Nov 162018

This is the spoiler post for Circe, which talks about everything, but specifically the ending.

If you don’t want spoilers, don’t continue.








As I said in my review, I viewed the gods within Circe as a metaphor for The Patriarchy. Circe explores just about every method a woman can use to deal with a Patriarchal society.

She starts out fawning and eager to please. Seeking approval from her father, as if this would provide some sort of protection and security. She sees first hand that this does nothing. A powerless person has nothing to offer and nothing to bargain with. Scylla, the beloved, is mocked with delight by her family when she’s turned into a monster. Circe’s mother is cast aside without a thought when her coupling with Helios proves politically troublesome. Being someone’s pet is terribly insecure, and pretty shitty anyhow.

She tries to be the good wife for her fisherman. She makes him happy, supports him, and eventually elevates him to godhood. And the instant he doesn’t need her anymore, she’s tossed aside as well. Without even the recognition that she’s done anything.

She tries to check out of the system entirely. Exile to an isolated island, just leave her alone. Nope, no can do. The system comes for you, and it will use you how it sees fit.

Then we have a wonderful dialog with her cruel half-sister. The sister points out that she makes poisons and monsters because if she didn’t she would be kept in a cage and bred to death. The system wants to use her up and discard her, and the only way she can live a decent life is to take power. To bend the world to her will through force and cruelty. It’s a wonderful revelation, and it shows just how shitty the Patriarchy is for everyone, even those on top.

We have a similar revelation about Odysseus much later. Where we see first his charming, warm side. And later the cold, violent side, which he was shaped into via this shit-ass system. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For a while she rages against men, and it’s very emotionally satisfying for the reader, but it leaves her bitter and unhappy with life. Then she finds Odysseus, one of the few good ones, and for a year she’s happy. But eventually the gods catch up with her and ruin that, too. (Also, he wasn’t that great after all… just better than most). She goes into full defensive mode, putting up a wall between herself and the rest of society. And that actually works, for quite a while! But it’s constant effort, and it drains her strength year after year, and if she ever slips for even a second it’ll all come crashing down. This is not sustainable.

So she decides this has to end. She has the most powerful magic in the world on her side. She’s smart as fuck, and she’s had more than enough of this shit. She calls her father down and has the most epic verbal show down with him. She dares him to test her power. She states she would rather ignite a war between the gods and see the world burn than be at their mercy any longer. She renounces her heritage, thinks of gods as “them” rather than “us”, declares that “I’m finished here, one way or another.”

The novel’s inciting incident was the chaining & torture of Prometheus. His rebellion against the gods and compassion for the downtrodden have been a recurring element during the narration. Now, in the final chapters, Circe is armed with a weapon even the gods fear, and she goes on a quest to retrieve the most powerful magical components in existence. I am so fucking happy at this time, because we are about to see some amazing shit. The world will be sundered, and the gods cast down. The Patriarchy will be smashed, and it sounds like Circe may very well die in the process, but fuck them all, it’ll be worth it! The heavens themselves will shake!

To step back just a bit, I didn’t actually expect all that to happen. It was pretty clear that the system is just too big for one person to destroy, even with the world’s most powerful magic. Much like the Patriarchy can’t actually be smashed. But there were hints throughout, hints that the world could be split somehow, and Circe could leave this world behind and enter a better one.

It turns out, Circe does leave this world behind. By committing suicide.

After all that, all her rage and learning and growth and fighting, she ultimately decides to just give up and kill herself.


After all the compassion she’s shown for humans (or “everyone else trapped in the Patriarchy” if we’re extending the metaphor), after all her admiration of Prometheus for sacrificing himself so completely to make their lives less awful, she decides everyone else can fend for their fucking selves and she’s just going to nope the fuck out. After all her words about how she won’t put up with the gods’ abuse anymore, she surrenders so utterly that she kills herself for them so they don’t even have to inconvenience themselves with the effort. When she said “I’m finished here, one way or another,” I thought she meant that either this system would end, or she would die fighting it, not that she was abandoning everything. How are we supposed to sympathize with this? How is any of this OK?

To those saying that gods are inhumane because they are inhuman, and becoming humane means one must become human – bullshit. We have proof in the forms of both Prometheus and Circe that one can be a god and be compassionate and humane. To those saying “becoming mortal isn’t suicide” – bullshit. For a god it’s as much suicide as a human deciding to drink themselves to death over the course of years. And in both cases it’s cowardly. And the flash-forward dream-sequence final chapter lingers quite a bit on her eventual death anyway, like that’s the best part of being human. It is a suicide, and it is cowardice. I would have preferred no final chapter at all, an abrupt ending would at least have let me continue believing Circe was a good, courageous person.


