Podculture: Percy Jackson, Take Two

Madison Smith, Reporter

On May 14, Rick Riordan announced that a TV show adaptation of his young adult book series, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” was in the works. The show, which will air on Disney Plus, received widespread excitement from Percy Jackson fans across the world. Three Northwestern undergraduate students talk about their own thoughts on the new TV series, the 2010 movie adaptation, and the original books.

MADISON SMITH: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Madison Smith. Welcome to Podculture, a podcast covering the arts on and around Northwestern’s campus. Earlier this month, author Rick Riordan announced that a TV show for his hit young adult series, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” was coming to Disney Plus. PJO fans around the world rejoiced — many now college-aged students who were once convinced that they too were a demigod child of Athena and kept waiting for their own satyr to take them to Camp Half-Blood — began to celebrate.

JOSHUA PERRY: I think that we have a real shot here of getting a faithful Percy Jackson adaptation, which would be super cool. I always wanted to see the series in its entirety with all of the detail and nuance that fans have come to love over the years brought to life in a way that makes it so that future generations of fans can enjoy it. Really, I just want it to be faithful to what Rick Riordan originally wrote.

MADISON SMITH: That was Joshua Perry, a Medill freshman and longtime fan of the Percy Jackson series. He first discovered the books when he was only nine years old and immediately became invested in the story.

JOSHUA PERRY: I just loved it. Third grade me thought the humor was so sophisticated. It showed me, as a third grader who hated reading, that reading could be fun! And I know that’s ridiculously cliche, but it was kind of a turning point for me in terms of caring about books and things like that.

MADISON SMITH: Percy Jackson has a loyal following that traces back to a lot of people’s childhoods. Weinberg junior Abigail Petrotta recalls her love of the series dating back to elementary school.

ABIGAIL PETROTTA: I was one of the OG readers because I used to read everything as a child. Me and my friends were all super into it, I dressed up as Annabeth for Halloween in elementary school, I had the Camp Half-Blood T-shirt, I literally had a Percy Jackson birthday party. It was iconic. But I read the books, like, a million times. And then also, we learned ancient Greek for a bit, so I thought that was super cool, like, I can still do the whole alphabet. Alpha beta gamma delta epsilon zeta eta theta iota kappa lambda mu nu xi omicron pi rho sigma tau upsilon phi chi psi omega. It was the combination of mystical, magical, and real world. Being able to relate a lot of the stuff to myself, like, figuring out, ‘Which Greek God would your parent be?’ and everything. I mean, I was just Annabeth in everything. It was my username when I was a kid.

MADISON SMITH: From the very first book, Riordan gave readers characters they couldn’t help but to love. These characters were iconic — from fan-favorite Annabeth Chase, to the snarky narration of Percy himself, and even the flashes of humanity found in the series villain, Luke. But after the premiere of the 2010 movie adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, many of the series’ dedicated fans were appalled at the film’s portrayal of these characters.

JOSHUA PERRY: It was just astonishing to me. I think that was the first time in my life that I had ever been truly disappointed by something. First of all, Annabeth had brown hair. Whoever was playing Luke, I don’t know what was going on there. He was just evil, uuuughh, and not great. The movie was just total garbage. They just did a lot of injustices to the source material. I actually saw the Sea of Monsters too, the sequel that they made, and it was not better, it was not much better.

MADISON SMITH: Fans were quick to turn their backs on the film, and yet they had already done more than Riordan himself did. In fact, he says on his website that he hasn’t even seen the movies. Riordan, who had not been involved in any aspect of the movies, even released emails he had sent to producers offering a scathing critique of their script and a potential rework. At one point, he wrote,

[MUSIC FADE IN]

“The movie will become another statistic in a long line of failed movies badly adapted from children’s books. No one wants that, and a year from now, I really would prefer not to be saying: ‘I told you so.’”

[MUSIC FADE OUT]

MADISON SMITH: He claimed to have given them 12 pages of notes, a line by line rewrite. They didn’t accept them.

MIA HODGES: It’s like they didn’t even read the book. It’s like they looked at the chapter names and were like, ‘What can we do with these?’

MADISON SMITH: That’s Mia Hodges, a Communications sophomore and self-proclaimed Percy Jackson superfan. She even has a TikTok dedicated to PJO named @simpingleovaldez. Lots of fans attribute the movie’s failure to Riordan not being involved and its inability to stay true to the book’s plot. So when Riordan announced the TV show himself, alongside his wife, it came as somewhat of a relief to fans like Abigail.

