After 10 Years of The Song of Achilles, here’s why it deserves to be turned into a movie.
Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles is an adaptation of the Iliad retold from the perspective of Patroclus. Its beautiful writing, characters and heartbreaking coming of age tale makes it ideal for a movie adaptation. In celebration of its 10 year anniversary, here are just a couple of reasons why The Song of Achilles deserves to be adapted for film.
Set in Greece in the age of heroes, our young protagonist and prince, Patroclus, is exiled. He is sentenced to live in Phthia, the court of King Peleus. It is here he meets and befriends King Peleus and Goddess Thetis’s perfect son Achilles. Achilles’ demigod status has made him stronger, faster and immune to common human weaknesses.
The story continues its central focus on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. They embark on their education at Mount Pelion where they are trained and mentored by centaur Chiron. They are trained in various disciplines and they grow into young warrior’s skilled in combat and medicine.
The pair eventually return to Phthia where they are informed Helen of Troy has been kidnapped. A prophecy reveals that the battle of Troy is where Achilles will make his name and become a god. It also reveals that he will also die after Trojan Hector dies. Achilles’ mother, worried for her son’s life, tries to hide him. However, he is discovered by Odysseus and Diomedes and joins the war. Patroclus follows, knowing that Achilles is his true love and he would rather die than be separated.
At war, Achilles is able to show off his God-like power in battle and earns the title of Aristos Achaion, best of the Greeks. Patroclus spends his time befriending Briseis, a young Trojan girl saved by Achilles from the Greek leader Agamemmon’s violence.
Agamemnon and Achilles fall out, resulting in Agamemmon taking Briseis away and Achilles refusing to fight. Soldiers start to die en mass, Patroclus devises a plan to adorn Achilles armour to make it appear Achilles has rejoined the war. Patroclus is killed by Prince Hector, stricken with grief Achilles violently avenges Patroclus’s death.
Achilles continues in the war heartbroken, and is finally killed by Paris, Hector’s brother. Thetis then grants Achilles request to bury him alongside Patroclus. Ending with Patroclus looking at their joint grave finally reunited with Achilles in the underworld.
Madeline Miller’s Writing
Madeline Miller spent 10 years writing this book, and her extensive research is clear through the story. Her beautifully chosen words are simply a great juxtaposition to the complex language of the classic it was based on. Here are some of the best quotes from the book:
“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
“He is half of my soul, as the poets say.”
“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”
Miller was also praised for her ability to present gods outside of their immortality. And giving them comparable vulnerabilities to the humans in the story. This is explored through Achilles and his Sea Nymph mother Thetis, who have very distinct fears and insecurities. These Greek Gods have always been portrayed as untouchable and who have no regard for humans.
An article by The Guardian comments that Miller’s version of Achillies created “a fully three-dimensional man – a son, a father, husband and lover – now exists where a superhero previously stood and fought.”
There has always been a pederastic stereotype surrounding Achilles and Patroclus. However, Miller breaks these stereotypes by deliberately writing Achilles and Patroclus as equals. This completely breaks apart the stereotype of there being a stronger more masculine and a weaker submissive male within queer relationships. She makes it clear that both Achilles and Patroclus are strong men and being a warrior isn’t the only thing that makes someone strong.
Rise of YA Fantasy
An article by Jayz Paloma highlights the book’s ability to blend fantasy and reality elements seamlessly and the critical and commercial success of other Young Adult Fantasy film adaptations such as Netflix’s Shadow and Bone. Other major streaming companies are also jumping on the YA Fantasy ship with Hulu snatching up the rights to Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns & Roses. This reveals the high demand for more content within the genre.
Rise of Book Tok
The novel, initially released in 2011, was positively received, winning the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and shortlisted for many more awards. It was one of the first openly LGBTQ+ books not focused on a homophobic society or a coming out story, but rather took on many tropes of traditional romance novels. And proved it possible to top the bestseller charts outside the cis-normative and heterosexual realm.
Despite being released a decade ago, The Song of Achilles has surged in popularity due to the rise of BookTok, a niche segment of TikTok. It is a staple of every must-read book list and has been reviewed by countless Book Vloggers.
According to an article by The New York Times, the #songofachilles hashtag has 19 million views on TikTok. The article highlights the initial release of The Song of Achilles sold well but not as nearly as well as now. According to the NPD BookScan which tracks print copies of books sold in the USA it, “is selling about 10 000 copies a week, roughly nine times as much as when it won the Orange Prize back in 2012.”
“Vice President of Ecco Miriam Parker which released The Song of Achilles commented, “the company saw sales spike on Aug. 9 but couldn’t figure out why. It eventually traced it to a TikTok video called “books that will make you sob,” published on Aug. 8 by @moongirlreads_.”
Achilles in Cinematic History & Representation
It is no secret that the nature of Achilles and Patroclus has been the subject of a centuries-long debate. However, after countless portrayals of Achilles as straight in movies such as Troy, The Trojan Horse and Helen of Troy, it is time that the opposing side of the debate be represented.
The Song of Achilles being adapted into a film would be a great opportunity to include genuine LGBTQ+ representation in the historical fiction genre. And bring to life a queer love story that does not revolve around a homophobic society or a painful coming out story that seems to be at the centre of gay representation in Hollywood. It’s also a great opportunity to portray a historical interracial couple as much of the fan art from The Song of Achilles depicts Patroclus with dark skin.
Between its initial release a decade ago to its recent resurgence now, The Song of Achilles has amassed a huge following, with countless fan pages on various platforms, fanart and even Spotify playlists.
There is no doubt that a film depicting the heartbreaking coming of age tale would be a large step in the right direction.
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