  19 Responses to “The Final-Chapter Abject Failure of Circe”

  1. I’m curious, are you willing to expand on the interpretation of the other member of your book club you mentioned in the other post (“A member of my book club had a very different interpretation of what the gods represent, and what the overall arch of the story was, which led him to find the ending entirely acceptable.”)?

    • Sure! He viewed the story as one of becoming human from the very start. Gods are inherently unchanging. They must be, because they are archetypes. The Goddess of Love cannot change in any meaningful way and remain the Goddess of Love. But humans change throughout their lives. Change is part of the essence of what it is to be human. So Circe spends the entire book moving away from being an unchanging deity and towards becoming an evolving human, and it is natural and right that the final step being a full transformation into a mortal.

      Also that gods are inhumane because of their inability to change or grow. Thus to become humane is to also become human, and you cannot have one without the other.

  2. Well, no. She did the exact opposite of that in fact – she chose life – giving up the much critisized Divinity & becoming mortal to take a chance on the dream life with Telegonus, regardless of knowing it one day must come to an end. She did not kill herself!

    • Sure, the divinity was much-criticized. But choosing to become mortal is literally choosing to die. And we know not all divinities are awful, as both Circe and Prometheus are divine. Think of how much more she could do if she hadn’t given up.

      • Of course she could have done so much more but the whole point was that she chose happiness . Just because she has divinity and “can” do powerful things doesn’t mean that she has to or that she owes it to anyone. In the end she chose herself and thats what makes the book so good. The fact that one can have so much power but none of it means anything if it isn’t who you are.

      • The world of mortals is the “better world” Circe repeatedly references. The novel is supposed to critique the notion that immortality is somehow better. Your viewpoint that Circe’s rejection of her godhood and her subsequent embrace of mortality is a “surrender” literally plays right into the gods’ belief that mortals are inferior in every way. But Circe and Prometheus both exist to see the unappreciated redeemable qualities of mortals. In addition, this novel brings awareness abuse of power, and how those on top can be corrupted (think the gods, Helios, Aeëtes, Odysseus, even Pasiphaë. If Circe were to abuse her power as well by exacting vengeance on the gods, it would totally convolute the message.

  3. You are forgetting how longingly she spoke of the afterlife she could not have as a God. With her choice to become mortal she also granted herself the gift of spending eternity with them.

    • What a ridiculous review. The whole novel is about Circe being bound by powers much greater than hers. The ending is where she becomes her true self. She was never the same as the other gods, never had their eyes or their voice. This was the first time in her life, she was selfish and took what she wanted. Mortals and gods do not go well together, and what she was disgusted with the world of the gods. Her becoming mortal was what she wanted and what she took.

      Her “smashing the patriarchy” would just be more of what she didn’t want. She didn’t want to wage war or lead a crusade, and it is WRONG of you to demand it of the character. If she did that, it would be more of her sublimating her desires and personhood for something larger, which was the story of her entire life up until then.

      Your anger is how Athena felt when Tēlemakhos refused her call. Just think about that for a few hours…you are the villain just as Athena was the villain. The moral of the story is that you cannot become the person you were always meant to be, your true self, by working within the system.

      In your analogy, you cannot smash a system that is ancient and powerful, that is a fools tale. If you don’t like the world, you must make a new one.

  4. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, so I won’t say much.

    I get in some ways how you relate Circe and her struggles to the patriarchy. It makes a lot of sense, and I’m sure the author intended some part to apply to that. BUT, I think her story was much more than just about fighting the patriarchy. Circe herself never said she wanted to change the other gods, only that she wished herself would change.

    Going back to what others have said before, I think Circe’s main focus was her divinity. How her immortality affected how she felt, and how her feelings made her different. I think we can all agree that Circe has wisdom over the other gods. I wouldn’t say her wisdom is about the patriarchy, but more about how immortality and mortality alike have their liabilities. Circe is willing to compare her life to mortals, and you could never catch Athena doing the same. Most of the other immortals simply think of mortals as ants.

    In my interpretation of the book, I found that Circe was on a journey to find out about the world (the patriarchy, mortality, being oneself, being alone, raising children, etc) and decide her own path. After Circe has gone through many tough battles, at the end of the book, Circe finally decided something on her own. She picks her life path. She changes her destiny.

