By now you’d think I would be tired of Greek myths…
Summary (…sort of)
You’ve heard the stories before. Medusa’s got snake hair, Kronos was chopped into tiny pieces, Zeus is Lord of Olympus. But Homer and Hamilton are a little dry, especially for kids.
Enter demigod, Percy Jackson, here to tell you stories about the Greek Gods, with all the snark and censor to appeal (and be appropriate) for kids.
I was especially excited to read this book, because I knew it was going to be unique. It was going to present the Greek myths properly (no modernization, minimal euphemism, all the craziness) but also in a way that kids could understand and relate to.
And, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. My favourite retellings were the story of Callisto and baby Hermes. Riordan doesn’t leave anything out, and yet it’s still (depending on your definition) appropriate for kids. There’s no sugar coating—the gods are scumbags, the people are powerless. Very true to Greek Tradition.
Granted, Riordan can’t tell kids everything. Greek mythology is full of sex, violent ends, and less-than-kid-friendly circumstances. He skirts around more of them by calling “affairs” “boyfriend/girlfriend relationships”, and using words like “cuddling”, “one thing lead to another”, and (oh gods) “hanky panky”.
Sometimes, the dodging is funny, like the description of the unfortunate end of Ouranos. But sometimes the dodging ruins the story. There’s a lot of stories (particularly those based on Euripides) that get dulled down for the younger audience. I understand that it’s necessary to clean it up to make it kid-friendly, but Riordan skips out on a lot of the kid-friendly stories too. The story of Cupid and Psyche is classic, and doesn’t need much censoring.
In fact, there are a lot of stories that could be told that don’t need as much censoring: Icarus, Perseus, The Labours of Hercules, the Illiad, the Odyssey, the Golden Fleece. Heck, there could be a whole other anthology of Percy telling the stories of his cousins (i.e. the Greek/Roman heroes). Why didn’t Riordan include them? Because (besides the obvious marketing scheme) the organization of the book is based on the gods. Which brings me to the next sort-of problem: Percy keeps saying “But, we’ll get to that later” or “That’s another story.”
Why bring it up if you’re not going to talk about it yet? I get that lots of mythology books sort the stories by the gods they are centered on, especially since the stories overlap a lot. But it’s pointless to mention things that won’t be picked up again (until later). Why mention maimed gods if Hephaestus isn’t going to be mentioned for the next 100 pages? Why split Medusa’s story in half between the Poseidon and Athena chapters? It really does seem like the book could undergo one final edit/reorganize.
But for all my complaining, I still liked the book. It made the myths relevant, despite there ancient origins. Sure it can be as obvious as Percy’s PSAs that are scattered everywhere:
We call that opium, children. And don’t do drugs, because DRUGS ARE BAD. Okay, I had to put that in there.
Pro tip: If you’re attacked by a creep, it’s never your fault. Tell somebody.
But there are also basic morals that permeate simply through the story. It’s clear that Hades makes a mistake when he takes Persephone. Or that when Hestia chooses not to take a husband, that’s an okay choice.
Also, John Rocco’s art is absolutely beautiful. I’m putting scans I can find on the internet all over this post so you can see it for yourself (click for the full image!). It’s absolutely gorgeous—despite how much hate the official art gets. I never realized how much I missed illustrations.
And, because I know this is a factor, there’s just nostalgia from Percy’s point of view and the snarky titles.
Final Rating: Buy. Specifically if you like retellings and mythology. Or even as a storybook for children. You don’t need to know PJO to love this book, and it can be a great introduction to the series.