As an avid reader, I’ve come into contact with a lot of different female protagonists that have all served very different roles in my life. Growing up, I idolized nerds like Hermione Granger and Susan Pevensie. I adored strong-hearted women like Katniss Everdeen and Mare Barrow. I empathized with Esperanza and Fidraus and their struggles.
But as I come to the crest between adolescence and adulthood, I feel a lack of representation for women who might not exactly have it figured out, where their life doesn’t revolve around a singular event or a singular love interest, a life that feels real, a character that feels real, because I love Katniss and Fidraus with my whole soul. However, their characteristics feel so separate from reality. The experiences they have and their reactions to each event feel right to them, but completely outlandish to me.
And then my best friend recommended Circe by Madeline Miller to me, and I fell in love.
Admittedly, it’s a bit odd to relate to a Greek goddess and witch, no less a b*ddass witch that lives in exile, but so many of her struggles are things I relate to as a young woman in a male-dominated world.
Near the beginning of the story, the immortal Circe fell head over heels for a human man, and she unknowingly forged a spell to make him a God. But when he became a God, he cast Circe aside for other Goddesses and Nymphs, forgetting about the woman who loved him when he was nothing more than a human. While I’d never cast a spell upon my ex-lovers to make them a God, I related in her naivety about love, men, and the fragility of infatuation. It’s so easy when you’re young and naive to assume the best of men, even when that’s hardly the case. I cried when she cried about her ex-lover, because the pain of heartbreak is universal and my heart ached for Circe.
This heartbreak had changed Circe though, in a similar way that I felt heartbreak changed me. Circe became wary of men and their intentions, aloof to their charms and affections. And when men attempted to ruin her, she turned them into swine. #hotgirlsh*t
Her naivety is a trait that persisted in the first quarter of the book. She was naive about her brother, her first love, and a slew of other people that visit her island during the novel. As Circe ages and grows, the curtain is pulled back and she reflects on the romanticization she conjured on many of the people she met, as many of them are hardly the person she thought they were.
More than her being a relatable character, I found Circe’s tale to be refreshing. For those who aren’t well acquainted with Greek mythology, Circe is mentioned in The Odyssey as a lover to Odysseus, painting her as a side character to a well-known Greek epic. Madeline Miller takes Circe’s story and brings it to life, illustrating her identity and character growth separate from the epics she’s mentioned in.
Something that I love so dearly about Circe is her lack of desire for power. That’s not to say she doesn’t have power or she doesn’t will power into her hand, rather that this power always had a purpose, and rarely for her own political gain. She’s okay living on her island, sometimes isolated, sometimes surrounded by a crowd of people. She doesn’t work to gain their affection or favor. She lives a happy life, free of charged missions that often ruin female characters for me in other books. She liked being independent and free from the control of her family. I felt the same way about Katniss in the end of Mockingjay, where Katniss returns to District 12 to live a simple life. These two characters remind me that there is nothing wrong with just wanting to be happy. You don’t have to be working towards global domination and political prowess if you don’t want to.
That reminder is exactly what I need as I begin thinking about life after college, for if a Greek goddess can have her simple wants and be happy, so can I.