Saturday, October 31, 2015

Series Review Part 1 » Percy Jackson and the Olympians

I babysit for a family that has a serious book collection.  When I'm at their house, I like to browse the titles and be impressed.  They have non-fiction, adult fiction, YA, middle grade, and children's books.  The breadth is staggering. They own complete series, that match.  (So impressive.) There are plenty of books I've heard of, but haven't read, and these intrigue me the most.  I look at those undiscovered books and wish I was there to read instead of babysit.

One night at their house, I broke and reached for The Lightning Thief.  

"Are you going to read?" asked my charge with a mixture of disbelief and bemusement. (He had just lugged out his G.I. Joe collection.)

"Just a tad," I replied. I had never read the Percy Jackson series.  They were released round about when I reached my John Grisham phase of reading, which went on for many years.  By the time I emerged from that, I wasn't a kid anymore, and Percy Jackson was off my radar.  But that night, while babysitting, surrounded by a treasure trove of middle grade literature, my curiosity led me to pluck book one off the shelf.

I made it through a single chapter before the guilt overcame me, and I re-absorbed myself in the uninteresting world of G. I. Joes, to my charge's approval.  Though, hours later, when bed time came, I lobbied hard for The Lightning Thief to be the night's read.  My charge acquiesced.  Three chapters later, we were at the part where the Fates are going after Percy's lifespan with their snippy-snappy scissors, and the 7 year-old next to me was terrified.

"This is scary!" he whimpered pitifully, clutching himself to my protective breast.  You're not going to be able to handle Lord Voldemort for quite a few years yet, boyo, I thought. We put The Lightning Thief aside and read Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

It was with eagerness and anticipation the next morning that I trekked to the public library to check out the full Percy Jackson series, although it was with waning pleasure that I read through The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and The Titan's Curse.  Part of the disconnect came from me being older than the age target, yes.  There was also the part of me that attended classical cottage school and happens to be a Greek mythology purist that was all sorts of conflicted.

In the end, I can come to terms with Riordan's modern usage of classical Greek myth.   I mean, what do I expect, kids to learn mythology straight from the mouth of Ovid? Even the tome I learned from was illustrated! Really, Riordan puts a fun spin on everything, especially the seedier business of gods having flings with mortals.  He even suggests that goddesses can run around on their husbands without reparation. (Really, if Hera ever had an affair, Zeus would fling her into Tartarus, I'm sure.) I'd be horrified that youths were reading about adults cheating on their spouses and having reckless sex, only I read about this stuff as a child, myself.

Mostly though, I found the ceaseless repetition of the books to be tiresome.  With each book I've read so far, Percy has arrived at camp for the summer, encountered a problem, gone on a quest, and returned triumphant.  I find the quest portions of the  books to be especially redundant, with Percy flitting from challenge to challenge, encountering mythological monsters updated for modern times, one after the other.  At times, it felt like Riordan was moving through a checklist. Cerberus. Check. Medusa. Check. Scylla and Charybdis. Check. 

The fact that Riordan's books are such massive hits speaks for itself, however.  Despite their falling short of masterpiece status, there's something about these books that many people find highly appealing.  It's a classic hero tale and adventure lark that fits Joseph Cambell's theory of plot to a T.  But, despite speaking to the visceral human understanding of story, these books just haven't grabbed me yet.


  1. This series is on my tentative bucket list of books to read (along with Harry Potter books). I know reading is ageless, but I have this curiosity that I need to sate. Glad you gave it a chance!

  2. Yes! I'm coming to the realization that I've missed a lot of middle grade, and I've been hoping to catch up with that.