Monday, November 17, 2014

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods (Percy Jackson and the Olympians companion book) by Rick Riordan (Goodreads Author), John Rocco (Illustrator)

This weighty book was cutting off the blood circulation in my legs after reading for two hours. I plopped it on my bathroom scale, the red digits glowing 4 pounds in the dark room. Okay, guess I have gramma-legs. Honestly, it felt like 10 pounds. Perhaps Rick Riordan can write about Hercules next and toss in a weight-lifting program for wimps like me. In this nonfiction gianto book, Riordan covers fifteen gods and goddesses in all their misery... I mean glory. Technically, I hear about the twelve Olympians, but Hestia, Dionysus, Hades, and Persephone are sometimes included; hence, 15. The narrator rightfully calls the Titans the first dysfunctional family and doesn't hold back moving on to the Olympians and exposing the raping, murdering, thieving, and psychopathic ways of them all.

Percy Jackson narrates with his wise-cracking, sarcastic, dumb humor that had me snort-laughing. He calls Zeus, "Thunderbritches," has play on words, uses SMS language or text messaging lexicons, and continually reminds readers that the Olympians' behavior isn't normal. Ya think? Jackson tries to be the voice of reason in the gods violent, unreasonable world. Believe me, you wouldn't want to be a Greek god. The power struggles and bad behaviors of the gods, goddesses, and kingpin Zeus, should turn off most readers from wanting to be dictators or scare them into making sacrifices or make them run in the opposite direction if they see one. Run, run, as fast as you can. That would be me.

The colloquial language makes this easy to read and Riordan uses his familiar technique of mnemonics to help with remembering difficult names. I kept a journal of who's who and still got blurry-eyed by the end. Of course the blood might not have been getting to my brain from this whale-of-a-book pushing on my legs.  Riordan has oodles of pop culture and technology references. I wonder if the book will seem outdated 20 years from now alluding to Tumblr, Facebook, Smartphones, One Direction, Baywatch, KFC, and Twinkies to name a few. Okay, maybe he doesn't mention the last but he does mention food. The pacing is fast-paced and the text reveals tidbits such as how the gods influenced Greek geography, word origins, the importance of the laurel leaf, and cities that honored particular gods. He also shows how arid cities and eruptions were tied in with the Greek creation myths. The additional facts enriches the action.

The unexpected twist on Riordan's presentation of the Olympians is showing the goddesses not as complete victims. Don't get me wrong, it's still a patriarchal social system, but the women do stand up for themselves or try to fight back. Riordan sneaks it in when he can without compromising historical accuracy. At least from my limited Greek myth knowledge, I didn't see any exaggerations. He uses dialogue to be creative and add a fun narrative to the facts and by having Percy narrate he is able to bring in a modern-day perspective. When the four sons of Ouranos decide to kill him, Percy says, "The girls were too wise to get involved in murder. They made their excuses and quickly left." He'll point out other times how today a boy and girl wouldn't treat each other with the disrespect shown by the gods and goddesses. He muses how dumb it is when the gods ask Zeus if they can marry a woman versus the god asking her directly. He also talks about how the gods act differently than humans stating the obvious such as a brother and sister wouldn't marry each other. The different versions of Greek myths can be confusing as well and Percy explains the historical inconsistencies as to which story he is going to go with in his narrative. While it isn't necessary to know the Percy Jackson series in order to read this book, you'd get more of the jokes and tone being familiar with the fiction series.

Even with Percy trying to balance things out, I got a bit depressed about the whole female being-taken-advantage-of-deal. Hades was the culprit. The man can be a downer. Just kidding. I got lost in the tales again once I got done with the women. Ugh. The gods were yucky to them. No wonder two swore off marriage. If D'aulaire's book of Greek myths is for elementary then Percy's Greek Gods is for upper elementary or middle school. The brilliant illustrations by John Rocco remind me of Renaissance art. The baby leading the cows reminded me of the Rubens artwork, except for the dark outline of the cow. Rocco uses a soft, dreamy palette that shows an innocent-looking baby Hermes stealing cows, with snow shoes on his feet. Perhaps the dark pencil around the cows signifies the two that Hermes eats or is meant to add a 3-dimensional look. Rocco captures the weird and humorous myth in his painting. Rocco's monster, Kampe, illustration is pretty spectacular and reminds me of Caravaggio's Medusa at the Uffizi museum in Italy. The humungous boar fighting the puny human will be a favorite with students too.

Greek mythology has violent stories. That's just the way it is. Percy does warn when a story is going to get more gory than usual. The gods and goddesses are nasty to each other, but the mortals seem to be the ones on the receiving end of the lightning bolt. They get vaporized, zapped, and quartered. Percy even comments how mortals would get punished for behavior that the gods and goddesses did all the time. But the gods held themselves to a different moral standard. This tome doesn't get into the Greek heroes. I can see why. It would be too much. I would have had a 10 pound book if Riordan had done that. All the same, I found myself wanting to hear their stories. Maybe Riordan will come out with another book and mention the heroes. He could publish it after Christmas and market it as a dumbbell/book combination. Or maybe not.

4 Smileys

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