That Time I Met Rick Riordan

Not to be dramatic, but I was scarred by this encounter. I was betrayed.

(Don’t worry, I love Uncle Rick.)

At the time of The Last Olympian‘s publishing, Rick Riordan went on a book tour, and one of his stops was at my local community college. I was in seventh grade and at the peak of my Percy Jackson obsession. I was convinced that if I were a demigod, I would be a daughter of Athena. The most recent book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, had played with my emotions with the kiss scene immediately followed by Percy’s near-death experience. I was hyped beyond belief for the dramatic conclusion.

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So I went to the event along with my dad. The signing limit was one book per person, so I gave my dad Battle of the Labyrinth and picked up a copy of The Last Olympian at the door. It was packed in there. Stacks of fresh new hardcovers practically lined the walls, and the place was teeming with children and their parents. To my surprise, most of them were younger than me, somewhere from eight to ten years old. I knew that lots of kids my age loved the books, so why weren’t any of them here? Had they not heard about it? Later, I guiltily realized that I hadn’t mentioned it to my friends beforehand, so they very well may not have heard about it.

With all the younglings, the event was a bit raucous, and I can’t remember the exact order of things or what exactly was said. Roughly, I think Rick spoke for a bit, then he took questions, and then there was the signing.

What I do remember is the cardboard cutouts promoting the upcoming movie. Right away, I was suspicious, because Percy Jackson was supposed to have green eyes, and Annabeth most definitely did not have brown hair! I voiced these complaints to my dad, who took them in good humor.

I also remember Rick Riordan promoting the movie and acting pretty excited about it. He said that he had visited the set for Camp Half-Blood and that it was everything he could have imagined. The teaser he showed us looked a bit dark to me, but he was the author. I trusted him. Bolstered by his words, I resolved to look forward to the movie.

I shouldn’t have underestimated all the nine-year-olds. They came prepared with questions, unlike me. One sharp-eyed child asked why Blackjack was originally introduced as female, but later showed up as a male pegasus. Rick admitted that the inconsistency was a mistake not caught in editing.

After questions, we got in line for the signing, which was managed pretty briskly. Nonetheless, Rick was polite and friendly to everyone, allotting enough time to answer one question per person. My dad went before me, and because he was clearly just there in a parental capacity, he moved through pretty quickly. Then I was up. I, stupidly, had not prepared any questions. Rick greeted me and asked for my name, which I gave, and then asked if I had any questions for him, to which I said, “uhh, not really.” He said some other pleasantry, gave back my book, and I was moved along.

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Looking back, of course I wish I had asked him something, anything, but my brain shorted out in the moment, and being twelve, I didn’t know what book signings were like. The nine-year-olds were probably warned by teachers or parents, or maybe they were just smarter and more dedicated fans than me. Who knows?

Part of it is definitely a personal trait I didn’t know about until that moment, that I am supremely awkward around celebrities. Not that I’ve met many, but I’ve been to several signings with famous authors since, and I’ve put my foot in my mouth every single time, usually in more embarrassing ways than not having a question ready.

Anyway, I went home, read The Last Olympian, and I was not disappointed in the dramatic conclusion I’d been waiting for.

So where does betrayal come in? If you’re a fan of the series, you may have already picked up on what I’m referring to. That is, the movie.

The movies based on the Percy Jackson series are supremely bad.

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No offense, Logan Lerman, but your character is supposed to be twelve years old.

I trusted you, Rick Riordan! I went into that theater with expectations of a great movie experience, and that is not what I received! I left the theater disappointed. Disgruntled. Distressed.

It wasn’t until years later that I discovered Rick Riordan’s Twitter account, where he has disavowed any connection with the movies and makes fun of them on a semi-regular basis. And you know what? By that time, I understood. Sometimes a movie deal for your book isn’t what you expected it to be. I’m sure that he was more excited than any fan about it, and as a result, more disappointed when it turned out to be garbage.

In the end, I’m still a huge fan of Rick Riordan, and the existence of some terrible movies that capitalize on his name can’t ruin that for me.

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Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

When I was in middle school, it was one book craze after another. Harry Potter. Warriors. And, of course, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Those were the books that drove waiting lists. My friends and I discussed what Greek gods could be our parents with the same fervor as we did our Hogwarts houses. In eighth grade, my best friend and I jumped at the chance to take Latin at the high school even though we’d have to get up an hour earlier for it. Percy Jackson ignited a passion for mythology in not only me, but an entire generation.

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Was there a girl out there who didn’t want to be Annabeth Chase?

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Madeline Miller’s books have done well. Swamped with schoolwork, the craze for The Song of Achilles passed me by, but I still heard about it and saw it on stands in the library. Now, Circe is the book that everyone is talking about, and seeing Rick Riordan’s stamp of approval, I couldn’t help but check it out.

Circe certainly speaks to the demographic that grew up on Percy Jackson, but when it comes down to it, this is a very different sort of book. More tragedy than comedy, it echoes with the pain and wisdom of millennia. Circe’s voice is distinct, that of a soft-hearted woman who has loved and lost countless times, collecting scars like so many flowers. She narrates her life story in the first person from start to finish, only once getting ahead of herself when she prematurely mentions Odysseus.

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As I read the book, I would occasionally pause to wonder whether an incident belonged to established mythology or was an invention of the author. More often than not, when I looked it up, it turned out to be the former. I slowly realized that both my freshman English class, which cast Circe as a capricious sorceress, and my Latin education, which largely ignored mythology that wasn’t to do with Aeneas, had completely failed me on the subject of Circe. Beyond that, while I am able to draw lines of relation where they are most essential, my teachers rarely had the time to explain the big picture of Greek mythology, like how the house of Atreus so often mentioned in Homer has its curse originate in Tantalus, or how Circe is related to figures such as Helios, Pasiphaë, and Medea. When I read these tales, I used to read them in isolation.

Of course, the Circe of the Odyssey is one of many obstacles for Odysseus to outwit, an exotic sorceress who he seduces and strips of her powers against him. In that sense, her story as told by Homer is that of a male power fantasy. With the slightest critical eye, though, it’s easy for a woman to find a recognizable face in Circe. She turns men into pigs? We’ve all met a man more porcine than human at some point. She’s a witch? In the modern day, it’s accepted that “witches” are often just women who have gained more power than is socially acceptable. With those associations at her fingertips, Miller leans into a sympathetic, feminist portrait of the character.

This is no lazy attempt to capitalize on trends, however. Miller is a scholar of classics, and her expertise shines through in the text. She draws on tales both familiar and unfamiliar to create a cohesive life story rather than a collection of pieces. Her take on Glaucos and Scylla I thought was particularly inspired.

In a thread she introduces through Glaucos and Scylla, then returns to throughout the text, Miller explores the concept of becoming one’s true self. Circe, an oddball among gods and mortals alike, struggles to find a companion in a cruel, isolating world. She searches for fulfillment in her brother Aeëtes, in her various lovers, and in her son Telegonus. No matter where she looks, the gods are too uncaring and the mortals too transient. Immortality proves to be a curse rather than a blessing. In this version of the story, at least, she does find what she’s looking for in the end.

I shouldn’t neglect to say that the prose is gorgeous. Circe’s narration is shot through with description that channels the sort of nostalgia we humans tend to have for lost ages we have never seen with our own eyes.

I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in Greek mythology and to lovers of strong female characters. In fact, Miller seems to argue through the text that Circe is the prototypical strong female character. Even if you don’t have a hunger for either of those things, Circe will satisfy your appetite for a well-told story.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

Buy Circe here!

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