Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Percy bleg

No, not that Percy.

A friend asked me if I knew anything about the appropriateness of The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, for her nine-year-old. I haven't read any of the Percy Jackson books, so I appeal to all you gentle readers for advice and reviews. I went searching for a review from my most reliable review source for children's books, Meghan Cox Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal, but I couldn't find anything relating to the first book in the series. Amazon reviewers mention that the book is derivative and sometimes poorly written, though they're split on whether that's a plus or a minus. But why go to Amazon when I have you all? Lay it down for me. My friend will thank you.


Lauren said...

I've read them all. I think they're fun, but they do not have Judeo-Christian ethics. I don't mind characters in children's books not being models of virtue, especially books for the tween + crowd. However, I like stories that point out those faults as faults. The books introduce Greek myths in a fun way. Although it feels pretty forced much of the time. I would recommend them for teens that are pretty clear on ethical monotheism and ready for alternative views. The gods in the stories have all the faults you've read about before: sleeping around, smiting with abandon, selfish injustices etc. There aren't any reliable ethical authority figures. If your kids aren't ready for that, then I'd say no.

Anne B. said...

My sister has a blog that reviews children's and YA literature. Here's the link to her review:

love2learnmom said...

It really depends on the 9 year old. Generally I would consider them more appropriate for the 12 and up category (younger siblings are always harder to gauge, I think). Our family has enjoyed them on the whole - the concept on the whole is funny and entertaining. Definitely better to read as a family and talk about and then dive into D'Aulaire's Greek Myths over and over, than give to a really young child on their own.

Don't bother with the movie (!!!) - especially for a nine year old! The books can be tricky morally speaking because plot lines sometimes reflect whatever mythological stories they're tying in at the time rather than what parents might hope for (or even reasonably expect) on a moral level. This leads to a few events that might be quite shocking for those not familiar with the particular myths. But on the whole, I found most of these "excusable" with the understanding of the mythological tie-ins.

There was one piece in the last book, concerning a child who learns that she's an oracle, that I could have done without, but it wasn't enough for us to dump the books.

The teens in our Latin Club also enjoyed passing these books around for fun, but actually found them helpful in keeping track of some of the major myths that weren't previously "sticking".

Marie said...

I find them a little problematic, they aren't positively healthy for kids but I wouldn't say they are actively degrading to them. Mostly they just take for granted certain attitudes -- e.g. families naturally split up, kids naturally smart off, etc. -- that I try to teach my kid aren't invitabilities but the consequences of societal and individual choices. The world view is actually a fair approximation of a pagan one, really. The hardest part is that I don't like them so I can't keep ahead and preview for my young reader, so I have to count on her to fill me in when the books seem to be drifting into bad territory (teen crush area, it seems). And since it's a series and there are other series's, good readers will want to keep reading and the books become more touchy as the series goes on.

rhinemouse said...

Life is full of coincidences! I just finished reading them. Personally, I enjoyed them, though yes, they are derivative and not hugely well-written. (Though the sequel series is shaping up to be a bit better, I think...) The author is pretty good at working in a lot of mythological references, including some of the less common ones. (Like Hephaestus trapping Ares and Aphrodite in the golden net.)

Mostly the thing is that they're pagan. So the Greek gods have fifty bajillion illegitimate children, and people generally accept this as just the ways things are (though it is presented as an imperfect situation that causes a lot of pain). Etc.

One of the later books has a plot-thread about how the god Pan is dying, and he gives this inspirational speech to a satyr about how the satyrs have to take charge of their lives and not wait for him to save them and they shall keep his spirit alive in their hearts. Which is not only unutterably cheesy, but also has unpleasant subtext if you take it as applying to religions that don't involve petty Greek gods. Though I'm not sure that you have to.

Also, the last book involves a confrontation with somebody Possessed By Evil, and the solution doesn't really line up with Catholic morality, IMHO. (Though at least it's less pro-suicide than Harry Potter!)

