Thursday, October 12, 2017

Riordan Retrospective: The Sea of Monsters

I'm back with my next installment in my Riordan Retrospective.  For those of you just joining the fun, I'm taking a look back at Percy Jackson and the Olympians, it's sequel series and its spin-off books.  This will be less of a formal review, and a bit more laid-back than a typical review, but still lots of fun.  Last time, we went back to where it all began with The Lightning Thief.  In this retrospective, we're moving on to The Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Olympians book 2.

First of all, let's there be summary.  It's been one years since Percy Jackson found out that he's the demigod son of the Greek god Poseidon.  Life has been relatively peaceful at his new school, but then he gets attack by cannibal giants on the last day before summer.  Thankfully, he's got his new friend Tyson, who turns out to be his cyclops half-brother.  Percy and Tyson catch a ride with Annabeth to Camp Half-Blood, but all is not well.  Thalia's Pine, the magical three that protects the camp, has been poisoned, and Chiron's the prime suspect.  The only thing that can heal the pine is the Golden Fleece

Worse yet, Grover is being held hostage by the cyclops Polyphemus.  To find Grover and the fleece, Percy, Annabeth and Tyson are going to have to venture into the Sea of Monsters; which is currently located in the Bermuda Triangle.

Before we go any further, I must emphasize that this is a sequel.  I know that this is kind of obvious, but that does mean there will be spoilers for The Lightning Thief.  For that matter, there's probably going to be some spoilers for this book as well.  Just figured I ought to get that out of the way now.

Now that we've got that out the way, let's get on to the main event.  One of the recurring themes of the Percy Jackson series is of history/mythology repeating itself.  As Battlestar Galactica put it, all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.  In The Lightning Thief we got a few shades of Orpheus with Percy and the gang's trip to the underworld; and echoes of Perseus with the encounter with Medusa.  This time around, we've got shades of Odysseus, with a bit of Jason and the Argonauts thrown in.  Most of the major monsters and antagonists come out of The Odyssey.  We got Scylla and Charybdis, Circe, the Sirens and of course Polyphemus.  We get a few monsters from elsewhere, but for the most part it's all straight out of Homer.

As I've stated before, one of the many charms of the Percy Jackson series is the way it recycles and reinterprets Greek Mythology in modern day America. For example, Circe's island is portrayed as a spa, and she turns men into guinea pigs rather than actual pigs.  Now that my family actually owns guinea pigs, that particular scene is entertaining on a whole new level.  The part where it's mentioned that a new chain restaurant opens every time a hydra gets decapitated was also clever.

That the beginning of the book Annabeth makes a dismissive comment about Canada; saying there's nothing but Laestrygonians and a few forges of Hephaestus.  In hindsight, this is somewhat humorous in light of The Heroes of Olympus.  Come that series, we have Frank Zhang, a Canadian demigod, as a main character.  Obviously, he's not too pleased with this assessment of his home country.

For the most part, the books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series are relatively timeless.  There aren't that many references to pop culture or current events.  That being said, there one minor aspect of this book that does date it just a smidge.  At one point, Percy is talking about how smart and brainy Annabeth is and mentions that she watches documentaries on the History Channel.  So yeah, if she were watching historical documentaries today, it would definitely not be on the channel that has degenerate to the point of Ancient Aliens and Swamp People

I do also love the little off-hand comments about several famous people who were demigods.  For example, we learn that Harriet Tubman was a daughter of Hermes, and in the previous book, we learned that George Washington was a son of Athena.  It really gives a sense that there's more to this world than just what we read in the pages of these books.  Granted, it is a little depressing to think that almost everyone who did anything of note was a demigod, and that us mere mortals can never hope to compare with them, but still kind of cool at the same time.

So, let's talk about Tyson.  In hindsight, I really appreciate how Riordan handled his character.  Tyson is mentally handicapped, yes, but that's not the be all end all of his character.  He's skilled at forging weapons and armor, he's super-strong, naturally fireproof and more durable.  He does actively contribute to the plot rather than just being a token.  I bring this up because it contrasts rather positively compared to some of Riordan's later characters.  Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  We've still got aways to go before we get to Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

Also, there's something about Tyson that's become somewhat humorous in hindsight.  Tyson is, physically speaking, a teenage boy who is into ponies.  Also, his favorite hippocampus is named Rainbow.  That's right, Tyson was a brony before it was cool.

