Madeline Miller’s “Circe” is to Homer’s “Odyssey” as Jonathan and Lawrence Kasden’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is to George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” trilogy.
If you’re familiar with the canon, you know where these characters will end up (in Han Solo’s case, that means steering the Millennium Falcon with Luke Skywalker; while in Circe’s case, that means turning Odysseus’ men into pigs), but their respective origin story spinoffs answer questions you didn’t know you had — like where did the six-headed man-eating sea monster Scylla come from? Or how was the man-eating Minotaur of Crete born? Or why does Circe transform men into swine?
Miller’s “Circe” gives these myths new life, weaving them together and giving them context. Circe, the witch exiled to the island of Aeaea, was the daughter of the sun god Helios and nymph Perse. She was the niece of Prometheus, the Titan who stole the secret of fire from the gods and gave it to humanity.
She was the sister of Pasiphaë, the queen of Crete who gave birth to the Minotaur.
She was the aunt of Medea, who helped the hero Jason steal the golden fleece from her father and Circe’s brother Aeëtes.
Miller’s Circe was also an immortal goddess, a powerful master of transfiguration, who fell in love with mortal men and was uncomfortable with praise.
Odysseus, the Greek hero who made Circe famous, said he “never met a god who enjoyed their divinity less.”
But that’s what mortal men liked about her — that she was giving and approachable and motherly.
Battling with an internal monologue filled with doubt, guilt, fear, loneliness and low self-worth, Circe was a goddess mortal men took advantage of — who has her own #MeToo story.
But she doesn’t let it or her sins define her. She punishes and atones and persists. All the while, time stands still as we listen to her story with rapt attention.
Unlike Circe, those familiar with the Greek mythology are the ones with the gift of prophecy, knowing things before the goddess does.
Icarus will fly too close to the sun. Theseus will slay the Minotaur. Odysseus eventually goes home. And everyone dies — eventually.
But despite what the fates have foretold, we dare Circe to defy it, standing up to those in power and speaking the truth.
She doesn’t disappoint.