The Goddess Letters

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The abduction and rape of the great Earth mother’s nubile daughter Persephone causes Demeter to unleash unyielding devastation upon the Earth. Demeter’s mourning of her loss is reflected in the slow death of the land. Food no longer grows, and humans die. The Earth is cursed with a perpetual winter until Persephone is returned to her mother. Grieving and searching for her daughter, Demeter poses as a human. In a further attempt to locate Persephone, Demeter travels to Mount Olympus, and there she learns how she has been cruelly deceived by Hades, the god of the Underworld, with the complicity of Zeus himself.

Persephone’s time in the Underworld is characterized by luminous darkness and dense shadows. Although she refuses to eat the strange fruit there, she is slowly forced into a new way of life by Hades, who wishes to make her his queen. To escape her unhappiness she meets with her friend, a Boetian poet who travels the Underworld composing poems about her, and reads the letters she receives from her mother. In a moment of weakness and concern for the man who has become her companion, she eats a pomegranate seed, the act which later binds her forever to spend one quarter of each year in the Underworld.

Although she stays close to the original myth, Carol Orlock creates a tale of deep resonance. She demonstrates strong insights into the exchanging of roles between parent and child. Persephone is stolen away from her mother before Demeter can teach her the Old Ways, the ways of giving to another and then becoming one again. Persephone learns the New Ways on her own, becomes a wife and a mother, and begins to teach the New Ways to her son. As the roles between mother and daughter change, so does the bond which unites them. Persephone learns wisdom and finally experiences love; Demeter withdraws, as her mother, Rhea, did before her. Demeter’s ultimate decline and Persephone’s growth are reflected in the end of the era of the female gods of Greek mythology and the beginning of the era of the Judeo -- Christian male god of history.