Percy Jackson and The Olympians (The Lightning Thief) is the latest blockbuster film-from-book from the director of the first Harry Potter movie--and he's everywhere from Nintendo DS to an app for the iPhone. I first met Percy--half boy, half god, all hero--some years ago in my favourite New York bookstore, Books of Wonder (on West 18th Street, and a must-visit if you are a children's book-lover in the Big Apple). He was quite famous then, but not nearly so famous as he is now. In the first of Rick Riordan's books, Percy is having a few problems in school, not the least of which is that he accidentally vapourises his maths teacher. Things go rapidly downhill from there, as Percy discovers that not only is he the son of Poseidon--but also that Zeus is after him for a crime he hasn't committed.
I just love the idea of moving the Olympian deities to 21st century America (as much as I loved the idea of them in North London in Marie Phillips' excellent novel 'Gods Behaving Badly'). And anything which gets children interested in Greek mythology is okay in my eyes. I've banged on about this at length on the comments page of the Bookwitch's excellent blog, where someone suggested that it was wrong to tell these stories for children, and says that 'They are beautiful, but crammed with murdering, inzest (sic), sexual crimes and worst. These things you cannot be explained to young children, specialy when the hero is doing such deeds.' Needless to say, I disagree with this point of view quite vehemently. There are, of course, many kids out there who won't have a clue who Poseidon or Zeus or any of the rest of them might be simply because they haven't been taught or had access to any of Percy's mythic origins. That is a very sad state of affairs to me, and one I hope to help remedy with my own stories. But to say that those 'mythic origins' cannot be explained to young children at all is just plain wrong. It is perfectly possible to tell those ancient tales in an age-appropriate way--keeping the heart and spirit of the myth while skating gracefully around the more inappropriate bits. I should know. I've done it.
I've been involved in a passionate (but platonic) love affair with the Greek myths for as long as I can remember. Charles Kingsley's 'The Heroes' was my first mythological experience (my grandfather's tattered red-and-gold bound copy), and then I dived headfirst into the Iliad and Odyssey courtesy of Padraic Colum's magnificent retelling (illustrations by Willy Pogany). The Olympians have been part of my world ever since. I studied them at school, and delved further at university, and when I was first given the chance of retelling 100 of their stories by Orion (what more suitably-named publisher for this could there be?), I jumped at it. It has been and is my privilege and pleasure to be able to introduce a whole new generation of children to these wonderful tales in language suitable for the 21st century. Even in our modern, hi-tech lives there are a plethora of words and phrases with back references to these most ancient of tales. An ignorance of the basics of myth will keep them forever locked, dark and impenetrable and beyond understanding
Of course, one movie (even a blockbuster) won't solve the shortfalls concerning teaching of the Classics in our educational system (though here I have to say that many many British teachers do a wonderful and first class job of enthusing their pupils within the bounds of KS 1 and 2 myths). However, I hope that the Percy Jackson film will inspire at least some of those many kids who have missed out to go and find out more about the mythic origins of these all-powerful beings with weird names. For starters they can find a hundred adventures featuring them in my twelve small books (published in fours by Orion in February, May and August 2010). An exciting serving of Greek Beasts and Heroes, with added side-order of travelling storyteller, anyone?
PS: If you'd like to waste some time and find out whether YOU are a demigod like Percy, CLICK HERE. They tell me I'm related to Hades. Go figure!
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