Song of Achilles: Yes, There’s a Centaur!

Hello Bookworms! I just finished reading Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. You know that tendon in your heel? Yeah. It’s called the Achilles tendon because according to Greek legend the hero Achilles was untouchable in battle because his goddess mother dipped him into some magic water as a baby and he was this protected. The flaw in the plan was that she didn’t go for full submersion, and held his heels out of the water while she dipped him. Thus the heels were vulnerable and he is finally killed during the Trojan War (not that this is the scenario presented in this book, I’m just filling you in on some medical knowledge.)

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before I go any further, I’ll just come right out and say that this book is basically a love story between two dudes. If you have a problem with homosexuality, I respectfully request that you not read the rest of this blog and that you refrain from posting any nastiness in the comment section. Here’s your get out of jail free card. If you’re uncomfortable with the subject matter, don’t read this book. Or my review. Hate speech will not be tolerated.

You’re still here? Good! Okay so I had a very basic knowledge of the goings on of the Trojan War and I know enough mythological trivia pull out a win if multiple choice is involved. What I didn’t know much of was Achilles’ particular story. Oh what a journey it was! Achilles is the son of a pious king and a sea nymph. Greek mythology is pretty crazy, and according to this account, the pious king Peleus was essentially told to rape the sea nymph Thetis. What a great way to start a marriage! Only NOT AT ALL. Peleus wondered why she hated him. Sigh.

The union of Peleus and Thetis obviously resulted in Achilles. Achilles was a golden boy. He was a super badass warrior without even trying. Enter Patroclus. Patroclus was born a prince, but due to an accident involving a shove and a nobleman’s son’s skull taking an unfortunate bash on a rock, Patroclus was banished from his kingdom. Apparently this was a pretty common practice at the time, because when he’s sent to foster at Achilles’ crib there’s a whole dorm full of ne’er do well princes. Achilles barely notices the other boys, but he notices Patroclus. He chooses Patroclus as his companion and they become total BFFs.

As the years go by and puberty hits, the predictable occurs. You know, you go live on a mountain to be trained by a centaur and THINGS HAPPEN. Not with the centaur. With your BFF. Patroclus and Achilles fall in love. Like for reals love, not politician in a bathroom love. Patroclus chases Achilles down when Thetis hides him in a far off kingdom dressed as a lady. (And she has the gall to be grouchy that he’s in love with a guy. Seriously, Thetis, get enlightened!)

They go off to fight the Trojan War (because you know, Helen and her thousand-ship-launching face.) The Trojan War is frickin long. Daily hand to hand combat for more than 10 years! It’s a good thing Achilles is part god. He barely breaks a sweat. Patroclus is more a lover than a fighter, so he mostly hangs out in the medical tent doling out centaur approved healing techniques. Patroclus and Achilles actually have a pretty nice little war. They get to live as a couple and have some great times. The war is sort of a 9-5 gig. But they know their days are numbered. Yep. Prophesy. The fates never could keep their mouths shut.

I can’t quit you!

It’s no surprise that Achilles dies. I mean, the heel thing! Everybody knows that. But Patroclus? He goes first and it’s HEARTBREAKING. It’s like Brokeback Mountain but the Greeks were a lot cooler about gay people. It was pretty common for boys to have homosexual affairs, actually. It was a little on the unusual side for Achilles and Patroclus to have kept their relationship going into adulthood, but since Achilles could kick anyone’s ass, they didn’t get too much crap from their army buds. Then they go and die and break your heart into a million pieces. That’s alright though- as we’ve discussed, the literary cry is the “pretty” cry.

The bottom line? This book was wonderful! The love story was beautiful, it tugged at all of my heartstrings (there are many of them. My heart is like a harp.) Greek mythology is so colorful and interesting. They knew how to tell a story. And so does Madeline Miller.

I simply must know, Bookworms. How much would you FREAK OUT if you got to live on a mountain with a centaur? He’d teach you to play the lyre!

Mythology vs. Technology: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Howdy Bookworms! I think you should know that I’m highly susceptible to marketing tactics. Also, highly susceptible to suggestion… From people I admire, anyway. When The Bloggess talks about how amazing an author is and I’ve never read any of said author’s work, I take action. The Bloggess is a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan, so I decided that I needed to read one of his books. If you keep up with cinema (which I do not, but I knew this anyway) you’ll recall a few years back there was a movie released called Coraline. Neil Gaiman wrote that. He apparently writes books for all ages, so I went to his website, picked one of the books targeted toward an adult audience, and promptly bought it on Amazon. (Hey marketing people, I’m your target audience! Send me free stuff, yo!)

Seeing that it’s October and Halloween is right around the corner, American Gods is a festive choice. It’s all supernatural and stuff. The premise of the story is that as immigrants came to America they brought their gods, demons, and superstitions with them. And we’re not just talking Ellis Island immigrants. We’re talking like Ice Age immigrants. All the immigrants ever. These gods, demons, fairies, and whatnot became literal manifestations as they were brought to this new land. There’s like leprechauns hanging around getting into bar brawls and pulling gold coins out of thin air. Unfortunately for the supernatural types, they feed on the belief of people… And in the modern day US, there aren’t too many people making blood sacrifices to Odin.

I googled Odin. He rocks an eye patch. Now Pirate Dog has someone to look up to.

Our protagonist is a recently paroled convict named Shadow. Shadow is released from prison after serving a three year sentence only to learn that his wife was killed in a car accident… And had been having an affair with his best friend. Harsh. When Shadow is approached by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and offered a job as an errand boy, he’s really got nothing to lose.

Mr. Wednesday is trying to rally the old school gods to battle the new school. The new school gods include manifestations of the internet, telephone, media, etc. As people moved their faith from mythological figures to technology, the gods have lost their influence and power. They’re starved for belief.

This is Eostre, Celtic goddess of rebirth and spring and stuff. Her name and festival got all smushed together with Easter so she manages to stay fat and happy even though people don’t realize they’re celebrating her. (Don’t get riled up. Students of history must realize that in order for the world to accept Christianity, early missionaries drew an awful lot of comparisons between monotheism and pagan traditions. That’s just a fact, y’all.)

Shadow’s journey introduces us to Norse mythology, ancient Egyptian traditions, Hindu deities, African gods, Celtic folklore, Arabic demons, and Native American history- and that’s just the beginning. There are twists and turns and cons and mysteries. There’s even a good portion of Shadow’s tale where he meanders through Illinois, pointing out all the ridiculous town names. (I totally dug the shout outs to Peru, El Paso, and Cairo… Because Illinois is more than just Chicago, y’all. There’s also a bunch of farm towns that share their names with other famous places!)

The story is long and involved, and I think giving you a blow by blow account would be doing you a disservice. (That, and my brain hurts so I don’t feel like writing up a whole synopsis.) If you like Tim Burton movies, mythology, or supernatural books, I highly recommend American Gods.