Rick Riordan: Fact or Fun?

2 min read

Author Rick Riordan has been releasing books by the year. Last year he wrote and released Trials of Apollo and recently released the newest Magnus Chase book. This year he has already released four new books. A large chunk of the youth population is enraptured by his adolescent humor and ability to make “boring” myths into fun and hip myths. His stories are narrated by teenage demigods and their opinions of everything that is going on. While these may be interesting, do they tell the true story?

In Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, Percy Jackson describes a plethora of Greek stories. Jackson tells the story of Hades and Persephone, saying, “I have to be honest. I never understood what made Persephone such a big deal. I mean, for a girl who almost destroyed the universe, she seems kind of meh.” Now this may seem humorous or irresistibly cool, but in the original Greek mythology, Persephone was an important and attractive character. And in contemporary times, Persephone was described as bright and full of laughter by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, European immigrants to the United States who retold the myths in poetic language.

Although Riordan seduces grade-school kids, his books turn off most anyone over 12. Many, as written in Hero Complex — a website that critiques books, movies, and more — describe it as a “failed Harry Potter rip-off” aspiring to fill the gap left by the looming end of the Harry Potter series. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief begins with a preteen who is mistreated by a family member, finds out he has special abilities, is taken away to a supernatural world, finds out he is famous there, and to top it all off, befriends an intelligent girl and a silly, rambunctious boy. Sound familiar?

However, Neil Gaiman, a novelist and short story writer, states, “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children.” Now, Riordan’s books are not bad, just misleading. The ancient epics detail awesome feats made by demigods, such as Hercules and Perseus. The demigods in Riordan’s books, however, are only teenage heartthrobs. Many of his action scenes are twisted Greek myths, such as the fight against Medusa. In the original myth, Perseus uses his shield to turn Medusa into stone, while Percy Jackson uses his new-age iPhone. These scenes trick those who have not read the original myths into learning these incorrect myths, and they may not even realize that these are based on original epics.

Riordan has done his homework for sure. He incorporates ancient stories and adapts them into modern retellings, replete with iPhones and condos. His readers are certainly captivated by his easy-to-read and funny language, as well as his breathtaking tall tales. Hopefully, they are compelled to read The Odyssey or The Aeneid. Riordan’s books are a good gateway to ancient Greek culture and mythologies, but it should not be the only source students learn these epics from. The books are very well researched, represent the mythological characters, and draw on a large range of stories and events that are also found in ancient myths. However, readers should know that they do not represent the stories faithfully because they do not tell the ancient epics; instead, they tell new stories which happen to feature some characters from the ancient ones. His stories riff off of Greek myths, with a modern twist.