Madeline Miller (Circe, The Song of Achilles) recently announced a new book she’s working on based on the Greek mythological tale of Persephone. Here’s what we know about it so far!
“Some news about my current novel-in-progress. I know I said I was working on the Tempest. Turns out the Tempest is going to have to wait. She grabbed me with both hands. #persephone”
What’s the Greek Myth of Persephone About?
If you’re not familiar with the basic contours of the tale, Persephone was said to have been gathering flowers when she was kidnapped and brought to the underworld by Hades, God of the Underworld. Her mother, Demeter the Goddess of Agriculture, was distraught and prevented anything from growing once she was abducted. As a result, Zeus ordered Persephone’s release.
However, because Persephone had eaten a single pomegranate seed during her time in the underworld, possibly because she was tricked into doing so, she couldn’t be completely freed. Instead, she was free to return, but each year she had to forever spend one-third of the year in the underworld with Hades.
This myth is often used to explain why nothing grows in the winter (presumably the times that Persephone is stuck in the underworld). Of course, it remains to be seen what Miller will choose to do with it in her retelling.
What has Madeline Miller said about Persephone?
Miller previously discussed the Persephone myth on NPR with Get Lit back in May 2021. A recording of the discussion is available here. During the discussion, Miller states:
“Hades and Persephone in particular is such an interesting character, because that whole story is such a kaleidoscope. I feel like every time every little millimeter that you turn it, you get something different every time. So it’s something I’ve thought a lot about.
I love how faceted that story is and how incredibly deep and really that’s true of all these stories that there’s so many different entrance points, so many different ways to look at them.”
At the time, Miller stated she didn’t have immediate plans to write about Persephone, but clearly that’s changed.
What will Madeline Miller’s Persephone be About?
If you want a hint about where Miller might be headed with her story, she actually wrote about Persephone and Hades in a blog post back in December 2011. You can read the full blog post here, but a few parts of it give us some idea of what Miller might be thinking.
Notably, she writes about how Hades isn’t necessarily evil or a villain, despite how many retellings portray him: “In modern retellings of Greek myths, it’s become common to portray Hades as evil, or demonic (see Disney’s Hercules). This is absolutely not present in the ancient myths. Though he was a gloomy and frightening god, the ancients never saw Hades as evil.”
Instead, Miller describes it as more of a situation involving a father giving away his daughter without her consent:
“Zeus suggested Persephone and, knowing that her mother would never allow the girl to go, likewise suggested the abduction. So it was with her father’s permission that Hades took the girl—as polite as it gets among divine unions.”
In terms of the overall themes we might expect from this novel, Miller writes that: “Her story is rich with symbolic and allegorical resonance about death and rebirth. She is the incarnation of that ancient saying (supposed to make a sad man happy, and a happy man sad): This too shall pass.”
Of course, Miller wrote this blog post over a decade ago, so it’s entirely possible she landed somewhere else eventually with the direction of the novel. But I already love the types of ideas she seems to be toying with, so I am super excited about this book.
When will the Persephone retelling be published?
Who knows? It looks like she was still writing it or at least revising it in December 2021, but that’s the last hard date we’ve seen as of February 2024. My guess is it’ll come out when it comes out. It doesn’t sound like she has any desire to rush the process, and I know I’m going to be reading no matter when it comes out.
A screenshot of Miller’s announcement post:
Are you as excited as I am about this novel? Will you be pre-ordering it when it’s available? I know I definitely will. Madeline Miller is a must-read for me.
Also note that there’s a limited series adaptation of Circe that’s in the works at HBO Max, so that’s something to look forward to as well!.
I’ll update here if and when there’s more news!