By Hira Imran
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan is often overlooked. But when your primary competitor is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, aka the best-selling series of all time, is there really anyone to blame? Most middle-grade readers had their sights set exclusively on the Harry Potter series in the early 2000s. Still, there were always a few others encouraging a try at Percy Jackson. I am guilty of being part of the former crowd and never even thought to avert my gaze even momentarily. Since the adoration for the Percy Jackson series persists in the book community 15 years after the novel’s release, I decided to take a peek into the world I missed out on as a child.
After finishing the first book, The Lightning Thief, my first thought was how it’s no wonder the film adaptations flopped. The awe of these books is deeply rooted in Rick Riordan’s uncanny ability to depict 12-year-old Percy realistically with his humor, friendships, and internal struggles. They are all incredibly believable. Even during the most intense battle scenes, Percy is written
to always act his age.
Riordan clearly understands his demographic. The way he can convey Percy’s reality while submerged in a mythological world quite literally feels like art. When the film adaptations made Percy a 16-year-old, they threw out the most lovable and impressive series aspect.
Writing Percy as a 12-year-old also aids the story itself, which is centered around Greek myth. Most readers probably know just as much about Greek mythology as Percy does, which isn’t a whole lot. Riordan creates perfectly succinct descriptions of lore for the reader through Percy’s status as a student. He doesn’t do the best in school. Still, he’s intuitive and intelligent. This helps us feel like the complex information is never dumbed down while still being easily digestible. Riordan clearly trusts his readers’ cognitive and emotional intelligence.
Another critical choice Riordan made was his decision to write his normal, flawed, and utterly relatable protagonist in the first person. Percy indulges in his volatile emotions as they happen in real-time and often speaks directly to the reader. Contrasting this would be someone like
Harry Potter. He is narrated to us in the third person and therefore lacks the closeness we have with Percy. The first-person perspective allows a deeper connection and a better understanding of what fuels Percy’s motives. Percy and Harry both exist in magical worlds full of mythical creatures, monsters, and mayhem. Percy tackles his obstacles with practical applications from his history class in his everyday life to excel in the magical one. There is no savior complex or obsession with being prophesied as the “chosen one.”
Even though the books are intended for a younger audience, it’s no wonder the series has amassed such a diverse and dedicated following that persists after all these years. Riordan makes writing feel like art again.