the last olympian by rick riordan

https://i0.wp.com/www.rickriordan.com/Files/Images/last-olympian.jpgI had heard the Percy Jackson series was similar to Harry Potter, so I picked it up at a book fair figuring if I liked it, my kids might too. Having finished the Percy Jackson series, I can tell you it’s not like Harry Potter.

Theology: Gods, gods everywhere

These books are Greek mythology set in contemporary times, in this case modern day NYC.

As a Christian, its difficult to know what to think about these books. There are gods all over the place – major gods, minor gods, demi gods, good gods, bad gods, a god in charge of Hades. They’re immortal but immoral, they’re powerful but not all-powerful, they’re above humans but fallible. It’s both a mix and a mess, so what’s a parent to do?

I liked the books, this one in particular was entertaining. I really enjoyed Greek mythology as a kid–I thought it was fascinating. What great epic fantasy!

Interested in the author’s take on the subject of theology? From the author’s website http://www.rickriordan.com/about-rick/an-interview-with-rick.aspx:

In Western Civilization, we’ve always had an uneasy mix between Classical mythology and Judeo-Christian values. As a culture, we tend to believe in one God, but we also grow up steeped in these wonderful old stories about the Olympians. As long as we recognize them as stories that are part of our heritage and long-since stopped being any kind of serious religion, I don’t see the harm in learning mythology. In fact, I think you have to know Greek myths to understand where our modern culture came from. It’s part of being an educated member of society.

The Lightning Thief explores Greek mythology in a modern setting, but it does so as a humorous work of fantasy. I’m certainly not interested in changing or contradicting anyone’s religious beliefs. Early in the book, the character Chiron makes a distinction between God, capital-G, the creator of the universe, and the Greek gods (lower-case g). Chiron says he doesn’t want to delve into the issue of God, but he has no qualms about discussing the Olympians because they are a “much smaller matter.” The gods of Olympus are archetypes. They are deeply embedded in and inseparable from Western thought. The book pays tribute to the legacy of Olympus as one of the roots of our culture.

The magic and fantasy in the novel are also drawn directly from Greek mythology. It’s a modern retelling of the Classical hero’s quest. My goal for the novel is to get kids interested in learning more about Greek mythology. If censors want to challenge Percy Jackson on the grounds that it portrays the Greek gods as real, they’ll have to censor a good portion of the English curriculum in every state. Greek mythology is studied extensively from grades 1-8, not to mention the Iliad and the Odyssey in the upper grades. English literature draws heavily on Greek mythology. It always has — from Chaucer all the way to modern novels. Percy Jackson is part of that tradition. I hope it makes kids want to read — that’s the most important thing!

As with any book, I would encourage parents to read Percy Jackson and decide for themselves whether it’s right for their children. That takes time, I know, but it’s the only way to make an informed decision.

The portion of the book that bothered me most is that Percy goes to Hades (again) to take a bath in the river Styx so he can become invincible. The whole Hades thing is very similar of our popular conception of hell, except there’s really no heaven to counter balance it. All souls go there. I don’t think Mount Olympus is shown as an equivalent to heaven, the gods there are too petty and its only for immortals. Troubling, but Greek.

Rating: PG

There’s a lot of violence with mortals, demi gods, monsters getting killed all over the place. It’s a war, but it’s a war told on a kids level. Just like in ancient Greek mythology, there’s also a whole bunch of adultery– the Greek gods and goddesses had relations with humans to create a fleet of demigods.

Themes:

It’s never too late to do the right thing. Teamwork. Being selfish can destroy you. Believing in the inherent good in people, second chances, friendship. Refusing to give up hope (literally) or giving in to evil. Fighting even when it looks like its a lost cause.

I think when my kids get to the part in school where they’re studying mythology, they could read this as a creative way to interact with the subject matter. Aside from that, it will stay on my bookshelf for now.

What about you? Have you read the series? What were your thoughts?

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5 thoughts on “the last olympian by rick riordan

  1. I read it and took it pretty much the way the quote from the author’s website presents it. it’s fiction, the Greek gods are myths. I don’t worry that my kids will think it’s all real. We’ve seen the movie, and we loved it. I read the first book and would let them read it without hesitation. We all know it’s just a novel/movie, and it is handled rather humorously.

    To me, sometimes parents give stories more power than they have. Refusing to let kids read books, making them sound harmful…instead of saying, “It’s just a story.” My kids think of books and movies as just stories, unless they are about things we know are real. And even then, they know it’s an interpretation.

    I agree wholeheartedly with what the author says–read the books your kids read! Talk to them, discuss the stories and the ideas behind them. Set in their minds that fiction is fiction, and while it can be used to teach lessons or present ideas, that doesn’t make it *true*.

    As for the Hades thing….think about this. If there were a “heaven” in Greek mythology, it would probably reinforce the idea that good deeds get you there. That would make it harder to look at and tell your child, “Hey, this can’t be real.” As it is, who would WANT to believe this? How depressing! Everyone goes to hell no matter what…no way.

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    1. Kat, thanks for this. You are right. I was getting caught up in the details when I should be looking at the big picture theme of the book to determine the theology. What is the take-home message of the book? And how does that jive with the Bible?

      So for this book…hmmm…I think the theme is doing the right thing, holding on to hope, no matter how bleak things look. That jives nicely with the Bible, don’t you think? The only difference is that Percy Jackson couldn’t rely on God for help because his “gods” are not God.

      Thanks for keeping me in perspective. 🙂

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  2. You’ve been on a reviewing roll today!

    I saw the movie and enjoyed it so I’ve been debating reading the books for awhile. Sounds like it goes the way I was expecting – and really follows the author’s intent of making the mythology more accessible. I hated reading Ihe Iliad in high school. It felt so stale and pagan. But I did like some of the individual stories – like the story of Icarus.

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