Hi friends, and happy Monday!
I’m sort of a late bloomer when it comes to reading. And, for a while, I felt left out because I hadn’t yet experienced those big, life-altering stories that were the building blocks for a lot of readers’ childhoods. Those stories that readers talk about as if they’re stuck in a daydream, feeling nostalgic for characters they met years before. And, while I am late to arrive to the train station for stories like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, I have officially arrived and am on board.
I’ve also learned a lot from books. I’ve learned plenty from the classics I was assigned to read in college, and I’ve learned even more from current books targeted towards my age group. And, I would argue that I’ve learned even more than that from books that are targeted for younger kids.
Middle grade books can be really transformative across generations and ages. While they may be directed towards readers that are closer in age and can relate more to the main characters, these stories are written honestly and realistically from the perspective of an 11- or 12-year-old. And that honesty is arguably even more poignant and necessary when you’re a quote-en-quote adult because it has the ability to take you away from the big, scary adult world and jump back into your childhood for just a few pages.
I’ve mentioned it in a few posts, but I recently read the original PJO series for the first time, and I loved absolutely every second of it. Sure, the story was captivating and enthralling; the characters easily adored and respected. I have a LOT of thoughts about these books and could talk about them for eons—but, as an “adult” I learned a lot.
And, I’m not just talking about the mythology I seemingly forgot after taking my Greek Mythology final during my freshman year of college.
Without much more rambling, let’s get into what I learned from reading Percy Jackson for the first time as a 23-year-old.
*Please note that this post will contain spoilers for the original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
There is more than one way to be brave.
I love YA books as much as the next person, so don’t get me wrong here, but the consistent characterization of the main character/hero can become pretty harmful if you let it. Almost always, the protagonist in a YA adventure story is a chosen one that immediately throws themselves into some type of battle or war. They’re fairly combative, and when they walk away with a win, they’re awarded for their bravery. But what about the heroes that stood on the sidelines? The heroes that did the research on the enemy, hiding behind pages of books? Or the heroes that crafted a new weapon for that protagonist to use to defeat the enemy? I’m not arguing that they’re usually forgotten, but they’re very rarely ever celebrated as much as the main hero. Ultimately, this consistently illustrates that to be brave, you have to be ready to physically fight.
But then you have Annabeth Chase and Rachel Elizabeth Dare. From the get go, you learn that Annabeth is more than willing to make herself useful in a physical fight (so long as she can analyze the situation first). And Annabeth, as a female fictional hero, is brave. When you meet Rachel Elizabeth Dare, she’s softer and inquisitive. She can see through the Mist and has questions about Percy’s world. Prior to her swooping into the final battle of the original series and eventually taking on the role and responsibility as the Oracle, Rachel fights her wars with her conversations with Percy, sharing her strange dreams.
It’s absolutely critical to showcase different types of bravery in fiction, and I will forever admire the fact that Rick Riordan created this incredible dynamic.
Don’t make a promise you don’t intent to keep.
Even though this lesson learned is a little more general than the previous one, it’s just as important.
Making promises and keeping them is a huge theme in every single PJO book. It’s promising to go on a quest to save the world and to come back alive and successful. It’s promising to protect your friends, even if you don’t know how to protect yourself. It’s promising to your cyclops half-brother that you’ll help him even if you fully don’t understand him yet.
In books targeted to older audiences, say teenagers and adults, promises are almost always broken—especially if said promise offers some type of leverage to the main character. And that’s what was so refreshing about PJO and why I included such a simple thing learned within this list. Even if a character had to put their life on the line to come through on a promise made, they did it.
Don’t overlook someone based on an element of their personality.
It’s no secret, by this point, that Grover is one of my favorite characters of the series. And, perhaps its because I’m biased, but his character arc was definitely one of my favorites as well.
Grover is consistently seen as the sidekick, even by the characters in the book. He’s the funny best friend. He’s the comic relief that would trip over a banana peel whilst trying to save the world. He’d rather munch on some leaves than socialize with someone he has a crush on. And because of these aspects of his personality, he’s not taken seriously. Especially by the Council of Cloven Elders.
Grover may be the comedian of the group, but he’s eternally committed to his friends and eternally committed to his lifetime goal (and his ancestors’ lifetime goals) to finding Pan. He follows the Pan’s path, and he finds countless clues along the way. He knows where he is, but he just needs to be given the chance to jump. Unfortunately though, because of his funny and “unserious” side, the Council of Cloven Elders doesn’t think he can do it. It’s almost as if they view Grover as this one-note person: he can’t accomplish finding anything other than the punchline to a very bad joke.