For my money, the most problematic part of the books is at the end of The Lightning Thief, which goes like this:

PERCY: I am back from my adventure with the gorgon's head. Should I use it to turn my evil stepfather to stone? No, because I have been to the underworld and I don't want to kill someone in cold blood, even if he's awful.
PERCY'S MOM: Okay, I'll do it. And then sell the statue to fund my college expenses.

...seriously, WHAT?

MrsDarwin said...

Rhinemouse, it sounds like something that would be a lot more entertaining if the Bunnies did it in thirty seconds.

Thanks, all, for being so quick to respond and so helpful!

love2learnmom said...

Yeah, the Gorgon's head thing is what I was thinking of in terms of not making sense at all except as an excuse to put another piece of mythology in. I wasn't familiar with that particular story from mythology, but my college-age daughter was and pointed it out to us.

Enbrethiliel said...


When I read the first Percy Jackson book, my bloodthirsty side was very gratified at how clear the story is that parents who don't hang around to be parents leave a lot of misery in their wake . . . yes, even if they are also gods.

The best possible cathartic ending would have had Percy turning his actual father into stone, but I guess the stepfather had to do. As someone who had a stepfather who had no idea he was setting himself up to be a scapegoat (to pay for the sins of my real father), I say it's at least as psychologically accurate as anything you'd find in Grimm's faerie tales.

Now when do we get a post about Perry the Platypus?

rhinemouse said...

Enbrethiliel: I love Grimm and I'm pretty bloodthirsty myself, so I probably would have been okay with the stepfather's fate if Percy's decision not to use the head hadn't been so explicitly cast as a moral choice.

(When I went back to look at the ending again, I noticed that Percy tells his mother he's leaving her the head "in case he threatens you," so maybe we're meant to take it as a self-defense action--but the stepfather's been characterized as such a buffoon previously that it's hard to imagine him presenting a real threat.)

But yes, I do love that the gods are clearly *messed-up*.

MrsDarwin: Speaking of bunnies, the sequel series brings in ROMANS! who haruspicate with stuffed animals. It's awesome.

(I'm kind of in love with the sequel series. I can't help it. ROMANS!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! My nine year old is the one who wants to read it and she knows the difference between Pagan and Christian morals. I guess I feel the same way about Percy Jackson as I do chicken Mcnuggets. What if all she wants to read is fluff after reading it? I am also anticipating the how do gods have children with mortals question from a child who still believes in Santa but reads voraciously.

Enbrethiliel said...


I just realised my question about Perry the Platypus makes no sense.

It was really late at night when I first read this post, and "Percy" became mixed up with "Perry" in my mind until they both had the same name.

JMB said...

Thanks everyone too! My 12 year old daughter is currently reading them, in fact she just downloaded the latest one to her nook. When she was telling us about the plot line, my mom suggested that she should read Nathanial Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales instead!

nicole said...

You've now had quite a few answers. I enjoyed them, I'll let my middle school aged kids read them when they get there. I think a lot of books are fine for our kids if we are reading with them and pointing out areas of concern and talking about them. And since I've got a 3rd grader reading at an 8th grade level I'll be reading a lot of youth fiction in the future it seems.

Gail F said...

I only read the first one and I thought they were not interesting or well-written enough to continue reading. My son read the first two and petered out. The gorgon's head part bothered me too. I was more bothered by the mother marrying a smelly, disgusting man who mistreated her so that she could protect her son. I thought that was a) disgusting, and b) too much like what some misguided women really do. But I think that all went over my son's head. I would recommend it for the average kid 12 and up, but I read voraciously as a child and probably would have gone for it at 10.

Also, as a parent of a kid with ADHD, I appreciated the author trying to make it something that would actually HELP Percy, but sadly ADHD does not make it easier to react to things more quickly, just as (I imagine) dyslexia does not make it easier to read from right to left. That seemed like something a person who didn't know anything about ADHD or dyslexia would make up.

Enbrethiliel said...


I read Tanglewood Tales as a child but wouldn't recommend them now because the myths were so cleaned up. Hades being a lonely old man who just wanted a little child too cheer him up at home? Yeah, and King David and Bathsheba were just really good friends caught up in maelstrom of gossip. But if this is what I think, then you know why I love the messiness of Percy Jackson. =P