Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Percy Jackson ....... and the Pointlessness of it All

(A young, starry-eyed, teacher’s review of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. For the uninitiated – Percy Jackson is the American half-blood 21st century son of Poseidon, greek god of the sea and Sally Jackson, an aspiring mortal writer, living in Manhattan.)

I kind of liked the first 100 pages of the first book. Well, okay, I’ll give it to Rick – maybe I liked the whole first book. I liked the casual, American humour-ish, grammatically incorrect thought process of Percy Jackson. I liked his ADHD and the gaping wound of the missing father and the totally cool mother and his inability to adapt to the tribe (in this case, regular high school American mortals) – all the classic marks of the Hero-to-be. On the whole, it looked good. It looked like Percy Jackson could become someone interesting.

But in the delirium of hope, I forgot three vital facts:
Rick Riordan is clearly male.
He’s American.
He’s definitely not a teacher of children.

Oh – correction. I just read off his website that he actually was a teacher of note in several middle schools in USA. Then I am even more saddened, and my question is why, Rick – why? Why did you serve up five books of a testosterone filled video game that destroys any sense of reason and purpose to life?

All Rick Riordan did for me and the kids I teach is he depicted the Olympian gods as physically powerful but stupid, petty beings who still control the destiny of mortals and have not gotten over their inflated egos despite existing for millennia. I understand that all characters are grey – and the Olympians more so – but to turn them into pathetic, squabbling idiots with no sense of justice and compassion just messes completely with a child’s understanding of power, of divinity, of myth. Rick Riordan must know that for most of the kids who read his books – this is their FIRST introduction to the Greek gods – and what a sad introduction it is.

Take the bad guys, for instance. For the Olympians of course, the Titans are the bad guys  – doesn’t matter that the Titans are the Olympians’ parents. Doesn’t matter that before the Age of the Olympians, the Titans were venerated as the gods. Doesn’t matter that the Olympians are no better or worse than the Titans – that Kronos and Zeus are reflections of each other. (Oh yes, he gives that some minor thought in the last book – but seriously – 2.5 pages of 1500 is way too little for such an important concept and realisation.)

Cycles within cycles – THAT  is the beauty of myth – and that is completely shattered by Rick’s uni-dimensional, linear, left-brained approach.

Take Rick’s insipid goddesses - sad female icons for a tween boy’s book. Rick’s Demeter, Athena, Hera and Persephone are such temperamental creatures – totally devoid of the maternal, nourishing, wise, beautiful aspects of nature that they actually represent. The only goddess he has perhaps done some justice to, is Artemis – I’ll give him that. But then she is  the goddess of the Hunt and that required no delving in the Great Feminine, which clearly, for Rick, was too tedious.

So the gods are egotistic, bombastic males with the best gadgets available on the planet, ready to spit fire and thunder at any second and the goddesses are hot-looking, whimsical, inconsistent creatures, prone to tantrums.

Needless to say, I was ready to throw up by Book 5.

And then we have the protagonist, Percy’s major flaw - despite his obvious intelligence, Percy just never stops to think WHY he’s serving the gods. Well, to give him some credit, he does often hope to pause and reflect, but Rick keeps him so caught up in meaningless battles and head-chopping and monster-stabbing every two paragraphs that there’s no time to ponder. No time to look at the big picture.

Olympians – who don’t care two hoots about the half-god, half-mortal kids they’ve fathered or mothered – such Olympians’ instructions must be followed. Olympus MUST be saved by Percy and his half-blood siblings. For what? Why??

Rick has just not answered this question satisfactorily.

The goal does not merit the journey. The journey is nothing but a sick video game of violence. No questions are answered, lots of blood is shed – human and non-human.

Yeah, yeah – along the way Percy falls in love, finds a half-brother, friends sacrifice their lives for him – yadda yadda – and I say yadda yadda not because these things don’t matter to me – but because that is EXACTLY the vein in which they are brought up – yadda yadda. Through ALL of this - even the death of his own half-siblings, Percy is like an automaton to whom everything is afforded exactly 2 minutes of mental space. Nothing inspires him to become an adult. At the end of the journey, 16 year old Percy is still the child he was when we first met him three years earlier, give or take a few monsters. He doesn’t seem motivated enough to understand anything deeper than the point of his sword, Riptide. Rick has made him incapable of feeling anything more than injustice, perhaps occasional compassion. He does nothing awe inspiring, leaves no legacy, manages to get the gods to grant him a few selfless wishes (which we know they will not adhere to anyway – the books being a testimony to their frivolous character.) There is no resolution to the inner journey that each little boy's hero aspect takes, hand in hand with Percy.

You see what I mean by the Pointlessness of it All?

Perhaps Rick’s writing is a reflection of the consciousness of the kids he writes for. They live in a parent-less world. The parents that do exist are irrational, temperamental, too caught up in their own lives to deal with their kids. These kids have so much potential and are crying out for mentors but sadly, there are none.

The old traditions are being replayed over and over and the old paradigm has lost its meaning – it’s pointless – and yet like Olympus – it must be saved and upheld at all costs. Even if the kids don’t understand why  – ‘because I’m your parent – that’s why.’

Percy represents the ‘I’m trapped between loving and hating my parents’ and ‘I cannot choose my purpose in life – it has to be thrust on me’ – generation. The Great Victim Mentality that today’s kids are swimming in. Far from empowering them, Rick has only deepened their firm belief in the fact that the only way to live is to fight larger than life battles for and against forces to whom you are but an insignificant pawn.

This is Percy’s world. Merciless, cruel, pointless.

I wish Rick had written a more hopeful book. Something that inspires tweens and teens to feel and think like adults. That takes them on that incredible journey of self-discovery that begins at 10 and flowers at 18. That shows them that it is possible to GROW and be better than you were. That there is  hope and meaning and beauty. That the Universe is a kind, loving Universe that can support you and your dreams. That we create our own quantum pools of reality. That if you believe in a loving Universe, so it shall be.

To shatter myths is so easy. It is building them for the Hero's journey that requires skill, vision and above all, love.

1 comment:

Eye of the Needle said...

Try reading out Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach), albeit a bit simplified to your class. It teaches us a lot about life and flight, and proves to be a homily about self-perfection.