A surprisingly few articles have been published on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. No articles that I found have delved into any Christian interpretation of the books—and unsurprisingly. Riordan’s approach to theology is very hands-off. Percy Jackson’s culture is more easily relatable to that of the Ancient Greeks than any modern-day religious culture.
But the mingling of gods and God is one that I struggle with myself whenever I’ve spent too long in a Riordan book and find myself seated in a pew on Sunday, and I am surprised that Percy has not raised more radical Christian eyebrows, walking in the footsteps of Harry Potter as I would argue it does—though to be fair, I don’t think Percy is anywhere near Harry’s heels in the popularity race (Harry must be using a racing broom…).
Rereading the first book of the series, The Lightning Thief, recently, one line assuaged my fears (at least temporarily) and ought to help ease others’ as well.
“ ‘Wait,’ I told Chiron. ‘You’re telling me there’s such a thing as God.’
“ ‘Well, now,’ Chiron said, ‘God—capital G, God. That’s a different matter altogether. We shan’t deal with the metaphysical’ ” (67).
Case closed by the wise centaur. This book does not deal with the question of capital G, God’s existence; its concept is simply that the Greek gods continue to exist so long as Western Civilization does.
The only other very brief mention of Christianity in The Lightning Thief is when Percy, Grover, and Annabeth notice a corrupt televangelist being frisked by security ghouls before being led off to “eternal torment” (292).
“ ‘But if he’s a preacher,’ I said, ‘and he believes in a different hell….’
“Grover shrugged. ‘Who says he’s seeing this place the way we see it?’ ” (293)
Project MUSE boasts an article that mentions Percy among a discussion of neo-pagan books for teens (lamenting that one researcher disregarded Classically based neo-paganism in his study). Among the Percy books, however, there is no emphasis on the necessity of balance and no plea of oneness, ideas basic to most forms of religious neo-paganism as I understand it. Percy’s is a culture that disintegrates or cuts apart its enemies and would prefer that no monster or Titan walked Earth freely. There is no talk of the need for monsters to balance heroes that I can remember, though there easily could be; a hero can’t become a hero without a monster to fight.
I will not call the Percy Jackson books Christian; they are not. But there are some ideas in the series that mimic Christian beliefs.
The Percy Jackson books certainly preach forgiveness; second chances; the possibility of redemption, even to the point of throwing me off balance once; and the power of love. Certainly too the call to honor thy mother and father is there.
But these are books where gods are not all-powerful, in keeping with Greek mythology. The gods are more often saved by mortal heroes than the heroes saved by the gods. That is a concept completely foreign to Christianity. Christ might use Christians to spread his Word on Earth, but it is ultimately by God’s will and grace that a Christian’s work will take root in a person’s heart or effect change.
Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2005.
This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion, or Disney. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.