Monday, April 13, 2015

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods

I am hugely biased going into this book, but not in the way you might think.

As a child, I was strangely obsessed by D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Edgar and Ingri D'Aulaire.  I read it compulsively.  I checked it out so many times from the library that my parents, tired of driving back and forth, bought it for me as a present.  I'm not sure what exactly about this particular collection of myths fascinated me so much.  The D'Aulaires told the stories in a rather simple way, giving them dignity even when the gods were doing silly things like turning into turtledoves or fighting over golden apples (not even edible!  Come on, ladies!).  We're not meant to like these Greek gods, but the D'Aulaires told these myths as the Greeks might have, with a mixture of reverence and humor.  Plus, all of the illustrations were hand-drawn lithographs that were simply gorgeous.




So, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson's Greek Gods had big boots to fill.  For me, it didn't measure up.  Somehow it was both overly long and also not detailed enough.  What was so much fun about the Percy Jackson books were the rather obscure references that Riordan pulled from mythology and made a part of Percy's life.  Plus, there was Percy's snarky narration.  This fit really well with Riordan's reimagining of the Greek gods in our day: Ares as a biker dude, Poseidon as a Hawaiian chillaxin dude, etc.  Yet here, Riordan presents a more traditional telling of these tales, and Percy's voice is a bit jarring (although his constant reassurance that yes, it is totally weird that people married their brothers/sisters/aunts/cousins will probably make younger readers more comfortable) when meshed with the more traditional god stories.  This is definitely geared for the LEGIONS of Percy Jackson fans out there, although I would strongly encourage everyone to read some of the older collections of myths as well.


I have a few quibbles with this particular version of Greek tales.  One is that Riordan uses a less-common version of Hephaestus' origin story.  I'd not heard this one before, but evidently it's from Hesiod.  In this version, Hera goes for asexual reproduction, but the resulting child, Hephaestus, is not up to Hera's par of godliness, so she flings him out the window.  I'd always heard it told that he was the son of Zeus and Hera, but one day Zeus got ticked off at him (as was Zeus' natural state) and flung him off the mountain.  Personally, I think that the latter telling fits better with the overall tone of Hera and Hephaestus' relationship, although, as with any Olympian relationship, there were spats and so forth.

Another odd thing is that there's a minor regression in how Percy explains how Athena bears demigods.  As I recall (and this could be totally off, since I haven't read the original series in a few years), Annabeth explains to Percy that although Athena is a virgin goddess, she can bear children as a result of a sort of "marriage of the minds," thinking a child into existence with a human mate.  This echoes Athena's own birth, springing fully grown from Zeus' head (Worst.  Migrane.  Ever.).  However, in Greek Gods, Percy tells the story of Erikthonius, a son born of the mingling of Athena and Hephaestus' uh, godly essences on a scrap of cloth.  He then concludes, "So don't tell me Athena can't have kids, because that's the story that says otherwise.  Besides, I'm dating one of Athena's daughters, and I'm pretty sure she didn't spring from a dirty handkerchief.  Hmm, actually I've never asked her.  Nah, forget it.  I don't want to know."  Huh?

Thirdly, I didn't love John Rocco as choice of illustrator for this volume.  Mind, I love Rocco's picture books, and often use the most excellent Superhairo and the Barber of Doom in storytime.  However, I think Rocco's style is more suited to drawing kids, not gods.  The choice of illustrations isn't very illuminating or elaborate.  The most intricate piece is the cover.

All in all, this is great for Percy Jackson fans, but not necessary if you already have a favorite retelling of Greek myths.


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