Every so often I find out about an impending big budgeted Hollywood movie that's based on a popular novel or series of novels, and I get it into my head to read said books ahead of the flick so that I can... I don't know, "be hip?" Because reading is so uber cool and BAD ASS. Anyway, sometimes these books pay off for me and are fun (as in Harry Potter's and His Dark Materials' cases), but also unfortunately sometimes the books step on my balls so hard, and twist and grind them into the ground so much (turning my man-grapes into jam) that I don't even want to piss away $18 for the movie version, even if a date swears that's the only thing she wants to see that night. Yeah, Liz was pissed off because I forced her to watch Quantum of Solace instead of the awful, awful Twilight, and I didn't get any that night, but I am still happy about how that evening turned out (referring to me NOT bleeding from my eyes and ears from the shit emanating from the screen). But I digress.
It's with this knowledge (that sometimes the payoff is great, but sometimes I suffer immensely) that I went into the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series written by Rick Riordan after hearing that the first story in the lineup, The Lightning Thief, was already being filmed for an early 2010 release. I was a bit skeptical at first (hell, it was a series aimed at "young adults," and Chris Columbus was directing the movie), but I figured "what the hell." See, the Percy Jackson novels are all about Greek Mythology (which is INFINITELY more fun and much cooler than Christian Mythology): all those gods, titans, monsters, heroes, etc. Back in grade school I was completely and totally in love with these tales of old — even more than I was in love with Jenn Studt (seriously, Jenn, call me! I'll put you first now!).
I loved how full of themselves all the Olympian gods were; I thought it was hilarious how often they'd sneak down to Earth and fuck a mortal woman behind their godly wives' backs and sire an asston of demigod children; I dreamed of fighting Nemian Lions, river gods, and minotaurs all for the sake of glory or some tasty tree nymph poon-tang. The best part of these tales is that the ancient Greeks seemed to have answers for EVERYTHING that they didn't quite understand in life, the universe, and everything, and all their answers were supernatural, and usually the result of a long morality tale — the moral of most of these tales being "DON'T FUCK WITH THE GODS!".
Anyway, as I said, it's with this love of the background stories that I went into the Percy Jackson series. I was a little afraid that since these books were aimed at kids in the 21st Century (whiny, pampered tards, constantly supervised by helicopter parents so that they never scrape a knee or see a movie with even a HINT of a scary or violent scene in it) that they would ignore all the best parts of the old Greek adventures. No blood, no bad endings, no prophecies of doom, and — most suckingly important — no oversexed gods getting it on with the mortal chicks. Well, it turns out I had not one godsdamn thing to fear; Percy Jackson and the Olympians — although it starts off as bubblegummy as the Harry Potter books — is almost a perfect new age Greek Myth. It is actually pretty damn brilliant, and by the last book it's pretty hard core.
So, PJ and the Os has a whooooole lot in common with HP and its magical world at Hogwarts: both star kids who live in the "real world," but who are really meant to be in a hidden magical world thanks to who their parents are/were (meaning they were strong and famous members of the secret, fun, but dangerous realm); both are prophesied to either fail big time, or become one of the biggest heroes ever; both have two best friends (one of whom starts out as a non-friendly beeyatch of course) who know a lot more about the magical world to which they really belong, and who help their newly indoctrinated amigo through all of his ordeals; and the bad guys that they face are the biggest, baddest, bad-ass villains the world has ever known, and nobody else can take them down but the lead titular characters.
But do not take PJ to be nothing but a Potter rip-off. I initially thought that that was all it was myself, up until about halfway through the first book... But then I took a step back and realized that not only did it NOT rip Harry Potter off, but Harry Potter ripped off Percy Jackson. Yeah, JK Rowling began writing HP years before PJ, but what Rick Riordan does with PJ is essentially make a NEW Greek Mythological tale in almost the exact same framework and with the same feel as the ones first told 3,000 years ago. It's these Greek Myths that Rowling borrowed heavily from in her Potter-riffic stories: epic odds against a hero with godly blood running through him; terrible prophecies (of which the Greek Oracles of Delphi are the most famous tellers of fortunes ever born); and scary magic monsters abounding (Centaurs? Fluffy? Sphinxes? Nah... Nothing Greek about them).
Anyway, whatever. Despite who ripped off who or what, the Percy Jackson series is good. It's all about one Perseus Jackson and his life and adventures after he finds out that not only is he a demigod (born of one of one of the "big three" sons of the Titan lord Kronos), but that the monsters of old who still roam the world all want to kill and eat him because, well, monsters love to eat the children of the gods. They're delish!
Early in the first book, The Lightning Thief, Percy is attacked by some old Greek monsters, but thanks to his best friend Grover (who happens to really be a satyr), and his school teacher (a centaur... Trust me, it makes sense in the book... Thanks to some ancient magic), our hero survives and is inducted into the world of heroes in training, and their boot camp hideaway called Camp Half-Blood... As in half-god, half mortal... But yeah, veeeeery Harry Potterish, I know. Shut up and just get over it.
