Sunday, 7 September 2008

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

This is was an exciting, fast-paced, action-packed adventure, which could be a perfect post Harry Potterish read. The story of Percy Jackson, who all of a sudden finds himself thrown into a spiral of events beyond his controls, discover his real self, which happens to be half-divine and half-human, and then is sent to Half-Blood Camp, where he learns about his powers and meets other kids who are also half-bloods, is very easily compared to the story of Harry Potter.

It was fun, it was clever, and it had me reading till the end, but… how do I say this without sounding too fussy? I was never comfortable with its idea of the Gods being where the Power is. Political, strategic, economic Power. And with the Western Civilisation being a living force that the Gods follow. According to what Percy’s mentor Chiron says The fire started in Greece, then…the heart of the fire moved to Rome, and so did the Gods…Like it or not, and believe me, plenty of people weren’t very fond of Rome either – America is now the heart of the flame. It is the great power of the West. And so Olympus is here.
It’s fascinating thought, and it kind of makes sense. But it stills makes me uncomfortable because of the way the world West is used. When Percy is trying to save the day, he doesn’t think about the whole world like your usual hero. No, he’s thinking about saving the Western Civilisation. No mention is ever made about other great cultures of the world and their own gods. Are they not worth existing because they are not “Western”? What about Chinese, Norse, Celtic, Egyptian deities? Weren’t they powerful enough to survive, or even to be mentioned?
It’s great that kids are drawn to Greek mythology after reading this, and that they want to know more about it, but it makes me angry that Rick Riordan deliberately chose to exalt one single culture, and to completely ignore the rest.
I reckon it wouldn’t have been so irritating if this idea were simply the setting for Percy’s adventure and self-discovery. Unfortunately the importance of the survival of the magnificent western civilisation is repeated countless of times. I’m sure I wouldn’t have noticed if I read this as a child. Now, all it makes me think about is war, world hunger, climate change, unfair trade…for which the oh-so-wonderful western civilisation is largely responsible.
Now, I didn’t mean to go all political and rhetorical there, but I couldn’t help it. I know it’s a kids’ book. Yet, if I had children I would probably let them read it, because it’s fun. Then afterwards, I would talk to them about the rest of the gods that might still exist, even if they don’t hold the so-called power the Olympians have. And I would try to explain to them what that Power means and why it shouldn’t be worshipped.
I’m afraid to say that I won’t try and read the rest of the series, unless someone assure me that the tone radically changes, or that some other pantheon is acknowledged, or that it starts to be even slightly critical of America’s use of its power.

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raych said...

Dude, this is EXACTLY the sort of thing that would piss me off, and that I would feel totally douchey blogging about but IT NEEDS TO BE SAID!!! Xenophobia has no place in children's lit.

Nymeth said...

That's too bad. I love Greek mythology and I'd heard good things about this series, but the things you pointed out would have bugged me a lot too. If he wanted to focus on one particular pantheon that's fine, but he should have at the very least acknowledged that other cultures and forms of civilization exist.

Darla D said...

Thanks for the link, Valentina!

I can totally see your point, and now it bugs me, too. At the time I guess I was carried along on the "what if" wave of speculation: what if the Greek Gods were still around and still powerful? But yes, it does seem odd that other cultures' religions are not even acknowledged. Sort of the way modern religions often seem to ignore the existence of other equally valid forms of spirituality. Hmmm. You've given me a lot to think about! Thanks. :-)

Em said...

I haven't read the series yet but I have a lot of friends that love it. I liked hearing your take on it. Good review!