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Gregory Maguire is the best-selling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror Mirror, the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and most recently, Out of Oz.
Gregory Maguire: Ms. Miller, you write with the confidence of the zealously inspired, taking as your material one of the great foundation texts of world literature. In three millennia, The Iliad has garnered somewhat wider attention than The Wizard of Oz, with which I have played, so I have to ask: where do you get the noive? How did you come to dare to take on such a daunting task, and for your first book?
Madeline Miller: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and in my case it was just dangerous enough to get me started. If I had stopped to ponder, I think I might have been too intimidated. But it helped that Patroclus is such an underdog—giving him voice felt like standing up for him. I had been intensely frustrated by a number of articles that kept side-stepping the love between him and Achilles, which to me felt so obviously at the story’s heart. So I wanted to set the record straight, as I saw it.
Maguire: The novel tells the story of the rise, fall and immortalization of the golden Achilles. You approach his famous story from a sideline, that of Patroclus, his bosom companion and lover. Was it hard to keep the mighty arc of legend from overwhelming shadowy Patroclus, and did you write more of him than you ended up using, just to be sure you had him firmly grounded in your mind?
Miller: Definitely yes to the second. I actually spent five years writing a first draft of the novel, took a good long look at it, then threw it out and started from scratch. Even though not a word survived, that draft was an essential first step. It helped me understand the story and characters, especially Patroclus, from the inside out.
As for the overwhelming legends, I actually think they worked in my favor—because Patroclus is overwhelmed by them himself. He is this ordinary person who is pulled into a terrifying world of angry deities and destiny because of his love for Achilles.
Maguire: Having glancingly heard of this legend before, I knew more or less how it would end. I had no idea how you might handle the loss of perspective and point of view when tragedy would inevitably strike. You managed to narrate an almost impossible transition from life into myth in part, I think, by your instinctual use of a combination of present and past tense, to say nothing of a masterly combining of authorial and first person observations. How many slaughtered bulls did you sacrifice, and on whose altar, to deserve the talent to risk such dangerous technique?
Miller: It was a lot of bulls. And whatever ended up working, I give all the credit to my background in theater. When I first started writing, I had this idea that I should be in control of the story, forcing it forward. It never worked. What I needed to do was learn how to get in character, and write from there.
It took me a long time to find just the right tone for the ending—I kept writing and throwing away, writing and throwing away. Then, in the middle of apartment-hunting, inspiration struck. All the other ideas had started out well, but would gum up before they got anywhere near the finish line. But this one kept humming right along. And it was the simplest, so there you go.
Maguire: Oscar Wilde said something like, “The Odyssey was written by Homer, or another Greek of the same name.” But Oscar Wilde had clearly not met you. This is not a question. It is a salute.
Very well written love story.
Madeline Miller brings to life the love story of Patroclus and Achilles in a way that is understandable, believable, and beautiful no matter the reader's orientation.
Even though I know the story of Achilles very well, I was drawn in to this book from the very start and couldn't put it down!
Like how the book is written and how it makes you feel part of the story. Not anything like the movie Troy.... Like the writing stylePublished 2 days ago by Ruben Sanchez
This book had me sobbing at two in the morning. It wrecked me in the way that only truly remarkable books are capable of.Published 5 days ago by Kayla
The Book Discussion Group at The LGBT Center in NYC discussed this in November 2014.
"The Song of Achilles" is a modern retelling of the Homeric epic, The Iliad,... Read more
Although this story might be simpler than the original, I don't consider it diluted at all. Legendary figures are developed into complex characters. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Lucy
Flowed beautifully. This was an easy and pleasant read with contemporary language for classic characters. Glad this was my book of the week selection.Published 14 days ago by Gloria L.
The perfect imperfection that is love. I enjoyed it immensely and could not wait to share it at book club!Published 15 days ago by Nicol Russell
This is one of the most compelling and beautiful stories I have ever read. I only look forward to re-reading it several times over. Read morePublished 24 days ago by James F. McConnell
"The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller is almost impossible to put down with it's new spin on the story of the warrior Achilles and the Trojan War. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Wanda Brown
Readers of Greek mythology associate his name with the Trojan War.
In this fictionalized account, his life as a youth and favored child are experienced through the eyes... Read more