Thursday, April 25, 2013

Harry Potter Vs. Percy Jackson: The Readers

I want to challenge you for a moment. Take your mouse and move it to the search option and type in, "Harry Potter vs. Percy Jackson". Don't worry; I'll still be here when you get back. Finished? What did you find? A lot of junk, right? An Epic Rap Battle, (gag,) and some fan-fiction? When I typed it up, the only actual article I found was on Sparknote and the section was barely large enough to cover with three fingers, when the only finger I would have covered it with was...well, I digress. I think it's kind of sad, because these are two fantastically similar books with devastatingly different approaches to Young Adult Fantasy. Just thinking about it the other night filled the better part of an eight hour work shift, and that's just with the things I could come up with right then and there.

I want to start out with this by saying that this is not a critique. My normal reviews will begin in May, because, once again, with everything that's going on, I think that it's a good thing to take, if not a moment of silence, a break from being catty. This is just a comparison, but that does not mean that I don't have a very firm idea of who is the winner in Harry Potter VS Percy Jackson, and it's not just because I'm terrified the Harry Potter fan-club will somehow divine where I live and leave dead frogs in my bed. Harry Potter was being written when I was growing up, so I have a particular predisposition for it, which is something I'll go over later. That is not to say that Percy Jackson and the Olympians isn't good, I just find more faults with it than favors. But anyway, let's just get to the brass tacks, shall we.

The Readers

Harry Potter

Harry Potter first came out when I was still in the end of middle school, and to be honest, I wasn't too interested in it. At the time, it didn't have as big a following in America, at least not in my school, and I was more interested in the Dragonlance books at the time to give it much notice. It wasn't until the movie came out in 1999 that I gave the series any interest, because let’s face it, I'm a big Urban Fantasy nerd, and Harry Potter is kind of the epitome of Urban Fantasy: a young boy, seemingly ordinary, gets to go to magic school. What's interesting enough, though, is that even though it was a year after its release, almost two in fact, because my book budget was significantly smaller in those days, I still read them with the same interest as I would have if I had read them when they first came out.

This may seem like an odd thing to say: in 1999/2000 I was fourteen/fifteen years old, but I have a very set formula for YA books. It's actually very simple and easy to follow, because I hate math with a passion. Take the age of the protagonist of the story, in this case, 11 at the beginning of the series, and add or subtract 2. That, to me, means that the average reading age at the beginning of the series was about nine to thirteen years old, a year or two younger than how old I was when they started.

The reason this is fascinating to me, is that by the time the second book had come out, the average reading age for the Harry Potter books had gone up to ten-fourteen at least, because Harry Potter himself had aged! With a lot of fiction out there, you get a character that never seems to age, or at least, his aging is never made apparent. Sometimes you get the complete opposite, in which the author makes a big show about the reader getting older, in which case how are you supposed to identify with them unless you are Robin Williams in Jack?

The wonderful thing about the Harry Potter books is that as the characters aged, the writing style, the length of the books, even the content of the book, ages as well. While I'm sure the seventeen year old Harry Potter was still identifiable to younger readers, it was equally fascinating to older readers up to nineteen, which is well into the reading categories of adult readers. And here's the kicker, since the final books were accessible to older readers, that made the earlier books just as acceptable to read because 1) who wants to read the last book in a series and not know what’s going on? and 2) the progressive age by age journey of a hero is something that is archetype to all reading levels and age groups.

As an English Major, I find this fascinating because if you look at it through an analytical lens, death is not actually brought to the forefront until book four when Harry Potter was fourteen years of age. While it's talked about, Harry's parents dying to save him, the "execution of buckbeak", Professor Quirrel and even a Basilisk, these things are all very far removed from Harry, and with the exception of the Basilisk, which was "evil", the deaths are never really seen. It's not until Harry reaches an age where his readers, somewhere between the ages of twelve and sixteen, are old enough to really appreciate the solid weight of Cedric's death and how it effects Harry as a person.

The wonderful thing about the readers and Harry Potter's effect on them is that readers were basically able to grow up with Harry. Not in a sense where we were able to go to Hogwarts or anything, which would have been fantastical, in anything but imagination. No, but in a sense, Harry grew up as we did. He went through all of those awkward stages of development, not including his little emo phase in the movies, such as dating and growing up and having to make decisions. People identified with him as a person because it was basically like watching that neighbor down the street getting taller and growing a beard when you were going through the same thing...or something like that. And let's not ignore the rabid way his fans flock to just about anything even remotely related to it, I mean just look at J. K. Rowling's newest book, which has nothing to do with Harry Potter.

Percy Jackson

Now the case could be made that Percy Jackson has every bit the appeal of Harry Potter with its readers, but in this case, I just don't see it. It might be because I didn't actually get into the series until just last year, making me too old for my own self-imposed reading limit. I became interested in the series after the ill fated first movie came out, hold your boos because I'll get to the movies at a later date, but didn't actually try reading the books until a year or two later. Unfortunately, I just couldn't: the writing was just too juvenile for me.

Now I should clarify. I don't mean that the writer wrote in crayon, or that he used a lot of 1 cent words. I simply mean that the book was juvenile and the writing exemplified it. I got within about a chapter worth of story before I had to put the book down because I could feel my brain cells liquefying and dribbling out my ears...I still have the stains to prove it. A lot of books write in a style where you have to go up to their level, War and Peace, Shakespears works, anything by Terry Goodkind, but with Rick Riordan's books, you actually have to go down a peg to get what he's going at. And that's why the Percy Jackson books have such a limited shelf life: the books never really evolve and grow, so they really are meant to be read when you are at the same age level, which is a shame because the books aren't really finished.

