Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had just hit the screens when my friend introduced me to the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.
By this time, there was already four books out in the series with a growing audience – myself included. What I love about this series is how Riordan takes Greek mythology and introduces it to readers in a fun, yet educational way. The Percy Jackson series has since concluded, yet the tales of half-bloods continue in The Heroes of Olympus sequel series.
I have always been intrigued by myths (Greek, Native, South African, etc) and this series takes a look at Greek mythology with a different twist to its well-known heroic tales. Riordan not only manages to engage readers with interesting characters, he is able to weave social, political and environmental concerns subtly into conversations between characters. I wouldn’t consider it so much as propaganda, since it offers both views, but the concepts are brought down to an adolescent concept and the ideas definitely begin to tickle the mind of the young.
In brief, The Lightening Thief (the first book in the series) introduces readers to Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old dyslexic, ADHD teen struggling to fit in at school. Or, as Jackson puts it:
“My name is Percy Jackson. I’m twelve years old. Until a few months ago, I was a boarding student at Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York. Am I a troubled kid? Yeah. You could say that.”
Essentially, after returning home from boarding school, he and his mother Sally Jackson go on an impromptu road trip to their favourite beach in Montauk. A series of tragedies follows, as per any novel in which a protagonist begins his journey of self-discovery, including being chased by a minotaur and finding out his best friend is a satyr. He also finds out he is a demigod and son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. The first book in particular follows Percy and his friends quest to clear his name after being blame of stealing Zeus’ prized lightening bolt.
In Riordan’s take of Greek mythology, demigods/half-bloods are born with various degrees of ADHD and dyslexia. Reading English is generally pretty difficult and causes headaches, while Ancient is a breeze, for example. The ADHD in demigods is caused due to natural battle instincts and quick reaction times. Riordan’s world is set in the modern era and with the change in times, Mount Olympus is now located in New York. Camp Half-Blood, a boarding/training school of sorts, has become a sanctuary for demigods learning to control their powers. Humans, on the other hand, cannot see behind the “mist,” and only see what they want to believe, rather than what is truly in front of them. As Percy Jackson continues his many adventures, he stumbles upon magical items such as the Golden Fleece, the living dead, and various forms of opposition from gods set in their ways.
Each book that follows (re)introduces new gods and those less familiar, old characters, and always re-imagines the world with a mythological take. Following The Lightening Thief, are: The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian – each as humorous as the last:
“Wow,” Thalia muttered. “Apollo is hot.”
“He’s the sun god,” I said.
“That’s not what I meant.”
-Percy Jackson and Thalia, daughter of Zeus upon meeting Apollo in The Titan’s Curse
As with many novels with multiple books supplementary works include: The Demigod Files, The Ultimate Guide, graphic novel, Demigods and Monsters, and The Demigod Diaries.
Nevertheless, The Heroes of Olympus sequel series looks at combining Roman and Greek mythology of the gods and begins with Percy mysteriously missing and a Roman demigod taking his place. It becomes a conflict for gods and their split personalities: Zeus vs. Jupiter, Poseidon vs Neptune, etc etc. It’s dissociative identity disorder at its finest.
Again, for all that Riordan’s Percy Jackson series are an easy and fun read, with a zap of romance, what I love best about them saga is the underlying social commentary about the world. From the environment to political hub-dub, Riordan touches base on important issues.
In The House of Hades, the fourth novel in the sequel series, Riordan chose to make brooding Nico di Angelo come to terms with what many teenagers face: emotional indecision of who they are and what is “right and wrong.” What many readers may have thought of as Nico in love with Annabeth, was really an underlying emotional attraction to Percy, someone who save his life. As a child born in the 1940s and kept alive through sorcery and a magical casino, being gay was not accepted in society. Though years have passed since then, Nico is still faced with what was then and what is now. It will be interesting to see how it the characters will continue to develop and what the future has in store for these young demigods.
Book Five in the Heroes of Olympus series, The Blood of Olympus, is set to hit the bookshelves Fall 2014.