Book review: Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a retelling of the story of Achilles, from the perspective of a character a lot of people forget about…except those who interpret it in a certain way.

Warning: There is a minor spoiler alert in the next paragraph, but since the spoiler in question is 2,750 years old, perhaps not that big of a spoiler. But hey. If you’re not familiar with the Iliad, and don’t want a certain plot point revealed, you can skip to the paragraph following.

For many, when reading the Iliad, or some adaptation of it (looking at you, Troy), Patroclus is just some random side character, one who dies, and his death so enrages Achilles who then becomes the hero we’ve all heard of. In other words, Patroclus dies so Brad Pitt can have his epic fight scene with Eric Bana, and that’s all we really care about, right?

But many readers of the Iliad saw the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus as something deeper than just mere friends (or, in the case of Troy, cousins). Achilles was haughty and arrogant to all, except to Patroclus, to whom he was affectionate. Some interpret it as simply a deep, platonic bond, but many see romantic undertones to it, including William Shakespeare and a whole host of classical and Hellenistic experts, of which Madeline Miller is one.

Her book is told from the point of view of Patroclus, and explores his life and relationship with Achilles. It’s a beautifully told story, tender, and with clear, explicit scenes depicting their feelings for each other. We also get to meet some wonderful side characters, including the centaur Chiron, wily Ulysses, ruthless Agamemnon, and so on.

But make no mistake, this is the story of Patroclus and Achilles.

The biggest flaw I could see in this story is a relatively minor one, and that’s the fact that Miller sort of hurries past Achilles’ interest in Patroclus. She does a great job of showing how Patroclus first notices Achilles, and how his feelings slowly grow over time, but the same can’t be said for the reverse. They have one conversation and suddenly, Achilles likes him more than the other boys. It’s a little abrupt, to say the least.

Having said that, their relationship with each other deepens in real, meaningful ways after that sequence. It then becomes wholly convincing that the two don’t just have affection for the other, but that they truly love each other. And it is here where the book is strongest. Aside from their hurried introduction, Miller luxuriates in the two boys bonding with the other, and using their relationship to see the famous stories surrounding the Trojan War from the narrow point of view of Patroclus.

The story is, as I mentioned, beautifully told and deeply heartfelt.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Is Major Queerbait, And That’s Not Good

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out recently, touted as the 8th Harry Potter book (despite the fact that it is neither a book nor was it written by J.K. Rowling). Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany devised the story, and Thorne did the writing.

Overall, it was pretty good. For those unused to reading scripts, it was probably a very jarring and upsetting experience, but I have no doubt it translated well to the stage, minus a few little tonal inconsistencies.

My big problem, however, has to do with the treatment of two characters. These characters were great individually and together – exceptional together, even. They had verve, they had chemistry. They clearly loved each other – yes, loved, and they would be the first to admit their feelings for each other.

But they never got into a relationship. Why?

Because they were both males.

Had this been a heterosexual dynamic, they would have gotten together (had they not gotten together, that would have been criticized to no end for being totally unrealistic), but because they were both males, the script shoehorned arbitrary heterosexual “attractions” that, had they been completely removed from the story, would not have changed a single thing.

This is the ultimate in queerbait.


If you want to be surprised by any of the developments in the story, STOP READING. I am not kidding. Spoilers ga-freaking-lore ahead.

Still here? Okay, good.

I am, of course, talking about Albus and Scorpius. Albus, Harry Potter’s son, gets sorted into Slytherin and becomes best friends with Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s son. What follows is a collection of direct quotes from the script. Individually, each of these could be seen as subtle hints. Taken together, however, it is comprehensive evidence of the love and attraction they felt for each other.

Yes, I am aware there is such a thing as being straight and having an extremely close relationship with someone of the same sex. Platonic love, bromance, brother from another mother, whatever you want to call it, I get it – those are very real. You don’t have to look very far for examples (Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon come to mind).

This is not one of those relationships.

Why does this matter, some of you may ask. It matters because LGBT representation in popular media is underserved. It matters because the depth of feeling that Albus and Scorpius have for each other is blindingly, stupidly obvious. It matters that, despite such obviousness, the script still finds a way to contort itself into nonsensical dimensions, as if to say, “Ah ha, no gay action here! No, sirreebob. None of that queer stuff, wink wink nudge nudge.”

It matters because there are many LGBT people, especially kids, who could really freaking use heroes and role models in major media, and stories like this do an utter disservice to them. It matters because, as you’ll see with the quotes below, the evidence is there but the story willfully taunted its queer audience rather than celebrating it. It matters because J.K. Rowling, who retconned Dumbledore into a gay man, should have known better and insisted that maybe, instead of having a subtext, we make a gay relationship the text for a change.

It matters because, frankly, there is an embarrassing reluctance to make LGBT characters the heroes of stories like these.

But don’t take my word for it. Take it away, Cursed Child! Show us the signs that Albus and Scorpius are totally into each other:

Albus and Scorpius meet for the first time. Note Scorpius gets flustered upon seeing Albus. (Act 1, Scene 3)

Albus: Albus. Al. I’m—my name is Albus…

Scorpius: Hi Scorpius. I mean, I’m Scorpius. You’re Albus. I’m Scorpius. And you must be…

Rose: Rose.

Scorpius: Hi Rose. Would you like some of my Fizzing Whizbees?

Rose: I’ve just had breakfast, thanks.

Scorpius: I’ve also got some Shock-o-Choc, Pepper Imps, and some Jelly Slugs. Mum’s idea. She says (sings) “Sweets, they always help you make friends.” (He realizes that singing was a mistake). Stupid idea, probably.