While at this camp, Percy trains in using swordplay, bows and arrows, and most importantly his mind. He gets a hard-on for the cute daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase, makes enemies with a burly daughter of Ares, Clarisse La Rue, and finds out who his father really is... This may seem kind of obvious to a child in the real world, but this is the absolute beauty of this series: the gods are as horny and unfaithful to their immortal wives in Riordan's tale as they were in the original oral stories told several millennia ago. A big portion of all the kids at Camp Half-Blood really don't know who their daddies are (sometimes who their mommies are too)... The gods apparently pop them out so often that they don't bother to keep track half the time, or they just don't care. Anyway, because of who his father turns out to be, Percy finds out that a world-ending, shit-your-pants prophecy has been declared about him long, long ago, and it appears that it's about to come true. But seeing as the Oracle's visions are usually only told in confusing rhymes with double meanings behind every line, nobody really knows what to make of Percy's appearance: he's supposed to either end the reign of the gods, or lead them into a new golden age... And noone has a clue as to how either or both are to happen.
Okay, let me back up. Yes, it turns out that all the ancient myths about the gods and their exploits, and all the famous heroes of old were true, and the gods (being immortal) never really died; they just followed Western Civilization to Rome, then to France and England, and finally to America, where "Mt. Olympus" is now stationed high above New York, accessible only by taking the Empire State Building's elevator to the 600th floor. These gods aren't the goofy and lovable Greek gods from a Disney movie, rewritten to be chaste, fun, and all-American. No, Rick Riordan's gods are petty, sometimes mean and vicious, and very proud. Percy has to learn quite early on just how easy it is to cross them and royally piss them off, thusly earning their godly wrath and vengeance. Oh, and that's one of the greatest parts about this series too! The gods aren't played up as a gaggle of all-knowing, all powerful deities (like a gathering of Judeo-Christian Gods [capital "G"], as some retellings play them out to be), they're just beings who were created at a much earlier time than man, and because of this they're closer to Mother Gaia than we mere mortals, and they have some powers that seem divine to us just like little kittens wonder how we seem to create food in cans at regular intervals, and how only we can open those damn cans for them. The gods like to use these "powers" to show how "great" they are all the fucking time, just like we do to Mittens and Mr. Whiskerface. God I hate cats.
Okay, so let's get back to the story. Percy's at camp, he makes some friends, pisses on some enemies, and finds out about his dad. Then he gets a quest of his own from the rotten remains of the last Oracle of Delphi (that the godly councilors keep in the attic of the Big House). Apparently quests aren't handed out half-assedly by the gods and the fates, and every demigod kid at Camp Half-Blood (who range in ages from like 5 to 19) wants to be able to prove themselves in such a heroic ordeal. Unfortunately not everybody succeeds in their missions, and some campers even die horrible and violent deaths before they come close to finishing them up, but Percy doesn't have much time to worry about this shit since the gods are about to declare all-out civil war upon each other unless Zeus' master lighting bolt (the one created by Hephaestus that helped win the war against the Titans and their armies all those eons ago) is returned to him by the Summer Solstice. Since — due to a bunch of well-timed events on somebody's (or something's) part — Percy is the number one suspect, the quest to recover the item is tossed onto him for him to prove his innocence. Then a journey that would do Homer proud unfolds with Percy, Annabeth, and Grover following the trail of the master bolt to the Underworld way in the West.
After that, we jump into The Sea of Monsters and find Percy at the forefront of another deadly quest when it becomes clear that Kronos, king of the Titans, is starting to rise again from his imprisonment in the bowels of Tartarus. The sacred tree that helps to guard Camp Half-Blood — which is really the transformed daughter of Zeus... Don't ask... It's very Greek — is dying, but there is one way to save it: they must journey into the lost seas and find the golden fleece. This fleece journey is pretty much straight out of the Odyssey, but with a lot of new twists and modern takes on things thrown in for shits and giggles. Ares' own Clarisse plays a pretty big role, as does Percy's half-brother Tyson. Tyson's kind of special... in a he seems to have been held underwater too long when he was a baby kind of way, but he doesn't hold the story back any or hurt the tale at all. He's kind of like a more battle-hardened Hagrid I suppose. But I digress.
After the whole fleece thing, some big and... well not "bad," but cryptic stuff happens, and Percy and his crew are joined by Thalia (a daughter of one of the big three herself) for the third novel, The Titan's Curse. Together with Annabeth and Grover, they all go out and join the Camp Half-Blood recruitment drive by finding as many able-bodied demigods as they can to stop Kronos and his growing armies from toppling Olympus. Soon they meet up with the d'Angelo siblings, Nico and Bianca, and the goddess Artemis and her traveling huntresses, which is a good thing considering Kronos' side has manticores, serpent bitches, and the titan's old number one general leading the revolution. If you know who Kronos' general is, then you know just how seemingly impossible and insane that prospect is. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you really need to pick up a Greek Mythology book and read some more. How can you not like this stuff?
