Riordan's pentalogy Percy Jackson and the Olympians guides us to a utopia where .... 5 the Greek sea god Poseidon and is suspected of having stolen Zeus's ..... Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969. 14-21. PDF. âMyth.â ahdictionary.com.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Reincarnation of Greek Mythology as an Alternate Reality
Mir Md. Fazle Rabbi Lecturer, Department of English Daffodil International University Abstract: One of the major significances of mythology is to provide a guideline for living. For a long time, authors have been using mythology to demonstrate the victory of good over evil. Likewise, Rick Riordan’s pentalogy Percy Jackson and the Olympians guides us to a utopia where there will be no contempt for the physically and mentally challenged people. By incorporating Greek mythology into popular culture, for example in children’s literature, Riordan used mythology, as it has always been used, to explain something that is difficult to understand, and shown how mythology still can be used as an effective tool to give a message to the society. The protagonist, Percy Jackson, is a demigod like Achilles and Hercules. Like Percy, there are hundreds of demigods in camp half-blood who take training to be heroes. These demigods, victims of ADHD and Dyslexia, however go through several adventures in the five series of the book and prove that human beings can exceed gods by the power of humanity. This paper will focus on the necessity and use of mythology to create a heaven on earth by showing respect to those, whom we consider different for their physical or mental disorder. Riordan also keeps his text open to critique in the light of Marxist theory, which stresses on the struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Finally, he tries to create an alternate reality where the demigods, representing the proletariat, uphold the power of humanity. Key words: Greek Mythology, Guideline, Children’s literature, Marxist Theory, Humanity 1
I Mythology has long been used as a tool to enlighten human beings by teaching moral values and making connections between present and past. Mythology reconnectspeople to their root and culture and eventually helps them take a lesson from their past. Rick Riordan in his most celebrated adventure series Percy Jackson and the Olympians relies on Greek mythology and tries to find a way out of the dystopia we live in.Moreover, Riordan has incorporated new characters along with the existing Greek gods and goddesses in this famous pentalogy.He attempts toestablish a Marxist utopia where physically and mentally challenged people are shown as heroes, who take the responsibility to uphold the power of humanity. Percy Jackson and the Olympians came about as a result of Riordan’s experience of parenthood. He used to tell bedtime stories about Greek mythology to his son. When Riordan ran out of myths, his son Haley suggested that he make up new stories using existing mythological characters and adding some new ones. Using Haley’s idea, Riordan made up Percy Jackson and narrated Percy’s quest to restore Zeus’ lightning bolt in modern-day America. In an interview Riordan said, “It took about three nights to tell the whole story, and when I was done, Haley told me I should write it out as a book.” This comment confirms how relevant Greek mythology still is as means of creative expression. However, Greek Mythology depicts and approves class-conscious society. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a new reading of Greek mythology, where mythology does not legitimize, rather questions itself in the contemporary class conflict. Therefore, it can be said that Riordan reincarnates Greek mythology as an alternate reality. II Mythology is necessary in popular culture for several reasons.Firstly, mythology connects the present to its past. Every culture has its root in mythology. As defined in the 2
American Heritage Dictionary, “[myth is a] traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society.”Popular culture tries to re/connect the past and relies on mythology for this. As a form of popular culture or children’s literature, Percy Jackson and the Olympians reconnects contemporary American society to Greek mythology. Secondly, mythology existed before the emergence of philosophy and science and provided answers and moral structure to society.People are still fascinated by mythic stories and by the mythological heroes’ need for magic.Riordan’s fiction too uses magic to demonstrate the victory of good over evil.Finally, the reason why mythology is still relevant is that it is a pure form of storytelling.Mythology is now found in movies, likeTroy(2004), Clash of Titans (2010), Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010), in music and in new literary genre, like comics and graphic novels and most importantly in children’s literature. In all these genres mythology has been used as a tool of narrating story, since people have an innate urge for listening to stories. Therefore, Riordan molds his fiction in the form of mythology. Percy Jackson and the Olympiansis a pentalogy, where the protagonist undergoes a series of five adventures. In the first book, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy comes to know that he is a half-blood or demigod, son of Poseidon. He also identifies that he is accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt. To clear his name and save the world from a war between Olympian gods, Percy sets out to retrieve the lightning bolt. In the second book, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy initiates a journey to collect Golden Fleece in order to save his abode Camp Half-Blood and his best friend Grover who is held hostage by Cyclops Polyphemus. The third book, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse demonstrates Percy’s mission to rescue 3