Harry, worried about Albus. (Note that the “as long as you’re happy…” line is one often trotted out by straight parents to gay children) (Act 1, Scene 4)

Albus: But I don’t need a Ron and Hermione. I’ve—I’ve got a friend, Scorpius, and I know you don’t like him but he’s all I need.

Harry: Look, as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters to me.

First mention of physical contact. (Act 1, Scene 10)

Albus hugs his friend. With fierceness. They hold for a beat. Scorpius is surprised by this.

Scorpius: Okay. Hello. Um. Have we hugged before? Do we hug?

The two boys awkwardly dislocate.

Later, same scene, Scorpius willingly follows Albus, no matter what.

Albus: I’m going to do this, Scorpius. I need to do this. And you know as well as I do, I’ll entirely mess it up if you don’t come with me. Come on.

He grins. And then disappears ever up. Scorpius hesitates for a moment. He makes a face. And then hoists himself up and disappears after Albus.

Scorpius starts to realize the depths of his feelings. (Act 1, Scene 19)

Scorpius: My point is, there’s a reason we’re friends, Albus—a reason we found each other, you know? And whatever this—adventure—is about… [he then notices a clue for the puzzle they’re trying to solve]

Scorpius feels intense jealousy upon seeing Albus talk to a girl. Worth noting that, later in the scene, he convinces the girl to stay behind while he and Albus move ahead, alone. (Act 2, Scene 4)

Scorpius appears at the back of the stage. He looks at his friend talking to a girl—and part of him likes it and part of him doesn’t.

Scorpius isn’t enjoying the Delphi-Albus double act.

Scorpius tells Albus how much he means to him. (Act 2, Scene 6)

Albus: And then you got [to Hogwarts] and it turned out to be terrible after all.

Scorpius: Not for me. All I ever wanted to do was go to Hogwarts and have a mate to get up to mayhem with. Just like Harry Potter. And I got his son. How crazily fortunate is that.

Albus: But I’m nothing like my dad.

Scorpius: You’re better. You’re my best friend, Albus. And this is mayhem to the nth degree. Which is great, thumbs-up great, it’s just—I have got to say—I don’t mind admitting—I am a tiny bit—just a tiny bit scared.

Albus looks at Scorpius and smiles.

Albus: You’re my best friend too.

When Harry tells Albus not to see Scorpius anymore, it is devastating to the both of them. And it’s obvious to others. (Act 2, Scene 9)

Albus: Just—we’ll be better off without each other, okay?

Scorpius is left looking up after him. Heartbroken.

Even Draco sees it. Think about it – Scorpius CRIED TO HIS DAD ABOUT ANOTHER BOY. SO MUCH TO THE POINT WHERE DRACO WILLINGLY CONFRONTED THE MAN HE HATED THE MOST ON THIS EARTH. If this doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will. (Act 2, Scene 13)

Draco [to Harry Potter]: I’m not here to antagonize you. But my son is in tears and I am his father and so I am here to ask why you would keep apart two good friends.

Even the DAUGHTER OF VOLDEMORT, the guy who knew nothing of love, sensed this. (Act 2, Scene 14)

Delphi [to Scorpius]: You’re best friends. Every owl [Albus] sends I can feel your absence. He’s destroyed by it.

Delphi: That’s the thing, isn’t it? About friendships. You don’t know what he needs. You only know he needs it. Find him, Scorpius. You two—you belong together.

Their reconciliation is the most emotional thing in this play, which includes Harry seeing his parents get killed. (Act 2, Scene 17)

Albus: …you’re kind, Scorpius. To the depths of your belly, to the tips of your fingers. I truly believe Voldemort—Voldemort couldn’t have a child like you.

Beat. Scorpius is moved by this.

Scorpius: That’s nice—that’s a nice thing to say.

Albus: And it’s something I should have said a long time ago. In fact, you’re probably the best person I know. And you don’t—you couldn’t—hold me back. You make me stronger—and when Dad forced us apart—without you—

Scorpius: I didn’t much like my life without you in it either.

Albus: Friends?

Scorpius: Always.

Scorpius extends his hand, Albus pulls Scorpius up into a hug.

Snape, a guy who knows a thing or two about holding a torch, sees this in Scorpius. (Act 3, Scene 9)

Snape: Listen to me, Scorpius. Think about Albus. You’re giving up your kingdom for Albus, right? One person. All it takes is one person.


There are several other quotes that I didn’t include here, but this post is getting long enough. One last thing I’d like to highlight is a comment from a person who saw the play:

I saw the play and compared to that, the intimacy was seriously downplayed in the script.

On stage it was way less ambiguous, especially from Scorpius’ side. On the script we don’t get to see the body language, stolen glances, jealousy and all the pining that went on. There were moments after the later hugs where they sort of [disentangled] when still staring at each other faces all close, and the final scene (the Rose one) they were sitting so close to each other they almost were on each other, and that scene had one moment with the boys’ faces just inches from each other.

And the staircase pining scene is just absurdly romantic – it goes on for at least five minutes. The music is on Youtube, it’s an instrumental version of Imogen Heap’s Half Life, that should give an idea of the tone of the scene.


Again, what does it matter? It matters because it’s fundamentally dishonest to draw out the relationship with Albus and Scorpius in such an overt manner, and then not have them end up with each other romantically. Had this been a straight couple, there is no doubt that Albus and Scorpius would have kissed.

But it didn’t happen here, despite the fact that all evidence points to the notion that Albus and Scorpius have strong, deep feelings, and expressed the depth of their feelings in romantic, not platonic, language. As a result, not putting them together is deceptive. It willfully ignores the very real emotional needs of the characters, and worse, taunts the LGBT community with winks and nods when the audience could obviously see through the charade.

These characters clearly belonged with each other. And Cursed Child didn’t give them that satisfaction. Albus and Scorpius deserved better.