That’s right, toss out those Cliffnotes of The Illiad and The Odyssey; the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books taught me more about Greek and Roman mythology than any literature class I’ve ever been in. I love the books, I treasure my copies of them, I will reread them again and again for as long as I live.
But the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books are too simplified and dumbed down!
…says every critic of this excellent series. Well I will tell you know that they are wrong and they should feel bad. (Nah, just kidding, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.)
(Even wrong ones.)
I recall reading an article a couple of years ago wherein the writer argued that the Percy Jackson series is too simplified and that it will detract its readers from reading more “complex” mythological literature. Which is kind of funny, because up until after I read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books, my interest in mythology was pretty much “meh.”
When I was a kid, it did no good for me to plunge myself into classics right away. Because seriously, more often than not? The first reaction I had when dumped with a copy of Homer as a reading assignment was to Cliffnotes the thing. And the poor book? It had been relegated into some random corner of my bookshelf, never to be touched.
This happened to me a lot. Jane Eyre? Read a few chapters, shelf it. Little Women? Screw that original novel, I have an abridged one ready to go. A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Read a few lines… and actually finished the entire thing. Huh, well what do you know? I think Shakespeare was the beginning of my foray into classical literature, actually.
And look at me now, reading classics from Pride and Prejudice to Les Miserables and loving every second of it. I’m excited to actually read The Iliad and The Odyssey, and not just the Cliffnotes; the actual source, the actual books.
So what am I trying to say here?
I had gotten into classical literature only when I had grown accustomed to reading first. Had I not expanded my vocabulary and honed my reading comprehension skills, I probably wouldn’t have touched classics at all.
That’s why I am of Camp Everyone Has To Start Reading Somewhere. It might be some random YA book retelling that will make them suddenly want to pick up Austen, or it might just be the natural progression of someone who wants to step up their reading game. Does that mean that teens have to start with Twilight? Heck no. No one should touch that thing with a ten-foot pole. But I think it’s rather unfair to compare the Percy Jackson books to Twilight.
Because for all the complaints about how “oh but Percy Jackson doesn’t have the feel of the classics!” and “but this is so dumbed down, my children will be put off of Homer forever when they actually see how different it is!” I sure am living proof that that’s not the case at all.
You know what else is hilarious? It’s that…
Myths were written for the common man.
Yep, that’s right; the myths themselves weren’t even written for the pompous ancient literature scholars with their noses in the air and their pretentious essays.
Way back then, the stories about gods and goddesses and their weird relationships and fetishes were written for the common dude loitering the streets of ancient civilization. That’s why myths, if you really think about it, sound like they were written by some drunken homeless dude on the street corner screaming about insanely beautiful women spouting from a dude’s dick. Because once upon a time (probably) there really was a drunken hobo screaming about how Aphrodite came out from the sea foam that Uranus’s severed genitals created.
Guess where I learned that? From the book Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes, which is also “simplified” and honestly borderline crude, more often than not. The thing is? That book might be the most accurate retelling of myths ever, if ancient myths were told for the first time in this era. So I find it kind of funny that people would be so uptight when it comes to reading classical myths. It’s like scholars insisting I read and analyze a thousand year old dick joke.
Obviously, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books (and their equally awesome sequel series, the Heroes of Olympus) don’t have the crude language that Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes has. The Percy Jackson series is written for middle graders to high schoolers, after all. But I still thoroughly enjoyed both series and whenever I talk about mythology with some friends, I actually know more names aside from Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.
And I know that Hades isn’t the stereotypical evil dude that mainstream media is so intent on making him.
There are a thousand and one other reasons why I love the Percy Jackson series. Among them is the positive representation of dyslexia and ADHD, something we don’t see often in mainstream media, much less media aimed at kids to teens. I have a friend who praised the books because she has dyslexia and she really identified with the characters, and appreciated how Riordan treated it as something empowering. There’s also the wide representation in the second series, Heroes of Olympus, where Riordan takes pains to write not only characters with a different ethnicity, but LGBT characters as well.
Basically, Rick Riordan is an A++ good person overall. Who also happens to have taught me a great deal of Greek and Roman mythology.
And I’m glad I’m not the type to act on snobbery just because something isn’t written the way classics should be written, whatever that means. Because the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books turned into one of my favorite YA series ever. It’s hilarious, has a great and memorable cast of characters, and provides a positive treatment of many sensitive issues surrounding us right now.
I would recommend Percy Jackson and the Olympians books to anyone who wants to read more mythology-based novels, or for parents looking for a new series for their kids to read. And if it gets your kids to read Homer, then even better!
Are you Camp Read ALL the Books, or Camp Filter What You Should Read? Or are you somewhere in-between? Let me know in the comments below!