Why the Percy Jackson TV Show Is Important (Spoiler free)

Percy (Walker Scobell) plunges his sword into the sand, water around him parting like the red sea in towering waves.
Percy (Walker Scobell) plunges his sword into the sand, water around him parting like the red sea in towering waves.

“Look, I didnt want to be a half-blood,” (The Lighting Thief, Percy Jackson, Rick Riordan)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a highly beloved young adult fantasy-adventure series that came out in 2005. Since then, the series has taken off with sixteen books in its core storyline, two spin off series, and multiple add-on books, the whole Percy Jackson universe coming to thirty-seven books total. Obviously, that sounds like too much content, like Riordan milked the series for all he could get, but that is far from the truth. The lovingly named “Riordanverse” goes far beyond the original five-book Percy Jackson and the Olympian series which is focused on Greek gods. Since then, Riordan has delved into Egyptian, Roman, and Norse mythology, crafting a world where all mythologies exist at once. Riordan plans to add onto this already staggering list with Irish myth.

My very own incomplete Riordanverse collection

Rick Riordan started the original five-book Percy Jackson and the Olympians series after his daughter, Haley, was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. His universe is set in the modern day,  Greek gods still existing at the 600th floor of the empire state building. Humans are wholly unaware of the Greek gods’ existence aside from demigods (also called half-bloods), mortal children of the gods. Percy Jackson is a troubled 12-year-old boy in New York City. He grew up never knowing his father, raised by his mother Sally and taunted by his step-dad Gabe Ugliano in a low income household. With ADHD and dyslexia, Percy has jumped from school to school his entire life, just trying to find where he belongs. 

“Oh, things couldn’t be worse / When your parents run the Universe,” (“The Campfire Song”, The Lightning Thief : A Percy Jackson Musical)

When Percy finds out that he is the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, he is launched into the life of a demigod, which, he comes to find, is not easy. Along with constantly being hunted by monsters, demigods are sent on frequently fatal quests to clean up after their parents without so much as being recognised or thanked for their sacrifice. Many demigods are not even claimed by their parents, forced to live knowing one of their parents is a god, but not which one, while still facing the struggles that come from their heritage. Demigod Will Solace, even said he “expected that it would be years before he saw his father again, if ever,” (The Sun and The Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure, Riordan and Oshiro, 97), after assisting his dad on a quest. The worst part being that Will’s dad, Apollo, is one of the godly parents who is more active in their children’s lives and Will is one of his favorite children. Even with that status, Will does not know if he will ever see his father again, even after saving his father’s life. This is the sad reality for demigods, and an unavoidable one at that, when they have parents so obsessed with themselves and their own affairs.

Camp half-blood campers dawn their combat armor for a game of capture the flag. They have their shields and weapons drawn (Source: Disney+)

Along with good story telling, Rick Riordan keeps representation as his priority. Before his critical success, he was a teacher, having students from all different backgrounds. From this, characters within his stories are based off of the diverse children he has encountered, making sure every child can see themself in his stories. One series alone has a Mexican trans-gender fluid mischief maker, her sister, and an Arab-American  Muslim hijabi who served as a Valkyrie and is in a happy arranged engagement (both being children of Loki) as main characters. The third member of their trio, and narrator of the series, is a pansexual, homeless son of Frey. From the bisexual Cherokee daughter of Aphrodite, Piper McLean, to gay Italian immigrant Nico di Angelo (who is from 1930s Italy!), Riordan makes sure everyone can find their place within his stories and show that anyone can be a hero, not just cishet white guys. On top of all of that, all demigods have ADHD and dyslexia, ADHD being a result of their instinct to fight and dyslexia their natural inclination to read ancient Greek, not English or other languages. This fact alone about demigods has helped many neurodivergent children more easily accept their differences. Instead of being “defected,” Riordan tells them that there is power in their difference. The only thing not welcome in the Riordanverse is exclusion, something that makes it stand out against its competitors.

The Lightning Thief book is displayed on a stand which sits atop the following four books in the series stacked on each other (Source:Pangobooks)

In the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy is tasked with a quest to find a resolution to stop all out war between the gods with the help of his satyr friend, Grover Underwood, and daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase, while he himself comes to terms with what being a demigod means and harnesses his powers as the only living son of Poseidon. Obviously, the book and subsequent ones were hits! The books quickly became a classic young adult series, one begging to find its next adaptation away from words on a page.