Anyway, my point is that a lot more new characters (good and bad) join up, and during the search for one of the most powerful monsters ever created (during her original quest to find it, the goddess Artemis herself ended up disappearing), Percy and his crew unearth some truly heinous titan plot, and through some godly thinking manage to set the usurpers back a bit in their takeover bid of the magic world... But they do lose a lot of people along the way themselves. Honestly, it was the end of book 3 that made me see the beauty of this series — kind of like the resurrection scene at the end of Goblet of Fire... Jesus. Yeah, it really does sound like PJ and the Os was Silly Puttied-copied from Rowling's work, but trust me, this is all just coincidental... Or if it's on purpose I don't give a shit, because I personally believe that Riordan's tale is actually superior in pacing, threats to the heroes, and characters (especially characters who are proactive and actually DO shit for themselves and don't fall ass-backwards into crap and only accidentally get out of trouble, and usually only with somebody else saving their asses). But if you don't have an open mind and refuse to believe that J.K. Rowling ISN'T an actual muse herself, then just go back to wanking your meat over the newest Potter-Snape coupling fan-fic. Faggot.
Where was I? Okay, so after Kronos' troops are dealt a slight blow by Percy and his friends, an even bigger threat appears, and is leveled directly at Camp Half-Blood and all the young demigods protected within. In The Battle of the Labyrinth the ancient and famed inventor Daedalus is the key to taking this challenge down, seeing as it's his fabled labyrinth that links the outside world to the middle of Camp Half-Blood, past all its traps and magical barriers. But even though the maze is chock full of illusions and monsters Percy finds out that there are some mortals who can see past all the "mist" and view things for what they truly are. A new found friend, one hot and saucy redhead named Rachel Elizabeth Dare, has the power of "sight," and she's not afraid to use it. Through the labyrinth they go, but unfortunately there's no Jennifer Connelly or David Bowie along for the ride. What they do come across is some old enemies, some new creatures/sort-of-people of questionable value, and lots of dead folk. Oh, and Percy does meet up with Calypso on her secluded island, and man, I don't know how he had the balls to leave. Calypso was always one of my favorite tragic Greek characters, and she's portrayed so perfectly here... So abused, but so hopeful... I totally would have stayed. But I digress. Again.
There's a big, desperate end battle to be had, and missing gods to be found, and some pretty shitty truths to be discovered behind some old friends, but everything here leads up to the final book in the series, The Last Olympian.
The Last Olympian is truly epic, and if they ever try to make a movie about it (and keep it true to the original story) it will be one of the most complex and costly pieces of cinema the world has ever seen. It starts off with a bang and lots of death and destruction, and then turns tremendously heartbreaking and grim as the end battle commences — the final battle taking place on the entirety of Manhattan Island, with the whole mortal population asleep due to the god of dreams, even as monsters and demigods are massacred all around the slumbering New Yorkers. And the entire last 2/3rds of The Last Olympian is nothing but this terrible, but well choreographed and desperate siege of Kronos' entire army against the demigods led by Percy, who are the only ones able to protect the thrones of the gods on Olympus (seeing as the gods themselves are being kept busy with the worst and most dangerous giant creature that ever walked the Earth: the recently unimprissoned Typhon, father of all monsters). A shipload of bad guys and demigod children die terrible deaths in the heat of battle, the prophecy comes true (as you knew it would), and Percy finds that he has many hard-as-Hades choices to make, not the least of which is which girl to bag: Rachel or Annabeth? I'd go with Rachel myself... I just love me some fire-crotch!
There are a few short stories in between these five main books of the PJ and the Os series, and while they're fun, they're short and inconsequential; if I were to talk about them at all I'd probably end up telling their tales in their entirety. Trust me, I barely scratched the surface of these main 5 books with my reviews here. Hell, I didn't even tell you WHO the last Olympian is. I know how to keep a secret. I never ever told anyone that Just Kidding lost her virginity to the janitor at our high school. Good times... Still have that on videotape from hiding that camcorder in the corner next to the mop... Hmm, might break it out and make a movie night out of it.
One last warning though: the entirety of Riordan's PJ series is written in the 1st person through Percy's voice. I was able to get past it, but the author does do a good job of capturing the idiocy of the typical teenager at times, and it's pretty cringeworthy when Percy just won't shut his mind up no matter how hard you yell at him. It's not really bad, just something you'll have to get used to. Oh, and is it me, or does anyone else think of James Woods' Hades from Disney's Hercules movie whenever the Lord of the Underworld appeared?
Okay, so when the hell did Harry Pot-head turn all Greek?
Seriously, world? Did we really need another rule-breaking magic kid with a motley crew of other magic kids fighting a menacing evil who for some reason wants this kid dead more than anything? And, and... Shit, the Rossman told me all about this story, and all I could picture was those Potter kids and that snake-guy who's trying to kill them all in the same roles. It's the SAME DAMN STORY, only with kids with worse grammar and an even bigger hatred of authority.
*Sigh* Goddammit... For once I have to hand it to the Rossman; he actually recommended something to me that I kind of enjoyed. No, Riordan wasn't the second best thing to Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but all in all his Percy Jackson stuff wasn't total crap.