Luna McNamara on being loyal to the spirit of Psyche and Eros

Luna McNamara has written a retelling on Psyche and Eros' love story 


You all know we love Greek retellings — we made a guide for it and all that. Luna McNamara has written a retelling on Psyche and Eros’ love story and we are honoured to have her here today to chat about her debut.  

Do you still remember the first time you learned about Psyche and Eros’ story?

I first encountered the myth of Eros and Psyche at summer camp as a child, when a counselor told it around the fire. I was transfixed: here was a mythological woman who rescued herself and her beloved, who descended into the Underworld and lived to tell the tale, who took on a hero’s labors and triumphed over them all. The fact that Psyche and Eros eventually won a happy ending for themselves, so rare in mythology and in real life, made me love the story even more.

Why did you decide to do a retelling of Psyche and Eros’ love story?

The short answer is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The longer answer is that I wrote a fanfic based on the myth in 2018, and gradually realized that I could do more with it. When Madeline Miller’s Circe came out, suddenly I had a comp title. Then the pandemic happened, and I had nothing but time on my hands. So I decided to use it to write this idea that had been clattering around in my head for a while – my own take on the story of Eros and Psyche. My experience of the pandemic was a difficult one (whose wasn’t?) and focusing on this story lifted my spirits.

And when writing this retelling, how did you decide what gets changed and what you keep from the original?

I make a number of changes to the myth, but I have tried to be loyal to the spirit rather than the letter of the story. I hewed to themes in the source text: an unlikely but enduring love, a heroine with an unusual amount of agency, a god wrestling with the meaning and limitations of his own divinity, and the ascent of the soul.

When you’re retelling a 1800-year-old story with an ending everyone already knows, you need to find ways to raise the tension and maintain high stakes. I’ve chosen to make shifts to the established story so that the reader doesn’t quite know what to expect next.

Were you worried that readers familiar with the story would be unaccepting of the changes?

I don’t worry myself about the opinions of others. If they want to reread the original myth in its entirety, they are welcome to do so. Or, even better, write their own version.

Personally, I love when modern writers make substantial changes in their retellings of ancient stories, since it makes me look at the original story in an entirely new way. I love the creativity that modern authors bring to these myths.

We love that other famous Greek heroines / feminist icons made a cameo. Why did you decide to feature them in the story?

There are a number of figures (Demeter, Persephone, and Zephyrus, for example) who appear in the original myth by Lucius Apuleius, but do not linger long enough for the reader to dive into their perspectives. I wanted to get to know them better.

In other cases, I drew in ‘special guests’ whose story arcs complemented the narrative I was trying to tell, such as Atalanta, Iphigenia, and Medusa. I was particularly curious about the roles that women played in ancient narratives of the heroic.

It’s my goal to pique curiosity about these myths, and to encourage people to look up these stories for themselves.

The dual POV makes the story shine – whose perspective was harder to write? And did you write them in different setups?

Psyche’s voice was much easier to write in the early drafts, and Eros’ perspective remained woefully underdeveloped. Until I reflected on the adjective that the poet Sappho uses for Eros: glukúpirkron, ‘sweetbitter.’ The contradictory characterization of love as both sweet and bitter helped me shape the wry, jaded, contrary personage of Eros.

As I wrote Eros’ perspective, I found myself relating to him in profound ways. Sometimes I too would like to avoid everyone I know and hide away in a seaside house filled with cute pets.

Tell us more about writing in Eros’ perspective. Was it difficult to balance between giving him emotions that humans have, and making sure he is still a god?

The Greek gods are fascinating because they are so very human in their behavior and emotions, but have strange powers and live forever. In writing Eros, I wondered what it would be like to look out over the endless vista of centuries, knowing that everything would change before your eyes. I was also interested in the way that he was saddled with a power he could neither understand nor entirely control – the power of love and desire. He’s a little bit full of himself and yet terribly lonely, which I think is something many of us can relate to.

And finally, you explored in Psyche and Eros the costs of being a hero. What do you think is the cost of being a hero in modern days?

For the Greeks, a hero was characterized by incredible accomplishments and unusual capabilities, but in the modern world we want our heroes to be a bit more admirable. Psyche eventually arrives at a definition of heroism that privileges connection, community, and compassion over bloody self-aggrandizement, which is closer to our modern ideal than the ancient one.

It’s this questioning of received ideals that makes me comfortable calling the story feminist. Come for the girls with swords, stay for the deconstruction of patriarchal values, I suppose.

Psyche and Eros by Luna McNamara publishes in Hardback on the 25th May (Orion Fiction, £16.99)
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.