OBS Speaks Out contributor Blondie has written a piece on how the stories of Percy Jackson have revived stories of myth and legend.
Percy Jackson: Everything old is new again.
When I was in middle school, I loved reading Greek myths. The gods who acted more like teenagers, the heroes besting the most unbelievable monsters…talk about an escape from reality! Movies like Clash of the Titans (the original) and Jason and the Argonauts attempted to bring the stories to life, combining various myths and legends to make a marketable adventure story.
Now, decades a few years later, Rick Riordan has taken up the Greek myth banner. By mixing the tales of ancient conquest and tragedy with a modern Harry Potter-like coming of age story, he’s brought the old stories to life again.
Potter? No, that’s Percy!
Let me start by saying I loved the Lightning Thief (both the book and the movie). More importantly, my son loved it, and as an avid reader, finding new and interesting books for him has been a challenge. But the parallels between TLT and the boy with the lightning scar are hard to ignore.
So let’s compare and contrast the books, and make my middle school English teacher proud.
MILD SPOILER WARNING – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Harry Potter Percy Jackson discovers he has inherited powers from his mom and dad, a parent he doesn’t remember when he turns eleven hits middle school. He ends up at a special school camp, and shows up the class bully, Draco Clarisse during flying lessons a game of capture the flag. His two best friends, the happy-go-lucky Ron Grover, and super-smart Hermione Annabeth help Harry Percy adjust to his new reality, and agree to accompany him on a dangerous quest to find the Sorcerer’s Stone Zeus’ Master Bolt.
Other aspects of Percy’s world recall Potter’s: The warnings about the power of names, the hints at a prophecy regarding Percy’s destiny, and Percy’s smelly, human stepdad who treats him like yesterday’s garbage…makes me wonder if half the kids in middle school today are either wizards or demigods.
There’s even a dark force controlling others through dreams…He Who Must Not Be Named has risen from the dead (again) to take on Percy this time.
It’s my opinion that it was the parallels between Riordan’s and Rawling’s work that led to the changes in the movie version of TLT(even reducing Fluffy Cerberus to three one-headed dogs) – but that’s a different story.
Are the similarities a bad thing? Absolutely not! The hero’s story has been repeated for millennia; all you have to do is dig into the stories Percy’s world is based on to find the same plot over and over again. In fact, by basing his story on Greek myths, Riordan has opened a whole branch of literature to a new generation of readers. And with that…
It’s all Greek to Me!
One big assumption that Riordan makes in The Lightning Thief is that you, the reader, have some knowledge of the Greek myths, and that you’ll recognize his references (and he hits a TON of different mythical stories in this book). Though I read many versions of the stories when I was young, even I was scratching my head trying to remember if it was Theseus or Perseus or Heracles (Hercules) who killed Medusa the first time…
Note: All the monsters Percy faces appeared in the myths and most were killed. Riordan addresses that fact briefly, commenting that evil never really dies, and the monsters essentially reincarnate. He’s giving himself free license to re-write the myths in a modern setting, but I’m good with that.
So, maybe you’ve read the book, and would like to know more about the original stories, or maybe you’re a mom who’s just trying to communicate with their kids; in either case, a primer on the Greek gods might be a little helpful. Here’s my attempt to oblige – along with references below to authors who’ve done a much better job.
Good Gods, how many are there?
A ton, and they slept around a lot, having all kinds of kids. Here’s the ones that matter in The Lightning Thief:
Zeus: God of sky, air and weather, the head honcho. He was made the top dog after he saved his brothers and sisters from their father, Kronos. BTW, Kronos wasn’t a god, he’s a Titan.
Poseidon: God of the sea, creator of the horse, and Zeus’s brother. Percy’s dad.
Hades: God of the Underworld (both heaven and hell), basically the god of death. He and his brothers drew lots to decide who’d rule where, and Hades got the short straw. He owns the third Deathly Hallow Helm of Darkness which makes him invisible. He is not one of the twelve (Pantheon) Olympians, living in the Underworld. Married to Persephone, but only part of the year.
Athena: Goddess of wisdom, war, and weaving, among other things. Daughter of Zeus, she sprang from his head fully grown and clad in armor. Annabeth’s mother. She and Poseidon had a tiff over who’d be the patron god of Athens (guess who won).
Ares: God of war, son of Zeus and Hera. An unpopular god, Ares did catch the eye of Aphrodite (remember I said the gods slept around?). Her husband, Hephaestus caught them in flagrante in an attempt to embarrass the two of them in front of the other gods.
Hermes: Messenger of the gods, God of thieves, son of Zeus. Luke’s father. Invented the lyre and gave it to Apollo. Owner of the winged sandals.
And, just because Riordan mentioned there were twelve houses at Camp Half-blood, here’s the other seven members of the Pantheon.
Hera: Goddess of marriage, Zeus’ wife and sister (yeah, ew).
Apollo: God of the sun, music, medicine, among other things. Son of Zeus, twin of Artemis.
Artemis: Goddess of the moon, the hunt, chastity and childbirth (I don’t know, she just is). Daughter of Zeus, twin of Apollo.
Aphrodite: Goddess of love and beauty. Possibly born of the remains of a Titan, she appeared in the foam of the sea. Married to Hephaestus.
Hestia: Goddess of the hearth, sister of Zeus.
Demeter: Goddess of earth and agriculture. Sister of Zeus, mother of Persephone (with Zeus – more ew), mother-in-law of Hades.
Hephaestus: God of craftsman. Married to Aphrodite.
And, if twelve weren’t enough, there’s Dionysus, god of wine, vegetation, and pleasure. Not one of the original 12, this son of Zeus was eventually admitted to Olympus.
Confused? Yeah, but that’s what happens with a thousand years of rewriting and revision of legends. The gods are immortal, so they can only irritate or imprison each other, not kill each other, leading to most of the other myths.
As far as the creatures Percy faces in TLT – they come from a variety of stories. The minotaur was killed by Theseus; Medusa by Percy’s namesake, Perseus. The chimera was killed by Bellerophon while riding Pegasus, Odysseus encountered the lotus-eaters. The stretcher, Procrustes, also met his end from Theseus, who dispatched him the same way Percy did.
Even Chiron has a history, having taught other heroes Jason and Achilles. According to myth, he was killed by Heracles (it’s more complicated than that, so check out the references).
The original stories have been rewritten in many forms; you can find most of them on Wikipedia, even. Here’s a few books I’ve found at my library or were recommended to me – check them out for the ‘real’ story:
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaires
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
The Greek Gods by Evslin, Evslin, & Hoopes
Greek and Roman Mythology A to Z by Kathleen N. Daly
Adventures of the Greek Heroes by Mollie McLean and Anne Wiseman
Look for Dewey Decimal 292 at your library, that’s where you’ll find these books and many more.
And of course there’s the classics: The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer
I challenge you to compare the original Perseus’ quest with that of Percy Jackson – you’d be surprised at the parallels there, too. And with The Clash of the Titans coming out soon, you’ll be all set for another round of Greek heroes!