Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Percy Jackson and the Mythic Origins - Lucy Coats

His name is on every child's lips these days. 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!

Lucy's website is at http://www.lucycoats.com/
Lucy's blog is at http://www.scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com/
Lucy's Facebook Fanpage is at http://tinyurl.com/lucycoatsfacebook
Lucy's Twitter page is at http://www.twitter.com/lucycoats

22 comments:

bookwitch said...

Ah, it's make fun of my German fans time!

But can you tell me whether it's worth my while to read further than halfway through book one? (Percy, I mean.) I felt the writing was very uneven, and a fun chapter was followed by lots of boring ones.

madwippitt said...

Ha! I'm a satyr! Thank you for the fun time waster!
I think Percy Jackson is worth ten (at least) of HP ... much more fun.
And it's lovely to revisit the greek myths remembered from childhood - nothing wrong with them, great stories for children and an introduction to the fact that life is frequently grossly unfair, the meek do not always inherit the earth, that justice is rough more often than not, and the good aren't always rewarded.

Linda Strachan said...

It tells me I'm a child of Medusa.... fun!

I love the Greek Myths but I recall the challenge of finding 6 to retell for primary school readers in my Trojan Horse and other Greek Myths.
I find that when I use it as a starting point in schools the children are fascinated. Hate to think they might grow up imagining that a Trojan horse is just a computer virus with no idea where the reference comes from.


http://writingthebookwords.blogspot.com/

Lucy Coats said...

Bookwitch--I can't believe you were so restrained that you didn't click on the link to find out which god you are related to! You are a Woman of Steel. As to reading Percy--it is true you do have to persevere a bit. I wasn't too keen on the quality of the writing, but put up with it to get at the story, which I truly loved. Percy does grow continually as a character throughout the series of books--I think you should give him another chance, perhaps. But everyone's taste is different.

madwippitt--I'm not sure I agree that Percy is worth 10 of HP--but he's certainly up there. And you are quite right--it is important for kids to learn those life lessons. Nothing is perfect--not even on Olympus!

Linda--Just my point. Even the internet uses mythic references like Trojan--even if it is a worm or virus, and not a horse. If you know that original horse story, you see immediately why the worm is so named. You won't die if you DON'T know, of course, but it's very satisfying (to me at least) to be able to make that link. However, I am a sad mythological nerd.

Book Maven said...

Then let's be sad mythological nerds together!

I like the Norse and Celtic even more than the Greeks but couldn't manage without any of them.

Ms. Yingling said...

As a former Latin teacher, I was thrilled when The Lightning Thief came out. Have you seen Paul Shipton's The Pig Scrolls? It is fun as well. I wish there were concentration on Classics somewhere in the world, and if it's lacking in the UK-- well, there's just no hope!

adele said...

Can't wait for your Greek myths, Lucy! I love writing about/ around them myself! Will now go across and see what god I'm the child of. Watch this space....

adele said...

It seems I'm the child of GROVER the satyr...half man, half goat. Don't knock it till you've tried it! It's not nearly as bad as it seems. I'm loyal and a good friend. I'm happy with that.

Lucy Coats said...

Mary--I will be a mythological nerd with you anytime.

Ms Yingling--I will look out for the Pig Scrolls, thank you. And I think it's always going to be a fight to get a really proper concentration on Classics. All we can do is keep on fighting the good fight.

Adele--I LOVE Grover. But am a little worried that all my friends are either Medusa or Satyr children. Is NOBODY else saddled with Hades as a dad?! I'll try and get the myths out to you soon.

Gillian Philip said...

Nope, I'm a child of Medusa, Lucy - you're still the only daughter of Hades!

Lovely post, and quite right about telling the Greek myths to children. I loved them from the word go, when I was barely more than a twinkle in the snake-haired goddess's eye.

Lucy Coats said...

Does that make me a HellGoddess? Oh no, wait, that's Robin McKinley's title. I'd better not claim it. Perhaps a Hellgoddesslet? I'm feeling very alone, stuck down here in the Underworld with dad and that moany Persephone. Can you send me some emergency pomegranate seeds, please?

Penny Dolan said...

Love things mythical but can't help being a bit alarmed by your description, Lucy, ie "As to reading Percy--it is true you do have to persevere a bit. I wasn't too keen on the quality of the writing, but put up with it to get at the story, which I truly loved."

So it's not just Percy who has to do some heroic persevering?

Thought the persevering word was usually used for reading more difficult books? Sorry, probably in a grouchy mood today as there's been demolition hammers going on all day next door. Probably vengeance by one of the gods in modern form.

Katherine Roberts said...

Ha, what fun! I'm one of Adele's sisters - a child of Grover the satyr. Brilliant post Lucy, thank you.

I can see I'm going to have to get hold of some Percy Jackson, since apparently after reading these books kids in the US are turning to titles like "I am the Great Horse"... and Rick Riordan toured Malta just before me, which is place that appreciates such myths... Hope they invite you next, Lucy!

Book Maven said...

I am a child of Hades, Lucy!

Katherine Roberts said...
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Katherine Roberts said...
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Lucy Coats said...

Penny--sounds more like Mjollnir (Thor's Hammer) at work than the Olympians. Nothing worse than demolition next door--I would be grouchy too. As to the persevering (maybe I should have said plugging away!)--I think the first book is possibly the weakest writing wise, but, as I said, they do get better, and the story itself is inspired and creative and it's worth reading for that alone. Perhaps my problem was that it was a while since I'd read that kind of American teen fiction, and it took me a while to atune my ear to the language again.

Katherine--I wish someone WOULD invite me to Malta!

Mary--thank goodness for another Hades girl. We can be demigoddesses and mythnerds and eat pomegranates together. I always knew you were a sister!

hampshireflyer said...

Eek, I'm a daughter of Hades too! Although it sounds as if I have the consolation of being in good company.

I absolutely can't imagine growing up without knowing the Greek myths (and the Norse ones, and Arthur...) - although most of it must have come from my dad, now I think about it. I'm not sure whether we did anything about them at all at primary school - the nearest might have been a Roman Britain-themed Christmas play where a god ambiguously turned up at the end....

Stroppy Author said...

Lovely post, Lucy - thank you. I quite agree about telling Greek (and other) myths to children. So much of western culture is a closed book to them if they don't know at least the basics of Greek mythology (and Biblical mythology). Hurray for retellings!

Miriam Halahmy said...

Great post Lucy and I quite agree, kids love the myths, they are such wonderful stories and kids will always be hungry for good stories. So bring it on!

John Dougherty said...

Just found this post, Lucy, after being away for a couple of days visiting schools and talking about my books - including Zeus on the Loose and Zeus to the Rescue. I've always loved the Greek Myths - Odysseus was, I think, my first hero - and completely agree that they can be told age-appropriately. Just ask Roger Lancelyn Green.

And apparently I'm a child of Hades as well. I'd rather be a child of Athene, but them's the breaks.

John Dougherty said...

Oh, and meant to say - I really like Percy Jackson, both the idea and the realisation. Wish I'd thought of it first!