In other characters, let's talk about Clarisse La Rue.  When we first meet her in The Lightning Thief, she's a pretty typical bully character, it seems to be a genetic trait of Ares Cabin campers.  This time, however, we see a few chinks in her armor.  Technically, she's the one who is officially tasked with retrieving the fleece.  We see that she has self-doubts and fear disappointing her father, Ares.  There are some bullies who are just asshole for no reason, and who just want to watch the world burn.  Believe me, I dealt with enough of those kinds of people in high school, but maybe there's more to Clarisse and the other Ares campers than just that.

Okay, so with Chiron indisposed, who's watching the campers?  Why, Tantalus, of course!  You know, the guy famous for killing and cooking his own children.  Looking back now, I can kind of see how Luke had a point about the gods not caring about the campers.  Technically, Chiron is only the camp activities directors, but given how apathetic Mr. D tends to be, Chiron basically runs the camp.

That brings me to another interesting point: just why did Zeus put Dionysus in charge of Camp Half-Blood?  Officially, it's punishment for chasing after Zeus' favorite wood nymph.  However, I think there's more to it than just that.  Before becoming a god, Dionysus was himself a demigod.  If you know anything about the myths relating to Dionysus, you'll know he went through some serious shit back in the day.  So, who would understand the struggles demigods face more than a former demigod?

Also, consider what I mentioned earlier about Chiron, even that could have been part of the plan.  If Dionysus wasn't up to the task, he'd still be punished, but there would still be someone around to ensure that the camp didn't get driven into the ground.  Perhaps, just perhaps, Zeus isn't as clueless as he seems.  Though, I concede, this is all purely speculation on my part.

One part of the book I really loved, and that I wished had favorited more into the later books, was the chariots races.  Apparently, they used to be more common, but got banned after a race gone wrong killed three campers and injured twenty-six more.  Naturally, Tantalus is more than happily to revive them, and they're presumably banned again after Chiron returns.  Still, I've always loved the thrill of a good race.  I love racing video games, and while I don't really watch motor racing, but it has always fascinated me.  Quite a shame that it never really appeared in the later books.

You could argue that campers could potentially get killed during capture the flag, or sword fighting practice, but I kind of get where Chiron was coming from.  Those are to train demigods for fighting monsters in the real world, where they won't have the protections the camp offers.  Monsters aren't going to pull any punches, and the demigods need to learn how to fight like their lives depend on it.  By contrast, they most likely won't need to know how to race/battle on a chariot.  Still, it does seem like a wasted story potential, in my humble opinion.

On a personal note, I listened to the audiobook version of The Sea of Monsters while I was taking a school-sponsored trip to Italy the summer before my junior year of high school.  It was so cool that I got to travel around a country steeped in Classical Mythology while listening to Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  I'd tell you all about it, but that, perhaps, is a story best saved for a separate blog post.

As you're probably aware, the movie adaption of The Lightning Thief made just enough money so that Sea of Monsters was also adapted.  I do have plans to review The Lightning Thief movie, eventually, but not the Sea of Monsters movie.  This is mostly due to the fact that I have not seen the Sea of Monsters movie.  I was thoroughly unimpressed by the first movie, and so I steered clear of the sequel.  I might review it, if my readers would like, though that's a considerable maybe.

Right, now that we've got that out of the way, let's compare the book covers.  As you can see, the original cover is very orange, and Polyphemus' eye is front and center.  You've got the Queen Anne's Revenge down below.  Side note, I loved how an actual pirate ship factored into the plot.  Percy really should raise sunken ships more often, but I digress.  We've also a rope bridge with three shadowed figured, presumably Percy, Annabeth and Tyson.

Moving onto the new cover, we see the CSS Birmingham, with Percy standing on top, nearing Scylla and Charybdis.  In the background, Polyphemus looking a menacingly.  Oh, and what's this?  A bit of wing on the edge?  You see, when you place in of the new covers together, in order, they form on continuous picture.  It looks really cool when it's all together.

So here an interesting tied bit about Rick Riordan that I didn't mention last time.  You probably know that he used to be a middle school English and Social Studies teacher.  However, did you also know that he used to work at an Episcopalian summer camp?  Specifically, he played the guitar and led singalongs.  He learned to play the guitar during h college days, when he played in a folk-rock band.  I guess that explains why there's a campfire singalong in almost every book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  Rick has stated the working at the camp was a big inspiration for how Camp Half-Blood turned out.

Though, one assumes, the camp he worked at presumably didn't hand out actual swords and spears to its camper.  We can also probably assume that none of the campers were ever eaten by monsters.  But their climbing wall definitely had lava on it like Camp Half-Blood...nah, I'm just being facetious.

Well, I think that about wraps it up for now.  I hope you guys are having as much fun with these retrospectives as I am.  Join me again next time when we take a look back at The Titan's Curse.  Until then, I will see you guys next 

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