“Annabeth: We could fail but we have to try

Percy: Don’t feel bad cause we’re usually about to die!”  (“Bring on the Monsters”, The Lightning Thief : A Percy Jackson Musical)

In 2010, 20th Century Fox released the first ever adaptation of the book as a movie, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Unfortunately for Percy Jackson’s loyal fanbase, they were in store for major disappointment. With a 5.9/10 IMDb rating and 48% on rotten tomatoes, it’s safe to say that the movie was a mess. Rick Riordan himself stepped away from the movie, continually admonishing the script to the screenplay writers, telling them in an email, “The script as a whole is terrible. I don’t simply mean that it deviates from the book, though certainly it does that to [the] point of being almost unrecognizable as the same story. […] the bigger problem is that even if you pretend that the book doesn’t exist, this script doesn’t work as a story in its own right.” Even so, the movie was greenlighted for a sequel, smashing the five book series into 225 minutes of Percy Jackson blasphemy. Riordan himself even advised teachers not to play the movies to their classes. There is no possible way to get into everything wrong with the movies in a reasonable time frame, so instead here is another quote from Rick Riordan on the movies, saying the movies were his “life’s work going through a meat grinder.” Yikes…

Percy (Chris McCarrell) stands center stage, flanked on his left by Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) and Grover (Jorrel Javier) to his right. Their arms are enthusiastically spread open and have stage lights illuminating them (Source: Jeremy Daniel)

“They’re breaking your heart? Then try to hear it pound!” (“Bring on the Monsters”, The Lightning Thief : A Percy Jackson Musical)

Nowhere on the book’s covers are the disastrous movies advertised. However, the first book, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, does in fact have an advertised and faithful adaptation; The Lightning Thief: A Percy Jackson Musical by Rob Rokicki. That’s right, Percy Jackson has a musical, one far better than the movies could aspire to be. This wonderful piece of media is how I got into the Riordanverse, and likely served as an outlet for many other kids. The musical stays faithful to the books, retaining the same spunky and goofy charm that the book has. Chris McCarrell is the perfect person to portray Percy, finding the perfect balance of emotion and comedic relief. The charm of the books oozes into every aspect of the show, quoting fan-favorite lines, referencing later additions to the series and much more. The musical is what the movies wish they were, and will remain a fan-favorite addition to the Percy Jackson franchise.

Even with the gift of a canon accurate musical adaptation, fans have been begging Rick Riordan to take another shot at a full series adaptation.

This Christmas, that’s just what they will get.

Coming to Disney+ Dec. 20, 2023, Percy Jackson and the Olympians will be getting a book-accurate adaptation written by Rick Riordan himself. He has made some slight changes, but all are for the better, and the adaptation will be a big win for diversity in children’s media as Riordan has elected to prioritize personality over complexion. The series will be split into five seasons, each season being one book, and each episode being a chapter or two.

Percy (Walker Scobell) stares intensely at the camera, holding Zeus’s lightning bolt. Annabeth (Leah Savas Jeffries) is to his left looking over her shoulder, dagger in hand and Grover (Aryan Simhadri) is to his right, staring off into the horizon (source: Disney+) (roman_o_cheese)

“If my life is going to mean anything, I have to live it myself” (The Lightning Thief, Sally Jackson, Rick Riordan).

Walker Scobell, best known for his work in The Adam Project and die-hard fan of the Percy Jackson book series, will be taking on the role of narrative lead, Percy Jackson. From his previous work and the trailer alone, Scobell seems to be the perfect Percy, nailing a balance of wit, mischief, humility and heroism. Scobell just oozes Percy Jackson in every line he utters. When transferring books to screen, it can be very difficult to keep the same energy upheld and expected, yet Walker Scobell plays Percy as if he was born for the role. The video displaying Scobell learning he was cast to play Percy just hammers in this fact, as he is proudly wearing his camp half-blood shirt. Walker knows his role better than most actors ever could, and it truly shows.

