Percy Jackson and the Way Too Consistent Olympians

I really didn’t intend this blog to just address a bunch of specific novels, but if it occurs to me, and relates to writing… why not?

When it comes to Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I has mixed feels, I must confess, and I must also confess a bit of apprehension about sharing them, because so many people LOVE these books.  I mean, lots of action, memorable characters, and of course, it’s educational.  I mean, look at all the ancient Greek mythology you learn!

And that’s my number one problem.  While not claiming to be an expert, I do consider myself more educated in Greek mythology than the average person.  Can’t remember what I did yesterday, or what I was supposed to do tomorrow, but I can tell you all about Aphrodite’s birth, or what happens when you kill two snakes mating.  (Hint: the gender change surgery industry could save a lot of money by cooperating with snake farms.)

Am I going to complain about accuracy problems?  No!  They were fairly accurate, or as accurate as one can be when there are several versions of the original myths, all with their fair share of contradictions.  They were simply… too consistent with the original stories.

See, here’s the premise.  The gods from ancient Greece are all real, and are now centred in America (Americentrism by definition, though justifiably) and are all going about their business as usual.  The “as usual” part is the bit that bothers me.  In many, many instances, the gods are acting EXACTLY the way they did thousands of years ago.  I mean, I don’t object to static characters as a whole, but there is NO WAY an intelligent being is going to perform the exact sequence of events it did before, particularly when it failed.  They’re simply retelling these stories with a modern twist, and, while entertaining, is hard for me to swallow.

Example:   Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and sex, is married to Hephaestus, the god of the smith.  He’s actually quite an ugly fellow, making for an unusual match, and possibly for that reason, Aphrodite engaged in an affair with Ares, the god of war.  I mean, who else but your classic bad boy, right?  Hephaestus began to guess that something was up, so he forged a magnificent trap, a net, and hung it over their bed.  As planned, the net falls and catches Ares and Aphrodite in the middle of a “session”, and Hephaestus brings everybody in Olympus out to laugh at them, much like a reality TV show.  Rick Riordan jumps all over this, and decides that now, Hephaestus controls a big reality television channel among the gods in modern times.  I like this!  Very clever!  If they left it at this, I’d have been happy.  But, this is revealed after a scene in which Percy and crew are accidentally caught up in a net he made intended for, guess who, his wife Aphrodite, who is apparently STILL cheating on him, after thousands of years, with the same guy, and apparently, has still not figured out the net thing.

There have even been cases of previously  defeated characters being resurrected from the dead without explanation.  Medusa.  The creepy guy who ties people to beds and forces them to fit.  I believe the cyclops with the fleece died as well, though I could be wrong.  (Actually, I haven’t gone to any effort to confirm my memory of this stuff; I’m sure some ancient Greek mythology buff more knowledgeable than myself, or Percy Jackson’s biggest fan is going to tear me a new one with all my factual inaccuracies, but I’ve got the general stuff right anyways.)

Now, this next bit isn’t a flaw exactly, but seems like a wasted opportunity.  Why is Percy the son of Poseidon?  Okay, sure, he needed to be the son of one of the big three.  Zeus was too obvious; you don’t want to make your main character TOO heroic.  But… what about Hades?  Think about it.  When the god of the underworld, hell, is your dad, the relationship issues are way easier to justify.  Hades is actually quite often misunderstood and portrayed; he was never evil exactly, he just got a dirty job.  But everyone, everyone, is going to be against him, and therefore, Percy is going to be an extension of this.  And just think about the inner conflict opportunities!  “Is my dad evil?  If he is, am I?  What does having the powers of death and judgment MEAN for my character?”  This would all go perfectly well any and all prophecies (a totally overdone literary technique, IMO) regarding him saving or dooming the world.  I mean, it would obviously throw off the plot in numerous places but… I dunno.  Doesn’t it seem more interesting to you?

Perhaps Rick has already thought of this and discarded it for some reason; I don’t blame him in the “Son of Poseidon” respect.  But I think if he wanted to do a modern retelling of Greek myths, he should have set it up better.  In fact, if he’d just done it, without referencing the characters and stories as being the same ones from the originals, and simply said “Here are some weird characters with familiar names, watch them do stuff!”, I would have felt just fine about it.

I was much more impressed by his lesser known Egyptian series, The Kane Chronicles, though perhaps because I know next to nothing about Egyptian mythology.  However, after reading it, I can tell you that Bast is badass, and Anubis is sexy as hell (no pun intended).  Actually, I’m probably too old to say that now.  Ah well, he was sexy when I read him.  Anyway, go ahead, read ’em both, particularly the Egyptian one.