half-bloodsiblings Bianca and Nico di Angelo. At one point Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and her hunters relieve Percy and his friends from the attack of a manticore. Percy pays back by saving Artemis from thedeviant half-blood Luke’s army and by releasing her from holding up the sky. In the fourth book, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy and his friends set out to find Daedalus, inventor of the infamous labyrinth, when they discover the role of the labyrinth in a dark plot against the Camp by Kronos’ Army. In the fifth and final book, Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian, Luke is possessed by Kronos and Percy leads a quest to protect Mount Olympus and the rest of the world from Kronos and his army of monsters. III The primary purpose of mythology is to convey ideas that are difficult to explain in everyday terminology. We can readPercy Jackson and the Olympians in the light of Marxist theory because “class formations, class consciousness and class tensions form part of the historical experience of modernization” (Leitch 14). Riordan shapes his fiction in the mould of Greek mythology since Greek mythology is universally popular. The reason behind connecting Greek mythology to Marxism is that, “culture and the arts in the Marxist view are neither innocent entertainment nor independent of social forces; they play a significant role in transmitting ideology and shoring up the hegemonic order” (Leitch 14). In the first book of the series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy encounters his pre-algebra teacher Mrs. Dodds, who turns into a monster of Vengeance, serving Hades.Percy, later on realizes that his life is under threat because he is a half-blood.Percy’s mother takes him to Camp Half-Blood with Percy’s best friend Grover’s help in order to save Percy’s life. There Percy finds other half-bloods like him. He comes to know that he is the son of
the Greek sea god Poseidon and is suspected of having stolen Zeus’s missing lightning bolt.Thus, without knowing or doing anything, Percy becomes the target ofthe gods, the same way the proletariatbecome the target of the bourgeoisie. In Manifesto of the Communist PartyMarx and Engels note, “In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society in various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank” (14).If we look at the pyramid like social structure of ancient Greece, we will see that it is classified into several ranks: gods and goddesses, the council, the assembly, the jury, women and childrenandslaves. With the passage of time, many things have changed but the ranking ordiscrimination in the social order remains the same. Riordan has ridiculed this in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. He has kept his text open for a Marxist reading: the godsare the representatives of the bourgeoisie and the half-bloods are the proletariat. For example in The Titan’s CurseDionysus, the god of wine and director of Camp Half-Blood, is indifferent about Athena’s daughterAnnabeth’s supposed death, since Annabeth is a half-blood and considered to be lower in status than Dionysus. As Marx and Engels point out, “The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal societyhas not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones” (14). Riordan sets the background of the series in present-day America. Here Mount Olympus is situatedon the 600th floor of the Empire State Building.The American cultural icon, The Empire State Building, represents United States of America as a powerful country, the Centre of capitalism. Thus, Riordan points out that the inhabitants [capitalists] of Empire State Building are powerful like the Greek gods. Capitalism is the new form of civilization. As Marx and Engels mention, “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the 5
immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization . . . it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves” (16) and the gods are no exceptions. The utmost strength of capitalism has brought the gods from Mount Olympus to the Empire State Building. Chiron, the trainer of the half-bloods, makes this clear to us: “Come now, Percy. What you call “Western civilization”. Do you think it’s just an abstract concept? No, it’s a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they couldn’t possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated . . . it is the great power of the West. And so Olympus is here. And we are here” (Lightning Thief 72-73). The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle, with the aristocrats at first and “later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic” (Marx and Engels 19). In Greek mythology, the gods were in conflict with the Titans. Later on, they were involved in relentlessconflict among themselves. A different kind of conflict is seen in Riordan’s modern-day depiction of Olympus. In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Zeus claims that Poseidon has stolen the master bolt and instructed Cyclopes secretly to build an arsenal of illegal copies. “Zeus has demanded that Poseidon return the bolt by the summer solstice” on the other hand, “Poseidon wants an apology for being called a thief by the same date” (137-38). It is noteworthy that, Riordan remains true to not only Greek mythology but also to his primary aim. He sketches the character of the gods in the image of man and not the opposite. Thus the narrative becomes lucid and apt for children’s reading. There is a 6
