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A gateway to Greek mythology

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'Circe' by Madeline Miller
'Circe' by Madeline Miller
Courtesy of publisher

Every week, The Thread checks in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. This week, we spoke to Lillian Schmid at Big Star Books & Music in Santa Fe, N.M.

Lillian Schmid had always been intimidated by the thought of diving into Greek mythology. It seemed complicated and full of unpronounceable names, not to mention the Roman counterparts one was expected to memorize.

“Circe,” by Madeline Miller, made the trip into myth not only painless, but a wondrous ride.

“I rarely use the word ‘beautiful’ for fiction,” Schmid said. “But this is just really a beautiful novel.”

The novel follows Circe, a sorceress who gets only a brief interlude in Homer’s “The Odyssey.” She transforms Odysseus’ men into pigs when they land on her island; Odysseus has to convince her to turn them back.

In Miller’s tale, which unfolds from Circe’s point of view, the reader gets the full backstory for this tormented figure with awesome powers.

Circe is “a little abnormal from everyone else in her family because she’s not stunningly beautiful or obviously magical or very powerful in any way,” Schmid explained. “She doesn’t fit into her family, and because of that she looks to the mortal world for companionship. She ends up falling in love with a mortal and discovers she is able to use witchcraft.”

From there, chaos ensues, and Circe is eventually banished to the island where we first meet her in “The Odyssey.” Over the course of the novel, she encounters figures big and small from Greek mythology, and we watch her journey as she discovers herself and her own power.

Miller’s approach of giving voice to a minor character “kind of opened up the door to myths for me,” Schmid said.

“Because I read ‘Circe,’ in my book club, I had the next choice, and so I picked ‘The Odyssey,’ which I never in a million years thought I would read. I thought that was just for academics or, I don’t know, super nerds, or something. I was pleasantly surprised to realize how good of a story it is. I read the Emily Wilson translation, so I know that’s a little fresher than the others, but I was really excited about that.”