Percy Jackson: Myth or Fairytale?

For my creative writing tutorial, I’ve had to look at a few essays from Uses of Enchantment. These essays explore the differences between myths and fairytales–an important thing for me to be thinking about in Blessings. As part of my study, I voluntarily wrote some thoughts about the role of both forms of story in the Percy Jackson books–specifically The Last Olympian and Mark of Athena. I don’t know if anyone else would be interested in them, but thought I’d throw it out there.

Spoilers below the cut!

Elements of myth: “Success requires sacrifice.” Oftentimes the characters lose something in their victories. Most notably in the climax of The Last Olympian, Luke dies in order to defeat the baddie. In The Mark of Athena, Annabeth succeeds where all the other children of Athena failed because she is able to recover Athena’s statue. But right after Annabeth’s victory, she is pulled into the pit—a straight drop into the most evil part of the Underworld. Percy, refusing to be separated, falls with her. The book ends with confirmation that the two are still alive—for the moment—but though their friends have hope of finding and helping them, another character’s recent escape from the pit shows that it will be almost impossible for Annabeth and Percy to get out with their sanity.

The idea of sacrifice, of a victory not long lived, and of a continuous trial-and-error life—with one quest after the other—is very true to myth. Additionally, each character in the drama is almost like a superhero, with their own individual powers—there are all superhuman, whether in control of the elements or extraordinarily wise.

Elements of fairytale: Because this is young adult fiction, even though the book ends on a downer note, there is a certain guarantee that the characters will end up okay—somehow. (But we don’t really know how “okay” they will be.) At this point, it would be incredibly difficult for Riordan to kill off the main characters in a satisfactory way, simply because they have survived so much. However, he is very good at taking just enough from them to keep tension up.

Riordan has also introduced a place where the demigods could potentially have a happily ever after: New Rome. This leaves an opening for a long-term happy ending in the future, which counterbalances the possibility of a myth-like tragic ending. (However, the happy ending is dependent on if the world will stop almost-ending!)

Another element of the fairytale is the idea of an everyday character. Riordan established this in The Last Olympian when the gods offered Percy Jackson the chance to be immortal, and he turned it down. He preferred to be human, not a god. But Riordan also reminds us of the humanity and “normalness” of his characters in smaller ways. In The Mark of Athena, it’s through the basics of having seven teenagers trying to work together. There are personality clashes—particularly between the two oldest boys, Percy and Jason—and some love interest conflicts. But one of my favorite conflicts revolved around Leo, who is told he’ll be the odd one out—the outsider of the seven. This is a very relatable insecurity, and gave his character a big stake in what was happening and in the group dynamics.

The books do a great job of balancing both the myth and fairytale elements. I’m not sure which way it will go for the Heroes of Olympus series.

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