call for war among the gods, awar where “nature [is] at war with itself . . . Western civilization turned into a battleground so big it will make the Trojan War look like a water-balloon fight” (Lightning Thief138). Marx and Engels assert, “In all these battles, it [the bourgeoisie] sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for help, and thus, to drag it into political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie” (19). Likewise, in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the gods and goddesses depend on their half-blood children to fight each other: Poseidon depends on Percy and Ares on Clarisse. They give their children power to win in the battlefield and thus use their children, like typical bourgeoisie, for their own cause. Moreover, “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation” (Marx and Engels 16). The gods and goddesses leave their half-blood children to their mortal parent and never look back. They claimtheir children only when they need their children to fight their wars. Thus, Poseidon leaves Percy before his birth. Percy is brought up by his mother Sally Jackson and his step-father Gabe Ugliano. His mother marries Gabe only to save Percy from the monsters and Gabe tolerates Percy because Sally earns money for the family. Thus the bourgeoisie disrupts the family ties that should exist naturally. IV Riordan attempts to revitalize Greek mythology to make a way out of bourgeois society, to create an alternate reality. In most adventures, the archetypical hero is both physically and morally strong, a symbol of perfection. However, Riordan’s heroes are teenagers, victims of
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and dyslexia or physical impairment. The protagonist Percy Jackson is a twelve-year-old boy, expelled from every school he has ever joined because of his ADHD and dyslexia. Later, readers come to know that all the half-bloods are hardwired like that. They are “impulsive, can’t sit still in the classroom” (Lightning Thief88) and their ADHD is the result of their “battlefield reflexes” (88) which keep them alive in the battlefield. On the other hand, Grover Underwood and Tyson are physically impaired. Grover is “crippled . . . he had some kind of muscular disease in his legs” (Lightning Thief 3). Similarly, Tyson has “One eye. One large, calf-brown eye, right in the middle of his forehead”(Sea of Monsters 43).Though Percy, Annabeth, Thalia and other campers of Camp Half-Bloods are demigods like Hercules, apparently they do not have the strength of the traditional heroes. Riordan depicts a Marxist utopia showing how the proletariat can make this world peaceful despite being oppressed. The teenage half-bloods are less powerful than gods and have physical or mental disorders. In spite of that they take part in dangerous and adventurous quests for the betterment of humanity. In Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief,although Percy is innocent, he undertakes the responsibility of returning Zeus’ missing bolt. He doesso not because of his father Poseidon, but for humanity, to stop a war between two gods, which would eventually destroy life as we know it. Even when he is almost successful in saving his loving mother, imprisoned by Hades in the underworld, he considers his friends’ lives more important than his mother’s. In Percy’s words, I turned and faced my mother. I desperately wanted to sacrifice myself and use the last pearl on her, but I knew what she would say. She would never allow it. I had to get the bolt back to Olympus and tell Zeus the truth. I had to stop the war. She would never forgive me if I saved her instead (Lighting Thief 317). 8
Similarly, in the second book of the series,Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters,Percy goes to save his friend Grover and other campers of Camp Half-Blood by bringing the Golden Fleece.Though the quest is assigned to Clarisse, he intervenes only for Grover’s sake as Grover is Percy’s best friend and protector. And finally when he successfully completes the quest, he gives the credit to Clarisse. In Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy rescues not only his friend Annabeth but also Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and wilderness, by taking the burden of holding up the sky from her. Percy also saves Mount Olympus by rescuing Ophiotaurus, the monster that could destroy the gods’ abode, and sends it to Olympus for the gods’ decision. However, the ungrateful gods hardly acknowledge the favour that the heroes do for them and sit together in a meeting to decide whether they will kill Percy and Thalia along with Ophiotaurus. This action is typical of the bourgeoisie. Only Artemis votes for the heroes, saying, “If we destroy heroes who do us a great favour, then we are no better than the Titans. If this is Olympian justice, I will have none of it”(Titan’s Curse273). In the next sequel Percy Jackson and the battle of the Labyrinth Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Tyson descend into the labyrinth and search for Daedalus to find a way to stop Kronos’ evil forces from invading the borders of Camp Half-Blood.In the last book of the series, Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian, Percy leads his friends in a last stand to protect Mount Olympus and the rest of the world. Finally, when he succeeds, Zeus offers him the gift of immortality but Percy refuses this extraordinary gift with dignity. Rather he demands, “From now on, I want you to properly recognize the children of the gods” (Last Olympian332). Thus he proves that humans are self-sacrificing and considerate for others’ well-being. This humane quality makes humanity win over divinity. The godsgrant Percy’s wish and admit that it was unwise to ignore their children, it was “a strategic weakness in this war” (333).
