I wrote this review of the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series a while ago (I read the books in the spring of 2016), and it kind of got out of hand because when it comes to Greek mythology, I’m very excitable. I already posted it on my tumblr, but I’d still like to share it here, because where else do I put my opinions?
It’s pretty long, so as a summary – I liked the books; they’re excellent books to get children into reading; the mythology is very accurate; I did have a few issues, which I will mention at the end of my review (they barely took away from my enjoyment of the books and I mostly noticed them because I’m a mythology nerd).
I was reluctant to read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books. I’d read the first four PJO books as a teenager, but though I was impressed with how accurately the mythology was portrayed, I didn’t really like the writing style. Everyone seemed to love these books though, so I figured I could give them another try. I don’t know what changed during the last couple of years, but I really got into them this time! Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a very good series for children. Despite the fact that they’re demigods, the main characters are relatable and real. I personally don’t relate to Percy that much (maybe that’s why I didn’t like the books the first time), but I think there are a lot of children who do. These books are what got one of my younger brothers into reading, and I’ve heard the same story from other people. Aside from being relatable these books also offer an escape, in much the same way that Harry Potter does. You can imagine being a demigod yourself, figure out which god would have been your parent, just like you can imagine going to Hogwarts and being sorted into one of the houses.
I liked Heroes of Olympus even better than Percy Jackson. HoO is more character driven, and aimed at an audience of teens or young adults, while PJO is better suited to children/tweens. There is a lot of character development, especially in The House of Hades. It also hugely expands upon the mythology, with new monsters, gods, and the Roman aspects.
I just want to mention again how accurate the mythology is. In a lot of adaptations of Greek myths the story and characters are changed beyond recognition – Clash of the Titans, Troy and Hercules being a few examples in varying degrees of accuracy and quality (I love Disney’s Hercules, but it’s not very accurate (I forgive them though)). Rick Riordan’s gods closely resemble Homer’s, in a more modern form.
Now for my problems with the series. I still love the books despite these flaws, which is why I put these all the way at the end of my review. They’re just a few points where the mythology was not as accurate as anywhere else, or where Rick Riordan interpretated things differently than I would. I try not to mind differences in interpretation, but there are a few things that are dearer to my heart than others.
1. Medea. She only appears for a short time in one book, but her portrayal honestly shocked me. She is described as the most evil villain in Greek mythology. Just… what? How? Medea’s most famous portrayal is the one in Euripides’ tragedy, Medea. In this play Euripides introduced the now famous part of the myth where Medea kills her own children. Even in that play, written by an ancient Greek in the 5th century BCE, Medea is more likeable than in Heroes of Olympus. I could write a whole post about her alone, she is such a complex character. It almost feels like a personal attack to see her being set aside as a villain. I get angry every time I think about it. I feel like writing that post about her now.
2. Hades. Riordan’s Hades is a lot better than most modern interpretations – at least he’s not 100% evil. I was able to set my own ideas aside for the most part (Hades is one of my favourite gods but I know not everyone has the same interpretation). However, it really bothered me that they talked about World War II as a conflict between the gods, and Hitler as a child of Hades. It’s even mentioned that they share the same ‘evil’ features. Hades’ connection to evil is completely modern, connected to how Western people currently think about death. My love for Hades is only a part of why this bothered me though. Saying World War II was a conflict between the gods kind of feels like a dismissal. The atrocious acts that happened during that war were done by humans, not gods or demigods or monsters, and as terrible as that is, it’s true and should not be downplayed. (As the grandchild of a holocaust survivor this subject is also close to my heart.)
There’s another minor thing about Hades, now that I’m talking about him anyway. Somewhere in Heroes of Olympus it’s said that Hades became god of wealth only in Roman times. This is simply untrue. Hades has always been the god of wealth and plenty. On Greek vase paintings he is usually shown with a horn of plenty. In fact his Roman name Pluto comes from the Greek Ploutos, which is one of the eufemisms the Greeks used to call Hades, meaning ‘the wealthy one’. (Lastly I also doubt Hades would get a lot of demigod children as he’s pretty much the only god who’s faithful to his wife, but I let that one slide. A lot can happen in a couple of thousand years I guess.)
3. The fact that Athena gets children. There’s a myth in which Athena is associated with a child (it’s kind of weird and features Hephaestus’ sperm on a beach, I might tell it to you some day), and she was so embarrassed she put the baby in a basket, gave it to some princesses and told them not to look. One of them did, of course, and was punished (a myth featuring the goddess of Envy, Hermes, and being turned into a rock, I might tell that one to you some day too). So even if the getting of children doesn’t require sex, it seems unlikely that she would want it. Still, I love Annabeth, so it wasn’t hard to ignore this.
4. This is a very minor one, but I felt like I should mention it. At one point Nico (SPOILERS for Heroes of Olympus!!!) is thinking about a myth, which I know as the myth of the ’round people’. It is told in Plato’s Symposium. According to this myth, humans used to have four arms, four legs, two heads and (Rick Riordan left this one out) two sets of genitals. They were also completely round. They moved by rolling very fast. So fast that they would be able to roll up to Mount Olympus and attack the gods – so Zeus decided they were too dangerous and cut them all in two. Ever since then people are looking for their lost half – explaining love or desire, Eros. Nico is depressed because of this myth – he argues these people were all part man and part woman and as he’s gay he feels left out. But that’s not true! In fact, most of the round people were either completely male or completely female, and a few were ‘androgynous’, half man and half woman, meaning that most of the halves would be looking for a half of the same gender. So yes, according to Plato (or whoever tells the story in his text), most people are gay.
5. I’ll end with a more general point that mostly made me laugh a little. Rick Riordan has a tendency to skim over the more gruesome or sex-related parts of Greek mythology. Like the way Medusa was supposed to have been Poseidon’s girlfriend that Athena caught kissing in her temple (instead of, you know, Poseidon raping her). I mean, I get it, it’s a children’s series… but I felt like it was a little too child-proof sometimes. I guess that’s an American thing.