Apr 23, 2019

Folklore Meets the Fantastic in MYTHIC FICTION

by Clarence Haynes

We’re thrilled to announce that Otherland’s first Mythic Fiction Book Club discussion is this Friday, April 26th, 19.30 at the Otherland Bookshop. We’ll be focusing on the novel Circe by Madeline Miller, a 2018 release which chronicles the life of the nymph widely known from Homer’s The Odyssey for her role as a witch with powers of transmutation.
Miller talked about the book last year on National Public Radio in the U.S.; the short interview is here.

Myths are ancient narratives hailing from a wide variety of cultures, presenting fantastic, nonscientific, often allegorical stories that have provided explanations to communities past about who we are and what surrounds us, including the origins of the world and nature’s inherent routines. Myths are also concerned with the stories of various deities—those divine beings who cultivate worship and act as a mirror to humanity—as well as the feats of extraordinary mortals.
In the Western world, the continuing influence of mythology can be seen in contemporary literary offerings that include psychodynamic nonfiction, novels, comics, TV series and films. (I have found myself particularly interested in modern, more progressive interpretations of Greek and Roman myth.)

For the purposes of the Mythic Fiction Book Club, we hope to focus on titles in some way shaped by traditional mythology from around the globe while also exploring ideas about how to appropriately choose works. The entire canon of fantasy literature is arguably mythic in some way, and hopefully we can have a discussion on how to narrow down the parameters of selecting titles for MFBC. For instance, should there only be works selected that focus on gods in some way or that have notable connections to the creation stories of real-world cultures or societies? Inci and I have also compiled a list of books for consideration for future meetings that will be available to peruse. We very much look forward to your thoughts and votes.

Returning to the novel Circe, in Miller’s concise prose, readers witness a character go from being a divinity with rather limited powers and rights to someone who defiantly carves out a place for herself in her realms. Others have presented Circe to contemporary pop culture audiences as well. Looking at comics, the scribes behind Wonder Woman, which is heavily influenced by Greek myth, have presented different iterations of Circe over the decades as a villainous sorceress. Over at Marvel Comics, starting in the mid-1970s, the character, with her name spelled as Sersi, has been presented as a generally heroic albeit hedonistic figure who is part of a group of beings known as the Eternals. This Sersi, as seen with Miller’s depiction, is lauded for her transmutation abilities and illusion casting, and identifies herself as the Greek legend icon.

We hope you’ll join us to discuss Madeline Miller’s Circe on April 26 at Otherland. For those who are interested, here are some questions to help frame the discussion. Please note that SPOILERS can be found in the questions below, so please only proceed if you’ve completed the book.

Thanks for reading.

1. Circe undergoes an evolution from the beginning of the novel, when she is a child of a callous court, to the book’s end, when she has been the mistress of her own island for ages. How would you describe her evolution? What’s the general arc of her life?

2. Do you think the author Miller is making a particular statement around ideas of family? If so, what ideas is she putting forth? What ideas about family come up when looking at Circe’s final meeting with her father Helios by book’s end?

3. What is your take on the depiction of nymphs in the book, who are revealed to be godly but not high in power? How does the social status of nymphs inform Circe’s path?

4. How does the novel subvert the traditional idea of male heroes as presented in Greek myth? For that matter, how does the book subvert some of the traditional concepts of witches?

5. Circe transforms others but is also transformed by the events of her life. What particular transformation does Circe undergo that you find the most compelling and why?

6. In her early years, Circe yearned for love and intimacy and throughout much of her life enjoyed taking care of others. By book’s end, would you say this remains a core part of who she is?

7. Do you think Circe and Telemachus make a good match? If so, why? In what ways might they be suited for each other? If no, why not?

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