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Student Media of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri

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Student Media of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri

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Series Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Official+Image+from+Disney.+From+left+to+right%3A+Leah+Jeffries%2C+Walker+Scobell%2C+and+Aryan+Simhadri.
Photo by Disney
Official Image from Disney. From left to right: Leah Jeffries, Walker Scobell, and Aryan Simhadri.

Every book lover knows to both hope for and dread the book-to-screen adaptation. 

For those who love a fictional world that has only existed in their minds and on the page, seeing those stories on a screen is a beautiful experience. Sadly, words on a page do not turn into images on a screen very well. Book-to-screen adaptations have a sense of liberty over the movie or television show they produce. Meaning, they can take the things you adore and change them. 

For most adaptations, this is due to budgetary constraints. Also, they must think about physical safety because falling from a tall building is a bit unsafe. I mean that is what I have been told. Other adaptations will change a character or delete one. They take away moments that a reader had loved dearly, because, as it has been explained to me, “movies cannot be 180 hours (about 1 week) long.”  

Some of the more atrocious changes occur in movies like The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones based on City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, The Giver based on the book The Giver by Louis Lowery, and Vampire Academy based on the Vampire Academy books by Richelle Mead. I forgot one though, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lighting Thief from 2010.  

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The problem with Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lighting Thief? The key problem at least? If someone who has read the books by Rick Riordan watches them, they may feel as if the book is being torn to shreds right in front of them. Usually, you can rationalize a change from book to screen. Audiences understand that the ability to use water to fend off bullies is a common sight. But some of the changes in this movie just hurt. Fans begged for another adaptation for years. 

The book, The Lightning Thief, was released on June 28, 2005. The first screen adaptation was released in 2010, and then mercilessly mocked by fans and Rick Riordan himself. Then, in May 2020, it was announced that a new TV show called Percy Jackson and the Olympians (PJO) was being made. Not only that but it was also being overseen by Rick Riordan himself.  

Many people do not know that Rick Riordan was a middle school teacher when he authored the book. He had a son diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia at the age of 9, posing learning challenges and difficulty reading for Riordan’s son. His son loved Greek Mythology, and so Riordan would tell him Greek myths, and one day the idea for a new story featuring a character like his son was born. Percy Jackson was a bedtime story meant to entertain his child. A way for Riordan to help his son understand that Dyslexia and ADHD are not the end of his story, simply the catalyst. 

The story was quickly written down, and it continued to grow. It sold over 180 million copies in 35 different languages. Kids and adults all over the world found themselves transported into the hectic life of a 13-year-old demigod who had the snark and wit every charming hero needs.  

I was the ‘gifted’ kid and had a sister with autism, both of us were constantly reading and by the age of 9 or 10 had to be monitored because things we could read were typically made for more mature audiences. Percy Jackson was a story we could read and enjoy without our parents losing their minds. My friend who is diagnosed with a cognitive functioning disorder told me, “Percy Jackson felt so easy to read as a kid. And I couldn’t even talk till I was 4.” Something was lost in the movie but blossomed in the PJO adaptation. 

This show is over 5 hours long, with 8 episodes in the first season. The cast is full of new names to the big screen and beloved names like Lin Manuel Miranda, Adam Copeland, Jason Mantzoukas, and Glynn Truman. The beloved heroes of the book are played by Walker Scobell (Percy Jackson), Leah Jeffries (Annabeth Chase), and Aryan Samhadri (Grover Underwood).  

This cast was found through open auditions to any ethnicity, whoever fit the role the best was cast. Leah Jeffries was told by Riordan that no matter what anyone said about her not looking like Annabeth did in the books, they were wrong. And I can’t help but agree. Anyone who watches these 3 on screen or in interviews can tell that the funny friendship dynamic from the books comes to life. Leah takes on the role of the smart one easily, she loves math and is a perfectionist. Walker is a daredevil just like Percy, he is excited about stunt acting more than anything else and enjoys a good prank. Aryan acts as the “heart of this show,” says Executive Producer Dan Shotz.  

Walker admits on the Disney+ special, A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, that he read the books at least 6 times. He comments on how he gets to see the sets in person, so like what he imagined reading the book in 3rd grade, is shocking. Walker also points out that Leah is exactly what he imagined Annabeth to be like. 

Everything from costumes to locations to dialogue was made to bring this story to life. I think it flourished, the changes made me feel right, and everyone made me feel the story grow. The series reached over 26 million views in its first 3 weeks on Disney+ according to Deadline.  

And as someone who watched all 8 episodes twice and the entire special about how it was made, I think I have figured out why. The changes made were not because the people making it didn’t understand the story or wanted it to be more interesting, it was because they wanted it to be better.  

Audiences now get to see Percy as a young child who struggled with his learning disabilities and questions about his identity. We get to see his mother Sally (played by Virginia Kull), care for and prepare her son for the confusing world of the Gods. They see characters who look like them, defeating the Gods and accomplishing amazing things.  

Warning there may be slight spoilers after this point. This series integrated newer topics and opinions on Greek mythology, like the idea of Medusa the gorgon being a victim. In the books, Medusa is ruthless and in love with Poseidon, the god of the Sea who also happens to be Percy’s dad. She tries to kill the 3 heroes in anger, but they escape with her head. In the series people see Medusa as the victim, a woman who was defined by a moment where she was hurt, and how it twisted her reality. Medusa talks to Percy about how they had both been robbed by the Gods and deserved revenge. Ultimately, Percy rejects her plans for revenge and the fight occurs. 

Some details, like the camp necklaces every demigod at Camp Half-Blood uses to represent their greatest achievements or the restrictions on communication between Gods and their children, are glanced over but still present. Annabeth lends Percy her necklace for luck, but anyone who does not read the books wouldn’t know why it’s lucky. Luke (played by Charlie Bushnell) mentions that the Gods do not listen often, but he doesn’t explain that the Gods are discouraged from any interaction with their mortal children. 

Overall, this series has taken from the book a feeling of belonging, a fighting spirit, and the jokes that I adored. I recommend it to everyone to watch or read, because I think as a book or a TV show this is a story worth knowing. Especially since the second season of Percy Jackson and the Olympians was just announced, there’s nothing more annoying than watching a show that ends on a cliffhanger like the series does. 

No judgment from me if you choose to only watch the show or read the books, for once I think both can stand alone. It’s just a really good story, so watch or read it however you wish. 

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Jia (Sophia) Buck, Culture Editor
Jia Buck is the culture editor and a reporter for Lindenlink Media. She is a freshman majoring in Communications with an emphasis on Journalism. Aside from writing, Jia loves strange historical facts, fantasy books, and anything creative. Jia spends her free time with friends or rewatching Gilmore Girls for the hundredth time.
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