ABIGAIL PETROTTA: My sister ran downstairs to tell me about it and she had the video and I was like, ‘Okay, when is this coming out, I need this now.’ I was just very excited that Rick Riordan was all up in it. I want it to be very to-the-book. I haven’t read the books in forever, but I’m very much looking forward to rereading them in preparation for this. And I really hope that a lot of the stuff I looked at as a kid, the diversity and everything is very included in that. They have a lot of LGBTQ characters, so I’m really hoping that the series keeps that. Even like, I have ADHD and I thought that was so cool in the books, like, just thinking back, that’s so important for kids to see that.

MADISON SMITH: The series’ representation has been significant to a lot of fans. Back in 2013, he included a coming out scene for one of his characters, prompting some backlash. He wrote honestly about complicated, and at times, abusive families. His second series, Heroes of Olympus included a cast of main characters from many different racial backgrounds. For many of the young readers, like Mia, this representation was incredibly important.

MIA HODGES: It really really meant a lot to me. I had a hard time growing up, I had a lot of issues. And to begin with, it’s children who are mentally ill — ADHD and dyslexia are really hard to deal with when you’re growing up, and they have a hard time coping with the world around them and I had a really difficult time doing that. And then secondly, in the second series, the character Leo Valdez meant so so much to me because he was another Mexican character who was in no way a stereotype. He was goofy, he was dumb, not cliche in the slightest, and I really really related to him and I never related to a character as much as I did before.

MADISON SMITH: Not only did these books give readers representation for themselves, but it exposed kids to a lot of different identities.

MIA HODGES: I think it has one of the best examples of diversity in children’s literature and middle-grade literature, ‘cause, first of all, it’s like, mental health issues, minority representation, there’s LGBT+ representation beyond just gay people, there’s non-binary representation, there’s Native American representation, Latine representation, black representation, and Asian representation all in one series. And all of them are created to be important characters, and it was his goal to make sure that none of them were representing stereotypes. He’s clearly very conscious of the impact he has on children. Well, he made the series for his son who had ADHD and dyslexia, and he didn’t realize how impactful it would be to kids outside of his son. But I’m afraid because Disney, they’re going to take out a lot of the important representation. But because it’s on screen it’s going to be less interpretive, which is also kind of scary because it means everything has to be made with purpose.

MADISON SMITH: Along with her worries about how Disney will treat the series’ diverse representation, Mia is concerned about Disney’s involvement in general.

MIA HODGES: The nature of it being Disney scares me because it’s going to be very, very over-commercialized, and I’m afraid that it’s going to lose a lot of the charm and the importance it has to people. But something that I really want, and that he is giving us, is 12-year-old characters and actors, and hopefully it’s like Harry Potter where it’s like, ‘These are nobodies, nobody’s ever heard of these guys’ and then they’re never forgotten as the ‘Harry Potter people.’ They can do whatever they want, but they’ll always be the kids in Harry Potter. So I want it to be like that. But I’m so afraid of Disney making this another project that can just give them money, because they know that the audience is there and that people are going to watch it, like so many people, this means so much to them and they’re going to watch it no matter what, even if it’s terrible. That’s out of, probably, Rick’s control, but at least he’s going to be a big part of the script-writing and casting.

MADISON SMITH: But from Riordan’s involvement in the script, to the casting of young actors to play the 12-year-old characters, to having each book played out over the course of a whole season, Mia remains optimistic about the upcoming TV series. And even though Riordan’s series was originally targeted toward a middle-school audience, Percy Jackson is bringing joy to these college-aged students. For Joshua, the resurgence of this series during the COVID-19 pandemic is a source of comfort.

JOSHUA PERRY: Isolation has made everyone a lot more nostalgic. Now especially, I think we’re all stuck inside, sad, back in our childhood rooms, it would be nice to take comfort in something we’re familiar with and something that makes us comfortable and reminds us of a simpler time.

MIA HODGES: Reading these again gives a lot of sense of comfort, which I think that we are all looking for and this is honestly the best announcement of 2020 for me. It gives a sense of hope that there’s something to look forward to in that things that meant a lot to them when we were younger are still important to us now and there’s something we can always cling to that makes us happy.

MADISON SMITH: While the release date for the TV series has yet to be announced, it’s still giving us all something to look forward to. From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Madison Smith. Thanks for listening to another episode of Podculture. This episode was reported and produced by me, Madison Smith. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Molly Lubbers, the digital managing editors are Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava, and the editor in chief is Marissa Martinez.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @madisonlorsmith

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