    And this may seem like she is just committing suicide for no reason, but I think also looking at her choice through another lens is beneficial. Her life has always been pre-determined, and all her choices were never truly her own. Now, she is going to pave a new way for her to walk, even if it means she will eventually die.

    but then again, that is just my own opinion, and no opinion is incorrect

  5. I don’t think the foul language is clarifying or necessary in your commentary . Otherwise interesting thoughts.

  6. What the actual fuck? I don’t agree with your point of view because in the whole book you could see the pain and fear Circe went through when her attachments ended, Deadalus, Odysseus and then Telegonus. The reason she first made Gluacus immortal was because she loved him and feared his death. So no, her deciding to choose mortality was extremely in character for her. She wanted the human experience because she didn’t want to lose anyone else she loved. Another thing is that she despised her immortality and i think what you were looking for was for Circe to challenge the gods more. Not only almost impossible but bothersome for her as well. You forget the story was about Circe finding herself not fighting against the gods. Read another book because this isnt it. Circe wasn’t a coward because she chose to live like a mortal, immortality isn’t everything.

  7. she didn’t die, she chose to be mortal. her last vision before she drank the potion is growing old with her husband Telemachus.

  8. The world of mortals is the “better world” Circe repeatedly references. The novel is supposed to critique the notion that immortality is somehow better. Your viewpoint that Circe’s rejection of her godhood and her subsequent embrace of mortality is a “surrender” literally plays right into the gods’ belief that mortals are inferior in every way. But Circe and Prometheus both exist to see the unappreciated redeemable qualities of mortals. In addition, this novel brings awareness abuse of power, and how those on top can be corrupted (think the gods, Helios, Aeëtes, Odysseus, even Pasiphaë. If Circe were to abuse her power as well by exacting vengeance on the gods, it would totally convolute the message.

  9. I wonder if you will reconsider your interpretation after so many comments have expressed their disagreement with it. I also disagree. I guess choosing to become mortal could be seen as suicidal, but I think more importantly it’s Circe’s prerogative to choose what makes her happy. Her divinity has never made her happy. The whole lot of the Olympians and Titans and nymphs are awful to her and she has never longed for power over them. You wanted her to sMaSh ThE pAtRiArChY but what would that look like to you? Killing all the gods? Striking the sun from the sky? Or usurping Zeus’ throne and bending all the gods to her will instead? A benevolent tyrant is still a tyrant, and that’s not what she wants. She rejects what you’ve deemed “the patriarchy.” She rights her wrongs and she creates happiness for herself and others, and I think it’s a shame that you don’t think that’s enough.

  10. I like your reading the story as a struggle against patriarchy. Let me comment on your (actually too simple) interpretation that choosing mortality means nothing but suicide. I am aware that in our society taking ones own life is by many regarded as cowardice and weekness. I am sure the bullying and power-seeking gods in this novel would agree. But personally I think that choosing ones own destiny, choosing ones death and not playing the game of others or a system / a nature that cannot be changed is the most powerful and courageous act. You cannot choose to be born and where and as what. But you can choose to become yourself and to be happy and not to suffer and that may mean to choose death.

    • I agree with you a lot more now than I did when I first wrote this (since back then I was healthy, and now I suffer from (minor) chronic pain). And I’ve always been very strongly in favor of someone’s right to die how and when they choose. So, yeah, this is a valid point, and I thank you for it. :)

      I do want to push back a little bit though, because up until the final chapter I read this novel as a Heroic Narrative. Heroes struggle. They fight on against all odds. That’s why we find them so inspiring and we want to emulate them. Deciding “This is just to much for me, I resign myself to death” can be a valid choice for a regular human, and there are many fictional works that explore such a more common-man story. I found Circe very heroic and very inspiring, and I was very dissapointed by the abdication of Heroic Responsibility at the end. That can be sympathetic and heartbreaking, but it’s not inspiring. Maybe Miller hadn’t intended to write a Heroic Narrative and I was reading my own preferences into it too much. Nonetheless, it is how I read it, and thus my dismay at what looked like a sudden break from that in the last chapter.

  11. I think the end is open to interpretation. Either she committed suicide or she became mortal and lived out that vision with Telemachus. My feeling is that it’s the former, because I’ve seen that device so many times in films: the playing out of an entire life only to flash back to realise it never happenedz and it’s never going to happen. Most recent example I can think of is “The Green Knight”, where Gawain’s entire life plays out right before the end, then we realise it was all in his head and he chooses another path. I think your interpretation of the struggle against the patriarchy and historical female templates is brilliant

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