Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse – Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena – Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.
So I remember when the Percy Jackson series first came out. Some of my friends devoured it, others did not, questioning why Christians should read a book that distinctly claims the existence of other gods. This is a fair question, and I will touch on it later. Anyway, years after they were popular, I finally read them, and they were amazing. Here’s why:
- I personally connected with Rick Riordan’s sass and sarcasm. It was great. This book had me laughing out loud so much my family kept giving me looks.
- His characterization was on point. He aced his use of stereotypes (the whole godly parent thing helped with that), he made each one quirky and lovable in their own way, and unlike any other characters I had read about before.
- Annabeth and Percy’s relationship is adorable. I’ve always loved the “start as best friends” relationship plot, but they are so sassy with each other and not at all sappy, but still totally sweet. It was very well done.
- It was such a fun, easy way to learn about Greek culture. I can now have a relatively educated conversation about Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hephaestus, Apollo, etc. For example, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are considered “the big three” ruling the sky, water, and underworld respectively. Hera is the goddess of motherhood and family, Apollo is the god of the sun, healing, music, you get the idea. It would make a phenomenal companion series to read while studying ancient history.
Ok, so back to the original question. Why should Christians read a book that distinctly acknowledges the existence of other gods? The answer is this: worldview. You definitely see the Greek worldview in these books, particularly in reference to the gods. They are just as messed up as humans (if not more), and oftentimes aren’t respected because of it (which is obviously completely opposite of Christianity). All of the demi-gods are born out of wedlock (because gods can’t actually marry a human) which we see a ton in Greek mythology. Lastly, while in general the characters follow Judeo-Christian morals, there is no particular moral backing their decision other than it is the right thing to do.
So I’m sure after that, you are really questioning why read it. But here’s why – western civilization is built on Greek culture. Greece was one of the strongest civilizations in history, and understanding what these books tell us about their worldviews gives us some insight on why they eventually fell. When gods are immoral, it gives no reason for humans to be moral, and a distinctly immoral society is doomed. Societies that have a broken family unit are also doomed. It can spark an interesting conversation. The other side of this is that even though Greece fell almost two thousand years ago, it still has a strong presence in our culture today. Hermes’ staff is often seen (albeit mistakenly) as a symbol of medicine. The Olympics are an obvious one. In the sequel series, Heroes of Olympus, we meet Nike, the goddess of victory. Oedipus Rex, a popular Greek play has resulted in the word oedipal. This one is less confirmed, but Siri spelled backwards is Iris, the messenger of the gods (fun fact). Understanding the Greek culture is such a valuable thing in Western society, and these books are a fun easy way to do so. If you are nervous about letting your child read them, sit down and have a conversation with them and process all of this. Ask them about how each character went wrong and why. In my experience, I have learned just as much if not more from the books and worldviews that differ from my own and thinking about these things than from reading books that share what I already know.
* On a side note, the movies are horrible and do not count as a substitute.
** On another side note, the books are 100% clean. Even the edgier topics that might pop up when talking about Greece and its culture are gracefully danced over, so there is nothing risque or inappropriate.
Thoughts, comments, questions? Leave a comment below. If you can’t already tell, I love talking about the Percy Jackson books and would love to talk to you about them!