Percy Jackson: An Intro to the Odyssey
Written by Grant Goodman, 9/30/2014
(A big thank you to one of my students, who suggested writing about Riordan’s novels!)
Everyone who’s anyone knows that Rick Riordan’s final book in the Heroes of Olympus quintet comes out soon. Riordan’s tales of modern Greek and Roman heroes have been flying off the shelves year after year, making him a mainstay in the YA kingdom. (Fun fact: the first novel, The Lightning Thief, will be turning 10 years old in July.)
In honor of this upcoming release, I thought I’d put an English teacher’s spin on it and connect the dots between some of Riordan’s references to mythology and their more deeply-rooted roles in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. It’s yet another reason why YA also appeals to an older audience.
NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD.
- The Lotus Hotel and Casino
In The Lightning Thief, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, find themselves trapped inside of the Lotus Hotel and Casino, where time slips by without anyone noticing.
This moment is a reference to, among other tales, Homer’s Odyssey. In Book IX, Odysseus and his men seek refuge from their days at sea and come to the land of the Lotus eaters. The people there do no physical harm to Odysseus and his men, but they offer the men a taste of the lotus. The magical flower is like a drug; those who eat it lose their desire to do anything else except stay and eat more lotus. In the end, Odysseus is forced to retrieve those who have eaten the lotus and he has them tied down on the ship so they can sail away.
- Aeolus’ Castle
Leo, Piper, and Jason find themselves trapped by Aeolus in The Lost Hero. The wind deity is bent out of shape because he isn’t officially labeled a god. Yes, he controls the winds, but apparently “Master of Winds” isn’t good enough for him.
The cursed crew of Odysseus visits Aeolus in Book X of The Odyssey. Aeolus subdues the North, South, and East winds by stuffing them into a bag and sealing it. This, he assures them, will provide the men swift and safe passage back to Ithaca. The crew sets sail, finally ready to return to their island.
With home on the horizon, Odysseus takes a nap. His men decide to see if Aeolus’ bag contains silver or gold, unleashing the winds and blowing the ship back to Aeolus’ island. The wind master deems them cursed by the gods and refuses to offer his help anymore.
From there, they sail on, into disaster after disaster.
- Calypso, on the island of Ogygia
The nymph Calypso is stuck on the island of Ogygia. In The Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy is washed ashore and Calypso brings him back to health. He breaks her heart when he leaves the island on a raft. (Honestly, I think it is the best scene in all of the books Riordan has written so far. Really sends a tremor through your heart.)
She appears in The Odyssey, playing a very different role. She isn’t nearly as kind. She keeps Odysseus prisoner on her island for seven years. Calypso even offers Odysseus immortality if he stays with her and he turns it down. Eventually, Athena convinces Zeus to allow Odysseus to make his way home to his wife and son. Hermes is sent to visit and he commands Calypso to let Odysseus go. From there, Odysseus makes a raft and begins the final stretch of his long journey home.