Perseus, et al.

Today I read my daughter two chapters from Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. She wanted me to read her a lot more (we’re at chapter 17 now). My kid is 7. She loves this book. To be honest, I’m having a grand old time with it myself.

For those of you who are miraculously unaware of this Percy Jackson I speak of: he is the creation of Rick Riordan (last name pronounced rye-er-dan, sort of; it rhymes with “fireman”, as per his website), whose site contains a wealth of educational resources and background materials in addition to the usual info on the books and the author.

Percy, by the way, is the son of Greek god Poseidon and a human mother and must learn to come to terms with his origins and the dangers and responsibilities they bring.

Ah, those Greek gods: always misbehaving. As you might have guessed, Percy isn’t my first encounter with the Greek pantheon. My fondness of the gods, heroes, and their adventures and exploits actually dates back to when I was quite little. One day, my father brought me a book of Greek myths as retold by Gustav Schwab (in a Dutch translation). Initially, my parents would read them to me, then I began reading them myself. In fact, I read that book so often that it has literally fallen apart. Oh, it’s still there, tattered and torn and held together by endless amounts of scotch tape but it’s not much to look at these days.

Then when I was seven my sister, who is seven years older than I am, had to learn the Greek alphabet (she went to a school where one of the required subjects was classical Greek; I would later attend the same school) and I helped her study. By the end of the study session we both knew the Greek alphabet, and I knew that I wanted to go to that school, because I imagined they could teach me the language those myths were originally written in so that I could read them in their original iterations. Didn’t quite work out that way (as it turned out, I wasn’t great at ancient Greek until I got some help from a wonderful tutor who, incidentally, had been my sister’s teacher years before; once I got it, though, I ran with it!), but still, I appreciate my classical education.

Then, when I was in my teens, one of the Dutch public broadcasting channels aired Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller: Greek Myths” and I got a fresh helping of my favourite stories. Unfortunately, only four myths were ever filmed.

To make a long story short (too late!), I have a long-standing love-affair with the Greek myths, which I seem to have passed on to my daughter. I had already read her a few of them from this book before we discovered Rick Riordan’s books, so she’d had a decent introduction to Percy Jackson’s extended family before she discovered the stories.

From the way she can’t get enough of Percy’s adventures, I can only deduce that her love of the adventures of the gods and heroes is in no way second to mine. I hope it lasts and that she will enjoy these tales in all their versions and retellings for years to come the way I’m enjoying Mr Riordan’s books right now. He does a great job of bringing the myths to life. I know there have been criticisms, such as that his stories are infused with undue slang, but the familiarity with which he treats the subject matter seems well in line with the treatment of the gods in the classical tradition, just updated for a new generation of readers. Of course, offending the gods would never do, but the fun of the Greek gods is that they’re so human. They make mistakes, they engage in improper behaviour, they’re just so marvellously fallible.

Once we’re done with Percy Jackson and the Olympians, we still have Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods and Percy Jackson: The Demigod Files. No, we won’t be running out of these stories for a while yet and I’m glad the gods, demigods and mythical creatures are being brought to life for a new generation of readers.

I hope Mr Riordan keeps the stories coming for a long time yet!

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