The other day I wrote a post over at PWHNY about my older son’s interest in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series in anticipation of the the release of the film adaptation of the first novel, The Lightning Thief, this week.
I’ve now started reading the book, which, unlike the Harry Potter series, is narrated by its protagonist, who is a twenty-first century twelve-year-old. As a result, the language of the novel is resolutely adolescent. Reading Riordan’s book makes Rowling’s series seem, in comparison, like Dickens or Balzac. And Riordan is clearly indebted to Rowling: the magical boarding school Hogwarts becomes the magical Camp Half-Blood, and the boy-wizard Harry is transformed into the boy-demi-god Percy. The Potter books, however, are in large part an enchanted take on the English boarding school book, their adventures driven by the logic of a school year (at least until the final book). Riordan’s book is a more conventional quest-narrative, as Percy and his demi-god pals set off to recover Zeus’s stolen thunderbolt and rescue his mother from the Underworld.
The Lightning Thief, nevertheless, has its charms, particularly for anyone who’s every loved Greek myths or even classical Greek drama. The idea of Dionysus being punished for bad behavior by having to go on the wagon and serve as a the camp’s director is priceless.
Moreover the book, like the Harry Potter series, the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I miss Buffy!), and the Pixar film The Incredibles, is in large part an allegory of the difficulty of being a “gifted” child. Percy turns out to be the son of Poseidon, who along with his brothers Zeus and Hades is one of the “Big Three,” the sons of Kronos. As a result, he has it doubly bad, because he is gifted even among the gifted: “Just when I’d started to feel accepted, to feel I had a home in cabin eleven [among the children of Hermes and those whose parentage was “undetermined”] and I might be a normal kid — or as normal as you can be when you’re a half-blood — I’d been separated out as if I had some rare disease.”
So, compare the anecdote with which Sir Ken Richardson ends his TED talk (cited in my previous post) with this passage from The Lightning Thief:
“You don’t know anything about me.” [Spoken by Percy, who doesn’t yet know that he is the child of Poseidon.]
“No?” She [Annabeth, who is the child of Athena] raised an eyebrow. “I bet you moved around from school to school. I bet you were kicked out of a lot of them.”
“Diagnosed with dyslexia. Probably ADHD, too.” I tried to swallow my embarrassment. “What does that have to do with anything.”
“Taken together, it’s almost a sure sign. The letters float off the page when you read, right? That’s because your mind is hardwired for ancient Greek. And the ADHD — you’re impulsive, can’t sit still in the classroom. That’s your battlefield reflexes. In a real fight, they’d keep you alive. As for the attention problems, that’s because you see too much, Percy, not too little. Your senses are better than a regular mortals. Of course the teachers want you medicated. Most of them are monsters. They don’t want you seeing them for what they are.”
The passage reminds me of the premise of Buffy: high school is hell (literally).
I’m hoping that my students see me more as Percy’s Latin teacher, Mr. Brunner (a.k.a. Chiron, the centaur who trained Hercules) than as temporary pre-Algebra teacher, Mrs. Dodd (who turns out to be a Fury).