I recently started reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I was kind of aware of these books, but only barely, and it wasn’t until I was poking around Amazon for tridents and had it vomit up a lot of Percy Jackson stuff that I had any clue that Poseidon is a significant force. Being that I didn’t even know what the books were about, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I had no clue how much some of my co-religionists hate them. As it happens, I don’t hate them, but what’s worth exploring is why. I’ll start with the problems noted in that Tumblr post I just linked.
- Rick Riordan misrepresents the myths and/or the gods. One word here: Homer. You can’t tell me that the way he depicted the gods, particularly in the Odyssey, didn’t tick a few people off. I don’t know if Homer believed in the gods, but he certainly wasn’t afraid to cast them in a bad light, and frequently. My gods are stronger than the ones Homer depicted, and the ones Riordan depicted, in part because they understand that any press is good press. Get people thinking about the gods, and some of those people are going to start worshipping the gods. If Homer didn’t cross the line of hubris, Riordan probably hasn’t either. (Although, if Homer really was blind, perhaps that wasn’t an accident, hmm?) Myths are stories from a long time ago. Stories = fiction, fiction = made up, made up= not true, not true = I’m not expecting them to reflect my personal experience with my deities. I get why some of the depictions inspire rage, but my gods are stronger than fiction.
- These stories are damaging to people with dyslexia and ADHD. I have neither, so I can only express a personal opinion here: the author is positing that those with divine blood have these conditions, not that those with these conditions have divine blood. I can’t say if that depiction was insensitive, or ignorant, or hamhanded, because for some reason I can’t find the links the original poster embedded.
- The author doesn’t believe in these gods. Um . . . so what? The gods do not require our belief, and can use someone to their own ends whether or not they have belief. If the theoi restricted their work to only those few of us who actively honor and praise them, well, it would be a pretty small field. Perhaps they wanted to plant the idea in thousands of young kids that the Greek gods are real, knowing that some portion of Riordan’s readership would begin sneaking offerings off of their plates to those gods. The gods are stronger than fiction, and know how to use it, and its authors. I think that’s awesome. It reinforces my belief, my awe, my love. It’s much more clever and subtle than any mortal mind could have orchestrated. It’s brilliant in that vaporize-me-if-I-look-too-close kind of way.
Remember what happened to the Panchem Lama? After the Dalai Lama declared his next incarnation, the poor tyke and his family disappeared, and the Chinese government declared another boy to be the next Panchen lama instead. It’s an obvious attempt to stifle Tibetan resistance by controlling its religion, rear a child that is a mouthpiece for Chinese control. But what if the Chinese, much to their chagrin, actually have the true Panchen lama on their hands? Isn’t that what an enlightened being might do? Might it not screw up Chinese designs a bit if their fake turned out to be the real thing? It could happen that way, because the gods are stronger than fiction, even fiction manufactured by the state.
I was relatively comfortable in my ill-defined Paganism, which included a ritual every year or so if I was with people, but no obligations, no offerings, no calendar, no nothing. I was also quite content in my decision to watch the series Xena: Warrior Princess from start to finish, knowing how wrong they got the myths and how annoying the characters (mortal and immortal alike) are in that show. My took me out of my comfort zone was an encounter with Ares while I was watching: the god Ares, not the leather-bound sex symbol who portrayed him. It led me to seek a teacher in Hellenismos, to learn about ancient and modern practices, and to honor the theoi on a daily basis. If the gods could use a dog of a show like Xena to get to me and transform my life, how much more can they do with a series like Percy Jackson?
Mark my words, many of tomorrow’s Hellenists will be born of these books. It doesn’t matter what they “got wrong,” what matters is that minds are opening. The gods are stronger than fiction, and they know how to use it to their own ends. Hail the gods!