He may be funny and clumsy at times, but Grover is committed and passionate about finding Pan. And, in the very end, he does exactly that. He defies everyone’s expectations and finds the one person that everyone was hunting for for years and years. And, if Grover listened to the Council of Cloven Elders and stopped his search, perhaps Pan never would’ve been found. You can be serious and try to nail the perfect joke at the same time.
It’s okay to need time to grow.
Percy Jackson, the actual son of Poseidon himself, wasn’t prepared at all when he found himself at Camp Half Blood. Sure, he understood Greek and had a good handle on the Greek gods, but he was nowhere near ready to jump into a full-fledged war. Yes, he killed a minotaur but he had no idea what he was doing; and that’s a pretty regular thing during the whole series. What I’m trying to get at here is this: if the son of arguably one of the most powerful Greek gods needs time to grow, it’s more than okay if you need time to grow too.
The Percy Jackson we meet on a class field trip and the Percy Jackson that halts the rise of Kronos are two entirely different people. And, during the time between those two events, Percy lets himself grow from his near-death experiences, learn from his friends and fellow campers, and listen with an open ear. At the very start of The Lightning Thief, he doesn’t expect himself to know it all, or to be able to do it all: no one expects that of him. Yes, as the series goes on, other characters become more reliant on Percy and his innate ability to solve everything even when he knows nothing (I promise I love him), but it wasn’t an overnight process for him to get there. Even the chosen one has to grow into his own shoes sometimes. You can too.
Just because you’re ‘small’ doesn’t mean you’re not important.
This lesson learned happened in the latter half of the series, when some serious recognition is finally gifted to the minor gods.
Looking at Camp Half Blood and its cabins and ideals, it’s obvious that their hearts belong in the hands of the major gods. The minor gods are usually forgotten, and their kids are never claimed. Those campers are thrown into the Hermes cabin, because he’s accepting of all travelers. But what’s troublesome about that is that we’re teaching those kids that Hermes, someone who is not their real father, is substantially more important than their real parents.
And, our good-doer main hero is even guilty of this when he first attends Camp Half Blood. It’s not until he exposes himself to new experiences and new people (letting himself listen and grow) that he realizes the minor gods play big parts in the world too. Despite the way Percy grew up in Camp Half Blood, he comes to the conclusion that minor gods are crucial and even states his argument in the homeland: Olympus. We then get to see how critical these minor gods are in the Heroes of Olympus series in more detail, but I loved this character development and think it’s an incredibly beneficial lesson for all readers to learn.
You’re never too young to make a change or too old to change your ways.
Change is possible, no matter your age, your background, your gender, your beliefs, your morals, your childhood, etc. You can make a change in the world or you can make a change in yourself. Life is about learning and adapting. And, who wants to stay stagnant for their whole lifetime? Sounds pretty boring to me.
I obviously saw this theme play out with Percy and Annabeth and our other young heroes as they go out into the world, against all odds, and save it from darkness. That will always be a valuable lesson to learn, especially in our world where it seems like being “too young” is looked at as a weakness rather than an opportunity. But, something showcased in PJO is just as equally as important. Again, especially in our world and where we are currently.
We’re going to focus on Dionysus for a second here. We could bid him as the forever grouchy figure that’s stuck in his ways and is simply miserable living out a centuries long punishment. But, as old as Dionysus is, he’s capable of change too.
We can definitely argue that Mr. D cares for his campers even in the very beginning, but he just doesn’t want to show it. From calling Percy the wrong name for actual years and always acting so dismissive around the campers he’s supposed to be watching over, it’s pretty obvious that Dionysus wants nothing to do with anyone involved in Camp Half Blood. But, by the end, after seeing all of their resounding strength and their ability to change in a multitude of ways, he starts calling Percy by his correct name, he starts helping in quests by providing some guidance. As small as this little character arc is, I think it’s an incredible illustration proving that you can change at any time in your life.
And, speaking of being fully capable of making change happen, here’s a full list of resources in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, here’s an article outlining the brands that are supporting the movement, and here’s a list of 138 Black-owned businesses you can support. While we’re at it, if you’re an American and at least 18, you can register to vote here!
There we have it friends!
I’m thrilled to have finally read PJO and am even more excited to be continuing my journey with the Heroes of Olympus series! I’m also even more thrilled that I live in a world in which I can learn from books, no matter which age that book is directed towards. There’s always something to learn.