Percy (Scobell) hides behind a crate from an unseen attacker, sword primed to attack.

Leah Savas Jeffries will be playing strong-willed and intelligent Annabeth Chase, and everything about her is perfect for her role. From first looks, Jeffries has mastered Annabeth’s assertive exterior and kind heart. Annabeth is one of the best written female leads from a book series, and I can already tell Jeffries will do her justice. It is also exciting to see a young black actress take on the role of an originally white character. I can not imagine how many young girls will finally feel seen without being whittled down to harmful stereotypes about black women. Annabeth is an insanely well-written character who speaks to girls worldwide, and I am thrilled that Leah Savas Jeffries will be portraying her for the foreseeable future. 

Annabeth (Jeffries) casually leans against a doorway with a somewhat amused expression. (Source: Disney+) (roman_o_cheese)

Lastly, but certainly not least, Aryan Simhadri is taking up the role of Grover Underwood. Previously a stage actor, Simhadri expertly embodies Grover’s nervous, fun-loving attitude, easily filling in the loveable role. Personally, he may be who I am most excited to see on screen this week. Something about his portrayal of Grover tugs at my heartstrings more than anything else and I cannot wait to see more of him. Like Leah Savas Jeffries, Simhadri is taking up the role of an originally white character as an actor of color. Of course, there are way more actors aside from the main trio, and Rick Riordan has ensured to keep his cast rich in diversity of all kinds. While most actors may differ from their book description (specifically everyone in the trio) they more than make up for it with how perfectly they play their characters.

Grover (Simhadri), sits drenched in down pouring rain, dismally staring off screen. His ears are painted and he has small horns sprouting from his head. (Source: Disney+)

“With great power… comes great need to take a nap. Wake me up later,” (The Last Olympian, Nico di Angelo, Rick Riordan).

Percy (Scobell) stands on a rock just above the trees in his armor and shield, camera catching him from behind. (Source: Disney+)

As a life-long fan of the Riordanverse and especially the Percy Jackson series, I am beyond thrilled for the upcoming show and what it means for fans like me. Growing up in Catholic school, my favorite character was,and is, Nico di Angelo. Nico is the son of Hades, quickly ostracized from his peers for his lineage. Nico is also gay and grew up Catholic in 1930’s Italy, being stuck in time for two months of his life to stumble 70 years into the future in the third book. When younger me read about Nico and his struggles with alienation and accepting his queer identity, it helped me to realize that I was not alone. Nico, despite being raised believing he would never find peace, gets his happy ending. He heals from the trauma from both his childhood and quests, settling into a world where he is embraced with open arms and finds himself in a loving relationship with Will Solace, Son of Apollo. Stories like Nico’s helped me to accept myself and my identity as a queer person after so many years of resenting that aspect of myself. In a world clouded with hatred, doubt and uncertainty, Rick Riordan showed me, through his books, that I could find happiness and acceptance. Here I am, years later. I run my school’s pride club, write openly queer articles in my school’s public newspaper and live authentically as myself, advocating for other kids like me.

“Maybe it’s okay to still be a kid once in a while,” (The Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy Jackson, Rick Riordan).

So why is the Percy Jackson TV show so important? Speaking from personal experience, kids will finally be able to see themselves represented on their screen through people like them who save the world and still go through the same struggles as them. The movies butchered a story by whittling it down from something meant to bring kids together and let us relish in our differences to their comedic moments and ruining characters in the process, cutting out anyone (including Nico) who defied their views. When I watched the first trailer for the new series, the song “Riptide” crescendoing into a beautiful orchestrated rendition of the song, I felt tears of joy prick at my eyes. It was finally happening, three years after its announcement. At the end of the day, Percy Jackson is about finding your place in the world and embracing who you truly are in your heart. Even when you face obstacles in your life that seem too difficult to bear, there is something beyond powerful in the simple choice of choosing to love yourself in adversity. That, to me, is what makes this show so special, a manifestation of what I and so many kids hold so near and dear to their hearts: there is power in your difference.

Seemingly from the same scene previous, Percy has turned around. He’s still wearing his armor, now seen with the addition of his helmet. (Source: Disney+)

“The sea does not like to be restrained,” (The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson, Rick Riordan).

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