Rick Riordan and the Teaching of Mythology

I remember the day well. I was in middle school and we had another author visit coming up. Even though I grew up in a small town, we had pretty regular author visits and author events. It was pretty amazing. 

As with every other author event, we had the ability to buy their books. And, as with every other event, I had not heard of the author or the series before. Which is probably why I started with the second book instead of the first one.

It was a little confusing at first, but I still enjoyed it. By the end of the week, I had the rest of the books. You can probably guess what the series is, based on the post title.

I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians in the wrong order. Thankfully, this was back when his plots were a lot less convoluted. I definitely do not recommend reading any of his other series in the wrong order. You will be very lost.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, I have met Rick Riordan. This was before The Last Olympian came out, around the time when we first found out we were going to have a The Lightning Thief movie. So, back when we were still excited about the movie and before we realized it was going to be a massive disappointment.

I absolutely loved the series. The characters were great, the story was great, and it was surprisingly accurate to what I already knew about mythology. 

I particularly enjoyed how he shared the information and built the world. He did not rely on any of the annoying tropes people tend to fall back on. No one has amnesia (at least in the first series). He is not already an expert. Percy is just a seemingly normal kid who is currently in a class that is teaching mythology. He struggles with school. He knows about as much mythology as a normal kid his age would.

Reading through the books it feels very much like you are learning more about the world along with Percy. It was the same throughout the rest of his series as well. The main characters know/remember about as much about the mythology of the particular world as a normal person would. Their mentors understand that they aren’t going to know everything because there is no reason for them to have all of the (correct) information. They just found out that the world was, in fact, real.

So, not only is the execution very well done, but the information is very accurate as well. Through both his series and outside sources (namely the Myths and Legends podcast), I have learned a lot more about not only Greek but Norse, Egyptian, Gaelic, and other mythologies. Rick Riordan does an amazing job of balancing showing the less shiny side of things without delving too deep into some of the much darker parts. 

He includes many of the details that prove that the gods of each pantheon are not all the role models some people may have been lead to believe. Most are incredibly selfish and some did some genuinely terrible things (*cough cough* Zeus *cough*). He even openly criticizes them through the main characters.

But there are a lot of things that happened in nearly all of the mythologies that are very much not child-friendly. Some he doesn’t address, which is completely fine, and others he handles very tactfully. 14 year old me did not need to know the full truth between how many wives Zeus had before he married Hera. Nor did 14 year old me need to know how Zeus got Hera to marry him. 

Seriously, Zeus sucks.

If you have any interest in learning more about Greek and Roman mythology (and how they are different), or Egyptian mythology, or Norse mythology (which has to be the weirdest), then I highly recommend reading his books. It is like a mini history lesson wrapped up in a coming of age story about teamwork and finding yourself. 

I just recently started the Magnus Chase series, which is all about Norse mythology, and I am already impressed by how well he balances out the darker/weirder parts of the mythology as well as the convoluted mess that is Ragnarok. It mentioned some of the weirder parts that not many people know about, like Thor’s goats and the fact that Loki is the mother of a six-legged horse. I can only imagine what is going to show up in the next few books.

Norse mythology is weird.

He has gone back to Greek mythology with his latest series, The Apollo Trial, but I have a feeling his next series will be playing with something new. He has already had such an impact that there is now a thing called ‘Rick Riordan Presents’. These are other series written by different authors that tackle different branches of mythology in fun and unique ways. If you see a book that says Rick Riordan Presents on it, that means it has basically been given his seal of approval. 

I have yet to delve into those but I definitely mean too. Some of them delve into the more obscure mythologies and cultures and some of the descriptions I have heard sound FASCINATING.

You can learn a lot about a culture by looking at their mythology because mythology is mankind trying to explain why the world is the way that it is. And man do we come up with some interesting explanations.

TL;DR: If you are looking to learn more about mythology but don’t want to grab a textbook, grab a book that has Rick Riordan’s name on it. And make sure it is the first book in the series. You won’t regret it.

Just beware, he loves cliff hangers.

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