Greek Mythology in The Silver Metal Lover
The Silver Metal Lover, here pictured with another unusual romance, The Ghost Bride.
During the colder months - while I was ill, in fact - I read Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover for the first time. It was an emotional read, and it's only now that enough time has passed for me to be able to write about it objectively.
Briefly, the book is about a girl called Jane, who falls in love with a robot called Silver. Silver is basically the perfect man - he's been designed to bring pleasure and happiness to people. But Jane finds it hard to believe that a robot could genuinely be in love with her. Meanwhile, Silver's creators have pronounced him "faulty" and want to destroy him.
It was only when I went looking for fan art of Silver, that I saw someone had suggested the tale is based on the myth of Persephone. This got me thinking about other aspects of the story, and realising that the book is actually packed with references to Greek myth (and a little bit to Jane Eyre.) I'm going to go through which myths I see in the story, which means there are going to be spoilers. So, as they say, if you don't want to know the results, look away now!
1. Persephone. This is a bit obvious, because Jane's mother is called Demeta. She's very controlling. When the story begins, Jane lives the life of a spoiled rich girl with Demeta in a house that towers on stilts above the city. So, when she runs away with Silver, she goes to the Underworld in two senses: she literally goes down, and she goes to live in the poorer part of town. (Which isn't as bad as you might expect, thanks to Silver's encyclopaedic knowledge of the city.) At the end of the story, Jane finally goes back to see Demeta, but it's clear this won't be a permanent arrangement. Jane is now a creature of two worlds. And, prior to that, Silver speaks to her, literally from the world beyond the grave. He is her Hades, and promises they will meet again.
2. Narcissus. Jane's friend Curtis is described as being "Mirror-Biased." We learn that, generally speaking, this simply means he is gay, but: "Actually, the term Mirror-Biased really applies to Clovis. He doesn't just sleep with his own sex, his lovers always look like him." (p.18) He is also scared of having a real relationship with them, and usually tricks them into leaving him when they get too close. Clovis is Narcissus. We can see the positive effect Silver has on Clovis because, once they have spent time together, Clovis tries to look like Silver. It's not all about him any more. And he acquires the maturity to be truthful with his lovers.
3. Electra. Jane's other friend, Egyptia, is in a play called Antektra, which is a thinly-disguised version of Electra. It is notable that, in psychology, an "Electra complex" refers to a competitive mother-daughter relationship, such as that of Jane and Demeta.
4. Jason and Medea. The poisonous twins, Jason and Medea, act like their namesakes when they plant the tracking device on Silver, betraying him to his makers and ultimate death. In the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, Medea assists Jason in destroying the bronze man, Talos, by removing the nail that stops his one vein.
These are the mythological references I have found in The Silver Metal Lover. I would love to know if other readers have found more. Let me know in the comments!
Tanith Lee, The Silver Metal Lover, 1981 (Bantam Spectra edition, 1999)