Friday, May 04, 2012

My verdict: Percy Jackson bests Harry Potter

We are nearing the end of the Percy Jackson series. I reviewed it before and argued that while it would be easy to deride it as a Harry Potter knock-off, it was pretty good in its own right. Further, one of the things I really liked was that there was something at stake. The doings of the Greek pantheon and their heroes were plugged into the mortal world and we learn that if the pantheon goes, Western civilization goes with it. (I’m pretty keen on Western civilization.)

One thing that always bugged me in Harry Potter was the scene at the beginning of book six, when the Muggle Prime Minister meets with the Minister of Magic. Top-level politicians don’t tend to be passive types. I can’t help but think that the prime minister’s reaction to these magic types wreaking havoc in his country might involve F-16s and Tomahawk cruise missiles. Being a wizard does not make one bulletproof and for all of their magic powers, except for Dumbledore none of them seemed all that clever.

I’ve probably gone a bit farther with this then is completely healthy. I imagine the prime minister calling in the head of MI-5 and bringing George Smiley out of retirement. I see Mundungus Fletcher being waterboarded. I see cruise missiles slamming into Hogwarts and Special Air Service commandos clearing out Diagon Alley.

OK, maybe I went a little far with this. But in the Percy Jackson series, usually the mortals are unaware of what’s going on – but when given a chance they fight monsters and do pretty well. In fact, my favorite scene is when the tide of battle turns and the father of a daughter of Athena shows up in the Sopwith Camel he had reconstructed – machine-gunning Titans and medusae. I kept hoping for a reprise, but no luck.

There are innumerable intriguing bits in this series. In the section we just listened to Hermes and Percy discuss the “Mist” which prevents mortals from seeing the activities of the deities and monsters. In some profound sense, this rings true. Not that I’ve become a pagan, but the idea that we only understand the surface of things and how we create stories to explain things to give us an illusion of understanding is humbling.

Also, I love the centaurs. In Harry Potter they are mysterious creatures that possess a deep wisdom. But the ancient Greeks saw the centaurs as dominated by their beastly appetites – and in Percy Jackson they are party animals.

I can offer no higher praise then to say that I am sorry the series has come to an end.

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