‘So why is it that I’ve been reluctant to hand over to my young Riordan aficionado the review copy I received of the author’s other recent publication, “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods”? Lavishly illustrated on heavy, glossy paper, this is Riordan’s answer to the D’Aulaires’ celebrated volume. It is the same size as that familiar book, with its cover even drawing from the same color palette of yellows and blues. Inside, it contains the old stories, as retold in the voice of Percy Jackson himself: “A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, ‘Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again. ’ ”
Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, European immigrants to the United States who co-authored many books after their marriage in 1925, retold the myths in a heightened, poetic language: “In olden times, when men still worshiped ugly idols, there lived in the land of Greece a folk of shepherds and herdsmen who cherished light and beauty,” their book begins. Riordan’s book strikes a very different tone. It is inscribed with obsolescence (Craigslist, iPhones, and the Powerball lottery are invoked) and delivered in the kind of jaded teen argot that proves irresistibly cool to kids from grade school up: “At first, Kronos wasn’t so bad. He had to work his way up to being a complete slime bucket.” While the D’Aulaires wrote that “Persephone grew up on Olympus and her gay laughter rang through the brilliant halls,” Percy’s introduction to the story of Demeter’s daughter reads, “I have to be honest. I never understood what made Persephone such a big deal. I mean, for a girl who almost destroyed the universe, she seems kind of meh.” The former book, which was published fifty-two years ago, remains mostly lucid, even if in places it is stilted and dated. But I suspect it would be a very discerning elementary or middle-school student—or a willfully perverse one—who would chose the old version over the Percy Jackson retelling. Put the books side by side, and the D’Aulaires look more like the Dull’Aires, as Percy and his demigod pals might put it. (Wow—this affect is contagious.)
Gaiman’s view that any book that is avidly embraced can serve as a gateway to an enduring love of reading is surely true: my own earliest literary love affair was with Enid Blyton, that mid-century spinner of mysteries and boarding-school stories, who is among the authors Gaiman lists as having been deemed bad for children. But the metaphor of the gateway should prompt caution, too, since one can go through a gate in two directions. What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same? There’s a myth that could serve as an illustration here. I’m sure my son can remind me which one.’ – Rebecca Mead. Read the rest here.
We do wonder how many American Gods and Percy Jackson fans have actually read the classical myth-lit such books pay homage to.
We also wonder where Percy Jackson got the idea to remain anonymous (cough, cough).
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