11 August 2006

People, places, and things in The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief, by Texas author Rick Riordan, is a mighty satisfactory read--perhaps a little too satisfactory for my comfort. Acquired by the Miramax Books imprint and published by Disney's Hyperion wing, it will be an even more satisfactory movie since a lot of its scenes seem to have been composed with that medium in mind.

For example, narrator Percy Jackson tells us about a bus careening through a tunnel, scraping the walls and shooting out sparks behind--so cinematographic a scene that we might forget that Percy's inside the bus and shouldn't be able to see those sparks. There's a fight scene in the St. Louis Arch that offers great opportunity for special effects and stunts, but for the life of me I can't recall why on their world-saving mission the characters stopped in St. Louis.

But that's not the end to the book's reassurance for readers. Percy announces at the outset that he's been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. He has a horrible family life, most of his teachers dislike him, and minor calamities and accidents seem to plague him.

The Lightning Thief soon reveals that all these things result from Percy being a son of a Greek god. He has trouble reading English because he's a natural at reading ancient Greek. (It's not clear whether this means the right-to-left script that's even more ancient than classical Greek.) His ADHD comes from having superhuman awareness. Riordan's website offers a tongue-in-cheek "Ten Signs You Might Be a Half-Blood" with the same message.

Furthermore, monsters have been after Percy his whole life, causing those calamities. One of his teachers really is out to kill him, and his mother stays married to a louse to protect him from other monsters. Even Percy's self-destructive impulsiveness (i.e., being a wise ass), he eventually decides, is due to his deistic/genetic heritage. (Hey, maybe that's a sign that I'm a half-blood, too!) In recovery-movement parlance, Percy can fob off all his troubles as "people, places, and things."

And that's not all. The book offers similar reassurance to Americans as a whole. In this fiction, George Washington was actually a son of Athena, and the Allied leaders in World War 2 were mostly sons of Zeus and Poseidon. In contrast, Hitler, the other Axis leaders, and (at least by implication) Osama bin Laden were sons of Pluto, god of the dead. Bowing to modern western sensibilities, this book portrays Pluto and Ares as scary and evil (and, in the latter case, stupid), though to the people who created them millennia ago death and war were inevitable parts of human existence, neither good nor bad though often regrettable.

To top it all off, the USA is now the heart of "western civilization," the current site of Mount Olympus and the other sites of the Greek gods. No matter that "western civilization" after the Roman Empire moved to Constantinople was for several centuries a repudiation of the Greek classical tradition, and that Arab scholars preserved the great Greek writings while Europeans knew them only as legends. Or that several western countries would probably acknowledge America's military and economic strength, but question our cultural leadership. We are, after all, the country of Diet Coke and Double-Stuff Oreos, and The Lightning Thief assures us that those are foods fit for the Greek gods.

No comments: