Sunday, October 22, 2017

Riordan Retrospective: The Titan's Curse

Welcome back to my Riordan Retrospective.  For those of you just joining the fun, I'm taking a look back at the works of Rick Riordan.  This includes Percy Jackson and the Olympians, its sequels and its spin-offs.  Last time, we took a look back at The Sea of Monsters.  This time we're taking a look at The Titan's Curse, Percy Jackson and the Olympians book 3.  As usual, we're going to start things off with a brief summary.


It's Christmas Vacation, but there's no rest for Percy Jackson, the demigod son of Poseidon.  Along with his fellow demigods Annabeth Chase and Thalia Grace, the newly revived daughter of Zeus, he's on a mission to locate a pair of newly discovered demigods.  During the mission, however, Annabeth is kidnapped by an manticore.  Worse yet, the goddess Artemis is also being held hostage.  An important meeting of the Olympian Council will occur during the Winter Solstice, about going to war agains the Titans, and Artemis could prove to be the swing vote.  It's going to take everything Percy and the gang have got to brave to fearsome odds to get Annabeth and Artemis back in time.

The Titan's Curse is often considered to be a turning point for the Percy Jackson series.  I think that, all things considered, that's a fair assessment.  We're introduced to several characters who either leave a big impact, or go on to play major roles later in the series.  We also get set up for events and plot-points that play a big role later in the series.

Once again, given the nature of these retrospectives,mothers going to be spoilers ahoy, so just keep that in mind as we move forwards.

One of the big changes that comes with The Titan's Curse is that it marks the first time we witness characters die "on-screen", and two main characters at that.  Granted, previous book have discussed demigods getting killed, but always in reference to the past.  This time, however, Plot Armor is not guaranteed from the get-go.  I does deliver the harsh, yet still true, message that sometimes even heroes die in the line of duty.  It also serves to up the stakes and makes thing a bit more interesting, as everyone's survival is not a forgone conclusion.

Now then, let's talk about those characters.  First up we've got Bianca di Angelo.  Despite only making it about halfway through the book, she leaves a huge impact on the series.  Her death proves to be a huge source of motivation for her brother Nico.  Speaking of Nico, Bianca often catches a lot of flax for her decision to join the Hunters of Artemis, but I think she deserves more sympathy.  She's been looking after Nico for quite a while by the time Percy and company find them, and she's only twelve-years-old.

 Well, physically, she and Nico have been in the Lotus Hotel since the 1940s, but time passes slower in the hotel than in the outside world.  Point is, she definitely loved Nico, but she was just a kid herself.  She knew that he'd be safe and cared for at Camp Half-Blood, and the Hunters would be able to give her the freedom to just be free and actually be a kid, just like she'd always wanted.  Plus, she knew that she wouldn't be saying goodbye to Nico forever, just goodbye for now.  Granted, that's not how things played out, but I can at least understand her thought process.

In other characters, we've got Zoe Nightshade.  She makes it almost all the way through the book before she bites the dust.  Bianca's death has more long-lasting impacts, but Zoe's death makes more of an immediate impact because we've spent the whole book getting to know her.  She also helps expand the worldbuilding.  For example, we learn that she's one of the Hesperides, the daughter of the titan Atlas.  However, the reason she never made it into the mythology books is because Atlas disowned her for helping the hero Heracles.  I liked how it gave the impression that, while all of the Greek Myths are true, they might not all be completely accurate accounts of what happened.  It's a clever way to handwaving any discrepancies; well, that and the fact that consistency was never a strong point of Greek Mythology.

Next up, in important characters, there's Annabeth's dad.  Throughout the first few books, Annabeth has had a strained relationship with her father.  So, what's he like when we finally meet him?  He's goofy and silly, but he also clearly cares about Annabeth, and he's there for her when the chips are down.  Now, consider that Percy is goofy and silly, but also cares about Annabeth, and is always there for her when the chips are down.  Studies have shown that women often uses their fathers as a template for choosing a husband; the same holds true for men using their mothers a templates for choosing a wife.  This isn't an Oedipus Complex, or anything like that.  It's more that these kinds of people often bring with them the comfort of familiarity and feelings of safety.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, maybe one of the reasons Annbeth became attracted to Percy is that, subconsciously, he reminds her of her father.  On a similar note, I like to think that Percy's mom was a bit like Annabeth in her younger days.

So, there is that supercool scene at the climax where Mr. Chase rides in on a World War I biplane, and shoots monsters with Celestial Bronze bullets.  However, that scene raised an interesting question: why don't demigod use guns.  Now, from a Doylist, or out-of-universe point-of-view, the explanation is probably that sword fights are cooler to read about than gun fights; though that is subjective.  It's also possible that, given Riordan's political views, he simply doesn't like guns and doesn't want to glorify them.

Okay, so what about the Watsonian, or in-universe, explanation?  There could be quite a few reasons.  It could be that swords are more reliable than guns; gun need to constantly be reloaded with bullets and might jam at critical moments.  There's also the question of how many bullets it would take to kill a monster.  On the flip side, it only takes one or two bullets to kill a demigod.  Perhaps the thinking is that it's best not to give the monsters any ideas.  Curiously, in The Heroes of Olympus, the Camp Half-Blood arsenal is mentioned to contain a shotgun, so maybe it just hasn't occurred to anyone yet?

In other speculations, let's talk about the Ophiotaurus.  First of all, hats-off to Rick for not underestimating his audience.  The Ophiotaurus is definitely not a creature most people would think of when listing creatures of Greek Mythology.  Now, Percy convinces the gods to spare the little beast on the grounds that it is wrong kill it for something it might do.  It probably didn't hurt that the gods were also having a very similar conversation about whether or not to kill him at this time.  Perhaps, however, Percy's motives weren't as altruistic as they seem.  By this point, Percy is more than aware that the gods can be major pricks when they want to, and that demigods are often powerless to do anything about it.  So what if he saved the Ophiotaurus to use as a potential Sword of Damocles if the occasion ever called for it?

Don't think he wouldn't go through with the ritual.  If there one thing you should never do, it's mess with Percy's loved ones.  He'd probably use it as an absolute last resort, but if he were pushed far enough, I believe he'd go for it.  Though, I concede, this is all speculation on my part.

To a certain extent, The Titan's Curse follows the pattern set by the previous books.  Like the previous books, someone significant to Percy has been kidnapped and he needs to rescue them.  In The Lightning Thief it was Mrs. Jackson, in The Sea of Monsters it was Grover, and this time it's Annabeth.  Similarly, whereas last time we got The Odyssey 2.0, with a bit of Jason and the Argonauts, this time much of the action is inspired by the Labors of Heracles.  Percy and the gang battle the Nemean Lion, our heroes hit ha ride on the Erymanthian Boar, and holding up the sky is, of course, the titular Titan's curse.  In the previous book , we also got the Stymphalian Birds and the Hydra.  We also get some more of this in The Battle of the Labyrinth, but we'll talk about that next time.  Like I've said, it ties in with the theme of history/mythology repeating.  We also got other cool monsters, such as the Spartoi.

All of that having been said, The Titan's Curse also diverges from the other books in that it is clearly setting things up for later books more so than before. For example, we get the first few sparks of Percy and Annabeth's eventual romance, as well as set up for the eventual war with the Titans.  We're also introduced to characters like Nico and Rachel, who play major roles in subsequent books.

The audiobook version was as excellent as always, and the Hoover Dam scene becomes even funnier.  If you're reading the text, it's obvious that the characters are saying things like "the dam snack bar" or "the dam bathroom".  In the audio version, it sounds slightly racier, as though they're saying "the damn snack bar" or "the damn bathroom".  I knew what the joke was from the start, but it's fun to pretend, and I love Uncle Rick for including it.

Let's now take a moment to analyze the book covers.  First, we'll start with the original.  It's very purplish-blue, and we see Percy and his pegasus Blackjack atop the Chrysler Building.  Fun fact, when Blackjack was first introduced in The Sea of Monsters he was described as female, but in all subsequent books he is described as male.  It is unknown why this is, probably just a typo that never got corrected, or something like that.  We see some vines from Mr. D attempting to stop the duo from going to Washington D.C.  When Rick first showed this cover to some kids to promote the book, he had a memorable experience where a kid shouted out "Percy's riding a war moose!" because of how fat Blackjack looks.


Moving on to the new cover, we see Percy and Blackjack front and center.  In this version, Blackjack decidedly does not look like a war moose.  In the background we see the Golden Gate Bridge, since the climax takes place in San Francisco and thereabout.  It also notable I contrast to the previous covers.  The first two covers had very dark and ominous color schemes; this time, however, the colors are bright and triumphant.  Curiously, the books are numbered using Roman Numerals, even though the Romans don't appear until The Heroes of Olympus.

I hope you've been enjoying these retrospectives as much as I have.  If you like these and my other work there are many places you can find me.  You can follow me on Twitter where I'm @ArthurDrakoni, you can like my fan page on Facebook, or you can checkout the Camp Half-Blood subreddit where I regularly post these retrospectives.

Well, I think that does it for now.  Join me again next time when we take a look back at The Battle of the Labyrinth.  Until then, I will see you guys next time.

4 comments:

  1. I'm really loving these reviews. I really enjoyed The Titan's Curse as well. The only thing I'd say that was bothersome to me was the fact that the kinda cliffhanger the last book had (bringing back Thalia, another child of the Big Three and a Great Prophecy candidate) was neutralized when Thalia decided to become a Hunter. Although the twist with Nico's parentage was a nice twist at the end that, unlike the last book, I did not see coming.

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    1. First of all, glad to see you're a fan of the retrospectives. That always means a lot to me.

      Regarding Nico, there was actually a bit of big hint about his parentage pretty early on. His last name is di Angelo, which means "of the angels" in Italian. Sort of like how when someone dies they're said to become an angel, which isn't true theologically speaking, but I digress. I'll talk about about the significance of character names in my retrospective of Battle of the Labyrinth.

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  2. One of my favourite parts of this book was when Percy met Athena and had a conversation with her on Olympus. It was then we find out what Percy's fatal flaw is. An amazing reveal which played part all the way into Heroes Of Olympus.

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    1. Yeah, that gave us one of my favorite quotes from the series "There's always a solution for those cleaver enough to find it".

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