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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

I conducted this interview with Rick Riordan in March as part of a presentation on the hero’s journey I was giving at a children’s literature conference. The presentation focused on his Percy Jackson series and the Harry Potter books.

The latest in Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is The Titan’s Curse, now available in hardcover from Hyperion books.

What qualities do you feel embody a hero?

In real life, I don’t think most heroes would think of themselves as heroes. They are simply people who rise to a challenge out of necessity. In literature, a hero is someone who does something noble or seemingly insurmountable — something we wish we could do. Heroes are projections of what we wish we could be. They give us hope and make us feel better about the human character.

Would you categorize Percy as a “reluctant hero”?

Definitely, but I’d say most heroes are reluctant. If they weren’t reluctant to face a dragon, or go on a dangerous voyage, or topple an evil king, they’d have to be crazy.

Do you feel those who aid the main character, such as Grover and Annabeth, are heroes in their own right?

The hero’s assistants always get a bum rap. Absolutely, they are heroic, though often they function as parts of the hero’s psyche. (Wow, I’m starting to sound like an English teacher, huh?) Not that I thought about it consciously as I wrote the books, but Grover is Percy’s emotional side. He can express fear and doubt when Percy, as an adolescent boy, can’t articulate those things. Annabeth is Percy’s rational side. She can think through things and look at options that sometimes evade Percy in his moments of battle panic.

What is your favorite example of the “Hero’s Journey” in literature?

I think the classic is Odysseus. It’s hard to do better than that. He struggles toward a goal we can all understand — the desire to return home — and he does it with only his wits to keep him alive. What could be more heroic or compelling?

How important was the Hero’s Journey and/or Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” in the creation of the Percy Jackson series?

I’ve never read Joseph Campbell. I’m familiar with the concepts, but I’ve never had a desire to read it. The thing is, archetypes are supposed to be subconscious. A lot of what I write, I don’t analyze. I never sit down and say, “Okay, this chapter needs a metaphor about man as hero. This chapter needs more Jungian symbolism.” Bleh. I just try to write a good story. Am I aware of the hero’s quest? Sure, because I’ve read it in so many forms as a student of literature, but as a writer, I don’t think that way and I don’t consciously try to follow any sort of paradigm. That’s for English teachers. Often people will analyze my work and tell me my themes, and I’ll say, “Wow, I have themes? Cool.”

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