Nostalgia Nook: How “Percy Jackson” cements itself in the hearts of readers

Jan. 26, 2023, 12:44 a.m.

Welcome to “Nostalgia Nook!” In this column, I revisit popular children’s literature from the early 2010s. I’ll discuss the book’s highlights, examine the culture that developed around the book and check in on where the books are now. I hope that I’ll be able to remind you of iconic books,  forgotten moments and reignite your love for children’s literature.

“Call me Ishmael.”

“Two households, both alike in dignity.” 

“Look, I didn’t want to be a halfblood.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that these are some of the most iconic opening lines in English language literature. 

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is a series that likely needs no introduction to anyone between the ages of 10 and 25. But for anyone not in the know, “The Lightning Thief,” published in 2005, introduces Percy Jackson and the world of the Greek gods, who have made a home of New York City in the modern era. Gods like Zeus, Poseidon and Hera are all very much alive and ready to meddle in the characters’ lives. Percy and his friends, the children of the gods, must fight monsters and go on quests in order to keep the gods in power and prevent the end of the world. 

Rick Riordan, the series’s author, would go on to publish several spin-off series in the world of Percy Jackson. “Percy Jackson” has been adapted in a film series (which was eventually canceled due to its unpopularity with the fans), a musical and an upcoming television show.

In my elementary school, whether or not one had read “Percy Jackson” was an important part of one’s social standing. Inside jokes from the series became inside jokes across my class, and not having read the series made it harder to participate in a number of conversations and playground games.

The series’s comedy, fast pacing and lovable characters made it popular with young readers. The first-person narration from Percy injects the series with Percy’s iconic sense of humor. Despite being aimed at a younger audience, the stakes are high: characters die, including both background characters and those the readers have come to know and love. The series’s high stakes and back-to-back action scenes keeps readers enthralled, while the relatable yet entertaining characters keep readers invested. 

It’s no surprise that Percy and his friends have captured the hearts of so many readers. Percy is a protagonist that kids can easily look up to — he is always trying to do the right thing and help as many people as he can, yet he manages to do so without losing his relatability. Percy struggles with a lot of things many young readers can relate to: he often finds himself in trouble with authority figures and consistently struggles in school. Annabeth, with her intelligence and fighting skills, is and was idolized by many young girls. And Grover’s humor and loyalty made him an easy character to root for. 

The banter between the three characters was also incredible; one of my favorite moments in the series was a scene from the first book in which Percy, Annabeth and Grover are playing a game of hacky-sack that eventually devolves into teasing Grover for eating the sack whole.

“Percy Jackson” was certainly a defining series for myself and many others. Who your godly parent was was a big question on the playground — as well as a way to understand and form identity. Did you want to be strong (Ares), smart (Athena) or beautiful (Aphrodite)? This chosen identity was a fun way to understand classmates and create your own goals.

With the space they occupied between being relatable and admirable, the characters form a factor in identity formation as well. Every girl I knew that read these books in elementary or middle school desperately wanted to be just like Annabeth or Rachel Elizabeth Dare. It’s one of the reasons I find returning to the series so fun today; looking back at the person I wanted to be then versus now, and the characters I related to then versus now, is always entertaining. As a kid, I always wanted to be an Annabeth, but I’ve come to realize that I’m much more of a Percy. 

The series has continued to find success today. The latest book in Percy’s world, “The Trials of Apollo: The Tower of Nero” was released at the end of 2020. Another book in the series, “The Sun and the Star,” is set to release in May of this year. The book, following Nico di Angelo, will be co-written by Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro. The Percy Jackson television adaption, to be released on Disney+, will be coming out in early 2024.

From playground games to beloved characters, “Percy Jackson” will always be one of my childhood favorites. I’m excited to see how the television adaptation will revitalize interest in the series, and I know that the books, at least, are ones that I will keep coming back to.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Isabella Saracco '23 is a staff writer and columnist for The Stanford Daily. She loves Chicago, deep-dish pizza and cats.

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