Searched for, endlessly, tirelessly, by a mother who wants to love and protect her from what she is, and what others would use her for.
A change of name. A change of identity, from child to threat. Shaped by forces vaster than anyone’s understanding, into something new and different and wonderful and terrible.
Married to a man who might be a monster, but who is always the hero of his own story. Guided to him over and over by a fate she’s stopped resisting.
Escape, but not really. Life as a prisoner, but not really that, either. Life marked by a connection she didn’t choose—a connection that chose her.
A connection she can’t escape.
River Song is not a Persephone analog. She can’t be. If she was, the Doctor would be a Pluto figure, a Hades figure, and that would require a whole other column to justify. A column about what death is and means, and who heroes truly are, and what it means to be able to see the scope and breadth of time itself.
But there are so many parallels that it’s difficult not to see her as a Persephone figure. When the Silence takes her, she is drawn into a world that is not for her, against her will and to the abject horror of her mother. She is drawn into a world that wants her for its own purposes, one that sees her as a resource to be used and then discarded. In this Hell, she is consumed by the Silence—forced into a symbiotic spacesuit, forced to do things outside of her control. Forced to witness death and consumption. She’s told that this is her new life: a life of serving forces that are not greater than her, but that hold her captive nonetheless.
River Song is not a Persephone analog. Not unless Amy Pond is a Demeter analog. Not unless Amy Pond is a mother who promises to protect her child no matter what, who promises that her beloved daughter will never be alone. Who fails her. Who cannot ever undo the damage wrought by that failure.
Yes, Amy Pond birthed something god-like and swore to protect it no matter what. And yes: River Song has a mother who will tear the universe itself apart to find her, who would sacrifice everything to protect her.
But she is not Persephone. She will never be Persephone.
After the young Goddesses journey into death, she comes back to her mother with a new name. She is changed from Kore—simply girl, nothing more than girl—to Persephone, Bringer of Destruction. She must return to her prison, and she does it knowing that it’s her duty, that it’s right and necessary. She goes back and waits, biding her time until she can escape again.
River Song is not Melody Pond anymore, not after the life she’s barrelled through. Her Hell is the Silence that took her. It’s Stormhold, the prison to which she must always return, from which she must always escape. But more than either of those, the greatest Hell of them all is the way she’s been marked by her childhood. There is no way for her to deny the fact that she’s been altered by the things that have happened to her. The Hell she must return to so often is the one that keeps making her try to kill the man she truly loves: the inside of a spacesuit, a raised arm, a loaded gun. The knowledge that she can’t change everything. The understanding that she can’t save him, or herself, forever.
There is no rescue adequate to save her from that Hell. There is no way for her to escape it fully. The only thing that she can do is try to live—so she tries to enjoy the spring and summer and long autumn of her life, before the winter of murder comes upon her once again.
She cannot prevent the darkness from taking her. But she can enjoy the sun while it shines on her.
Is Persephone coerced into eating the pomegranate seeds that keep her in Hell each Winter? Or does she choose them happily, to be nearer to the man she once hated and mistrusted but has since grown to love?
Does River Song choose the Doctor, or does time choose him for her?
She is like Persephone in so many ways. She’s the product of her mother’s failed attempt to protect her. Born into power, taken by those who want her for that power and for who she’s connected to and for what she is. Marked forever by a kidnapping. Unable to escape the consequences; forced to return again and again to the darkness that took her once and won’t let her go. Married to a man by fate, or by choice, or by time, or by love.
If she is not a Persephone—as I choose to believe—then she eats the pomegranate seeds without coercion. She isn’t tricked into staying; she longs to stay. She chooses the life that keeps her connected to The Doctor. She devours him, and she looks for more. Not because she is starving, but because she loves the flavor.
Because she loves him.
She loves the adventure. She loves the journey. Like Persephone, she knows that winter and death are coming for her, but she rushes at them headlong, because she knows that the path she’ll travel to get there is one to be savored.
To me, River Song will never be Persephone, because River Song chooses. Again and again, she chooses. She turns her face toward the death and darkness. She smiles, and says Hello, Sweetie.
And she walks into Hell with her head held high.
Hugo and Campbell award finalist Sarah Gailey is an internationally-published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her work has recently appeared in Mashable, the Boston Globe, and Fireside Fiction. She is a regular contributor for Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. You can find links to her work here. She tweets @gaileyfrey. Her debut novella, River of Teeth, is now available from Tor.com.