the bards would sing around the fire in the houses in Athens, Sparta, Corinth or Thebes. Like Circe herself, Miller weaves a magical spell over her readers, draws them into this stunningly beautiful world where gods sometimes appear to mortals and intervene in their lives.

An unliked, ignored daughter of the sun god, shunned by her fellow nymphs and siblings, Circe grows up an outsider. She doesn’t have the voice of an immortal; the others complain about her screeching voice–it isn’t until much later that she discovers that she actually has the voice of a mortal, which is why the gods cannot abide it. She soon discovers power in plants and in words; she falls in love with a mortal and uses her knowledge to turn him into a god. But once she does this, he spurns her for another nymph, and she goes out in search of more powerful plants, ones that were grown out of the blood of a dead titan. She then transforms her rival into the monstrous beast Scylla, and is punished by being put in exile on the island of Aiaia, where she lives alone and becomes even more powerful by practicing her witchcraft.

She is present when her sister Pasiphae gives birth to the Minotaur; she knows Daedalus and his son, Icarus. Jason and her niece Medea stop on her island for her help in escaping her brother, Medea’s father. Odysseus and his men eventually arrive, and Circe’s life and destiny are changed forever. I won’t go any further than that, for fear of spoiling the story.

Circe is a story about finding strength in yourself when you are despised; of learning to trust in your own strength and power, and that even the most despised is worthy of strength and character and, most of all, love.

It’s beautiful and powerful and moving.

I cannot wait for Madeline Miller’s next book. I do hope she writes about Medea next.

Better Be Good to Me

 

Wednesday.

Yesterday was actually a lot of fun; Erin Mitchell had tagged me on a Facebook thing where you have to post seven covers of favorite books without an explanation; just post the cover and that was it. Quite naturally, my first selection was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann; and then as I started looking up covers (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was the second) I started remembering other favorites from long ago; a lovely sort of triggering memories. Before I knew it I was up to twenty-one covers, and hadn’t even remotely begun to scratch the surface. But engaging with people on social media in such a positive way, about books we all read and loved and remembered so fondly, was one of the most positive experiences involving social media that I can remember having in a long time; social media has become so dank and dark and enraging; a stark reminder of the societal rifts and divisions in not just our country, but in the world. I think I am going to continue posting images of book covers that I love, because there are so many books that I love.

And isn’t doing something positive on social media for a change a really good thing?

I have always been an avid reader; as long as I can remember I was always reading something. Trying to pick influences when being interviewed is never an easy thing for me; everything I’ve ever read has influenced me in some way. Where did my love for history come from? I remember reading Genevieve Foster’s wonderful ‘horizontal history’ books for kids, like George Washington’s World and Abraham Lincoln’s World; but I had to be interested in history before that in order to have picked those up in the first place (they are, for the record, extraordinary books packed full of information and analysis; her explanation of how the marriage of Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy in 1476 was a direct cause of every major European war from that point on until 1914 was something that always has stuck with me; it was the marriage that created the enmity and rivalry between the French and the Germans, fighting over Flanders and Alsace-Lorraine for centuries, and often dragging the rest of Europe into the war with them); it was American history that interested me from the first, and then that extrapolated into British history, than European and to a lesser degree, world. But I was always fascinated by ancient history as well; Egypt and Greece and Rome. I don’t know how or where that came from; paging through encyclopedias, perhaps. I do know that I read every volume of the World Book Encyclopedia that my parents bought for my sister and I when we were very young, from cover to cover; and I always had a really good memory for things that interested me. Posting these book covers brought back so many memories…of all the times I retreated from a world I didn’t fit into on the back porch of our upstairs apartment in Chicago with a book; all the times I went into my bedroom in whatever house we were living with a book and shut the door, escaping into a different world.

I have been working on the introduction to my short story collection; debating whether or not to pull one of the stories or not (actually two; they are out for submission but one is nearing the one-year anniversary of its submission date, and the other was sent to the same market so….while it would totally suck to invalidate the submission by publishing them in my collection and then have them accepted; I am thinking it’s probably prudent to pull them and replace them with other stories, saving them for either Kindle singles or another collection at a later date, but that might mean delaying the collection, unless I can finish another two stories this weekend, which is always possible…see how that works?)

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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