In this pentalogy Riordan gives a voice to Grover, a half-goat, to criticize human beings for environment pollution. Pointing “at all the garbage on the ground” looking at the polluted sky Grover says, “Your species is clogging up the world so fast . . . ah, never mind, it’s useless to lecture a human” (Lightning Thief189). Thus, Riordan depicts a utopia where everyone has a voice. Grover is determined to find Pan, the god of wild places, who disappeared two thousand years ago. It seems Grover is not only the protector of Percy but also a self-ordained protector of Nature. In this regard, Sanders’ comment is of much importance, as he says, “no matter how much the land has been neglected or abused, no matter how ignorant of their environment people have become, nature is the medium in which life transpires, a prime source of values and meaning and purpose” (191). This is how Riordan’s physically or mentally impaired characters are shown as real heroes, in contrast to the traditional ones, who take the responsibility to uphold humanity. However, all the half-bloods are not compassionate like Percy and Annabeth. Luke, son of Hermes, takes the indifference and cruelty of the gods towards their children severely and feels the urge to retaliate against them. He decides to take revenge and in order to serve his purpose he helps Kronos revive.Kronos possesses Luke and turns Luke invincible. At one point when Luke attempts to kill Annabeth, shecroaks, “family Luke. You promised”(Last Olympian314).Luke met Annabeth when she was only seven years old and adopted her as his little sister. The word“family” reminds Luke of his promise to remain as brother to Annabeth and he comes to sense. He then sacrifices his life to kill Kronos. This incident reaffirms that good always wins over evil. As this pentalogy is primarily written for children, conveying this idea was a priority for Riordan. Moreover, it is also a universal message that ruling classes need to be aware of the consequences of long-time oppression. 10
V Mythology is multi-functional. There are multiple ways to consider mythology as representative of a culture. Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski proposes the “Charter myth” as a way to represent culture and opines that “myths tended to advance the agendas of the story-tellers and of the people in power” (Classical Mythology/Charter Myths). As a story-teller, Riordan uses Greek mythology in Percy Jackson and the Olympians to propagate his agenda of a Marxist utopia, not the Elitist agenda of the people in power. “From a Marxist perspective, artistic works frequently present fugitive, alternative and counterhegemonic images sometimes suggesting liberatory possibilities and lending them a socially critical undertone” (Leitch 14). Therefore, Riordan alters the traditional notion of mythology, by negating the power of the ruling class, and uses mythology to deliver his message of creating heaven on earth where everyone is treated equally. Riordan reincarnates Greek mythology successfully and highlights the relevance of mythology in the 21st century. The protagonist, Percy is a demigod and as such he possesses the attributes of both gods and human beings. However, Percy is a “hero” because of his humane aspects, not because of his godly power. Through Percy, Riordan shows how humanity exceeds divinity. Riordan’s attitude is reflected through Chiron, the Centaur and trainer of the halfbloods, in Sea of Monsters; “Humans don’t exist on the same level as the immortals. They can’t even be hurt by our weapons. But you, Percy-- you are part god, part human. You live in both worlds. You can be harmed by both and you can affect both. That’s what makes heroes so special. You carry the hopes of humanity into the realm of the eternal. Monsters never die. They are reborn from the
chaos and barbarism that is always bubbling underneath civilization, the very stuff that makes Kronos stronger. They must be defeated again and again, kept at bay. Heroes embody that struggle. You fight the battle humanity must win, every generation, in order to stay human” (240). Thus, Riordan not only tells exciting stories, which rework Greek myth, but also tells his young readers that the differently abled can make a difference. He reminds them that every generation must defeat the forces of evil, whether they comein the shape of immortals or of modern capitalists.
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Glotfelty& Harold Formm: The University of Georgia Press, 1996. Print.