It’s been a long wait, but the hopes and dreams of Percy Jackson fans worldwide (and there are a lot of them, as shown by the way they’ve taken over Twitter) have finally been realized – bestselling author Rick Riordan and his wife announced today that they have convinced Disney to adapt Riordan’s Percy Jackson And The Olympians series: a series many regard to be every bit as iconic and formative as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books, and that, with a dedicated and faithful approach to the source material, could have just as much success onscreen as both those franchises.
But whereas both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have only had one, definitive adaptation, Percy Jackson is different in that it was adapted once before – and fans of the books, including Riordan himself, were almost unanimous in declaring that the two films derived from the first two books in the series were badly-written, badly-cast, and just….well, bad. After the two films’ poor reception, the planned franchise (then owned by 20th Century Fox) quickly dried up, and any hope of a proper reboot seemed lost. Until this year, when Rick Riordan started casually dropping hints on his social media accounts that implied he had been meeting with Disney executives to discuss the possibility of a reboot – and now, at last, it’s finally here. It’s happening. And it might just be good.
The new adaptation will be a series, planned to debut on Disney+, the studio’s streaming platform. Riordan announced several details about the series: it will be a multi-season commitment, with each season covering one whole book in his original, five-part series (though there will likely be room for spinoffs, perhaps even ones adapting Riordan’s other series’ set in the same universe as Percy Jackson, such as Heroes Of Olympus and The Kane Chronicles, if this series does well). The first season, for instance, will consist of the entirety of the series’ first book, Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief. For those of you not in the know, allow me to give you a quick rundown of the story (and let me assure you, I am not some poser copy-and-pasting summaries of the books from Wikipedia pages: I was and still am a big fan of Riordan’s work, and I own copies of all of his books, all the way through to The Trials Of Apollo. In fact, I’m so much of a fan that it drove me mad that I had to use images from others of Riordan’s books to fill out this post: unfortunately, there’s not enough images solely of art from Lightning Thief).
The Lightning Thief sets up the saga of Percy Jackson, a twelve-year old boy when the story opens (very important point, we’ll get back to that), who quickly discovers that he is the secret son of Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the ocean – which makes Percy both a demigod and a “half-blood”, a term applied to all characters in the series with one mortal and one immortal parent. Percy is swept off to Camp Half-Blood, where he encounters a host of other characters with similar backgrounds – but, for the first few books at least, Percy is the only demigod whose parent is one of the “Big Three”: that is, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades (not to be confused with the Hades who will soon show up in Disney’s live-action remake of Hercules). His supporting cast includes Annabeth Chase, a strategical, ingenious daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom; Grover Underwood, a satyr entrusted with protecting Percy’s life from various mythological monsters (one of the best things about Riordan’s work is that he uses some truly obscure characters from the myths, rather than just exploiting the big names like Medusa, The Minotaur and The Hydra – in fact, those three monsters, despite being the most popular, are probably among those used the least overall in the series); and Luke Castellan, a son of Hermes and one of the senior members of Camp Half-Blood’s management alongside the immortal centaur Chiron and the expelled Olympian Dionysus, who goes by “Mr. D” while on earth. This core cast of characters is expanded as times goes on, and, of course, they are joined from time to time by a number of Greek gods: all of the pantheon, from Zeus to Hestia, show up in some form or another, and some play integral roles in the plot. These gods are on the brink of open war when the story begins, and Percy Jackson gets drawn into the middle of their conflict as a pawn, while trying to locate a dangerous artifact stolen from Zeus’ possession.
Obviously, any adaptation of a work is going to make changes – that’s why it’s called an adaptation, and not a word-for-word translation. But most agree that the Percy Jackson series needs a more faithful adaptation than whatever it was we got in the film duology: in the films, Percy and his friends are all angsty teenagers rather than kids, and their humor is more coarse and adult than the witty style that Riordan wrote into his books; the films use overexposed and frankly boring monsters in place of some of Riordan’s more creative choices – one particularly awful instance is when The Hydra is employed as a substitute for Echidna and The Chimera, two far more compelling monsters; the gods are depicted as stereotypical Greek warriors of gargantuan stature, when in the books one of the defining features of the gods is how human they are – Poseidon wears tacky Hawaiian shirts and enjoys fishing, while Ares is a hyper-aggressive macho biker and Zeus is a permanently dour middle-aged man in a pinstripe suit; and the story is unnecessarily convoluted by the introduction of a new quest to find magical pearls that, in the books, is summed up in a single scene.
Needless to say, fans demand and expect better from Disney – what we (I feel comfortable saying we, because I do regard myself as a hardcore fan) expect is a series that highlights the best aspects of the books and reminds us just how much they meant to us, growing up. Percy Jackson made me into a Greek mythology buff, and I have retained all (or at least most) of the knowledge I obtained when, after reading the books, I would immediately set about researching every single mythological character referenced in the books, from Kronos (Lord of the Titans, imprisoned in Tartarus after brutally murdering his own father and then subsequently being brutally murdered by his own son, temporarily defeated by a hairbrush) to Kampê (demonic, scimitar-wielding entity ordered by Zeus to keep watch over the hundred-handed Hecatonkheires on Alcatraz Island). Thankfully, Rick Riordan assured us all that he will be supervising the development of the series, and will be on-set regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly, and his artistic vision is being respected.
I am also certain that Riordan, who has recently established himself as a progressive voice in young adult (YA) literature, will also insist that Disney includes far more diversity than he himself wrote into his first series of books. For example, several characters from his first series are confirmed, in more recent books, to be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum – but I think Riordan will at least try to have those often emotional coming out scenes happen sooner, rather than later. Similarly, I expect there to be several more female characters in the first season of the series than just Annabeth, Percy Jackson’s mom, the camp bully Clarisse, and a scattering of monsters and nymphs. I will also be interested to see if Grover, one of the few characters racebent for the film adaptation, will go back to being a white character in the reboot, or if Riordan will choose to keep that one element from those otherwise easily forgettable adaptations (though, if they do choose to make Grover black in the Disney+ series, I hope his portrayal will be more sympathetic this time, and less borderline overtly racist caricature).
As a side-note, I also just want to point out that I have several fancasts already brewing in my head, and I may feel the need to share some of them with you in another post somewhere down the line. So be on the lookout for that.
What do you think about this idea? How do you feel about Rick Riordan’s close involvement with the series’ production? What do you expect to see from a Percy Jackson show? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!