Percy and his friends also grow, in a similar, though less consistent manner in comparison to Harry Potter and friends, but the problem is that they never quite grow up, and their emotions are severly stunted. Take for instance death, in the third book, a character is killed less than halfway through the book. The character was brand new and barely served a purpose except as literary manslaughter, (the creation and murder of an interestingly developed character for the sole purpose of advancing the plot,) but the worse thing about her death is her compatriots reactions. They are sad, and mourn her passing...for about five minutes before they start making Dam/Damn jokes for an obscene amount of time, and then they don't really mention her until the end of the book. Does not compute! In fact that's the only comparison I can make for that, robot logic. It has all the feel of a person who understands death, but not really the significance it holds in the emotional spectrum.

Now that’s not to say that all of the books take this route. The first book in the second series, The Lost Heroes actually took a great leap into more adult themes. It took a look at how things were going in the Greek camp, and how they could be under new leadership by the new heroes brought into the camp. It took a look at emotional issues between two of the main characters and asked if they were real or not, and if not, could they ever be. Unfortunately this was ruined in the next book, The Son of Neptune, when Percy was brought back into the picture and everything went back to one-liners and indulgent humor.

So I think that's where the Percy Jackson books really fall apart with readers. They had all the makings of a truly in depth emotional book: abandonment issues, destiny and fate, love, and epic battles, but the emotional range of it is stunted like a robot or someone who's been in a coma since they were five and don't really know how to react to things.

How They Compare

Harry Potter definitely wins out as far as readers go. The books just reach out to a better range of people, they are emotionally realistic and approachable to their audience, and they hold as great an appeal to adults and readers who just want to re-read the books as they get older. Percy Jackson by comparison doesn't really try to reach readers on an emotional level and has very little depth as far as character development, almost as if Rick Riordan said to himself, "I have the perfect idea for these characters," and then just decided never to change them as they went through some really deep events.

And of course, just look at the fanaticism of the Harry Potter fans. Even years after the end of the series, people are still dressing up as Hogwarts wizards and death eaters for events: birthday parties, Halloween, etc. People get tattoos with the Hogwarts' crests, I even saw an adult with a death eaters mark on his arm. What would a Percy Jackson party look like? A bunch of kids in orange or purple t-shirts? Or Greek or Roman armor? How would you even know what they were going for?


Friday, April 19, 2013


So the other day I was giving a thesis on a certain book that shall remain unnamed, but shall simply be referred to as PT. The thesis was on how the book doesn't really give anything to the reader except death and violence, and therefore has a substandard quality to it as far as character development, setting, plot, etc. After reading the thesis, someone in the room made a comment that I was biased in my opinion about the book. Now I had to do a double take on that, because to me, I don't think I've ever been biased against anything...well except for paranormal romance, but I think that one is warranted. So I actually looked up the definition of bias, and you know what? It is the most ridiculous and one sided definition I have ever encountered.

The definition read something like: an unfair preference for or dislike of something? Dear god you could write a thesis paper just on that! First off, in this day and age, who say something is unfair? If someone doesn’t like what you have to say does that make it unfair? or does that person need to rethink what fair really is? Fair for who? Fair to preserve their feelings? Life isn't fair people. Spending money on an ebook only to find 120 pages of it are missing isn't fair, but do you go cry about it? Or do you go out and buy the hard copy because you really want to read the book? And what constitutes an "Unfair Preference". I can understand if it's children you are talking about, saying which one you like more. That is an unfair preference. But really, does liking something better than another make it unfair to the one left behind? I like pepsi better than coke? Does that make it unfair to coke? Is that bias? and if so, who cares? Other people like coke, let them drink it.

And what about disliking something? You know about a year ago, a friend of mine asked me why I never went to go hang out with them when they hung out with a friend of his. Not wanting to split hairs or lie, I told him: It's because I don't like your friend. He was very upset and kept asking me why I didn't like him. And to be honest, I couldn't tell him because I didn't have an answer. The guy was perfectly nice, very polite, always had a conversation to carry on. I didn't hate him, or anything silly like that, it's just that he wasn't MY friend, and I didn't like him. And to be honest, I don't regret it. I'd rather be honest about not liking something or someone, even if I don't have a reason to, than to pander to someone just for the sake of preserving the feelings of those around me.

To be honest, this definition sucks. It's pretty much the equivalent of saying that anyone with a name that starts with "S" is a devil worshiper because Satan starts with "S". It's a broad definition taking a lot of words that hurt someone’s feelings a long time ago, and so they created a word to keep people from doing it again. It actually brings to mind two different excerpts from two different books. In the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher series, the Marat people are often confused when the Alerans use a word that has multiple meanings, like lie for instance. At one point, either Kitai or her father asks, and I'm paraphrasing, "Why do you people have words that have more than one meaning, don't you have enough trouble understanding each other already?" The second one is from the recently read The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett. In the book, the character Abban gives an inner monologue as to why his people forbid the eating of pork: once, their great leader in the past was poisoned with a piece of pork, and spent hours on the pot afterwards, and therefore banned the eating of it in the future. Take what you will from this, but I refuse to be held down by the definition of a word that just makes people feel better about hearing something they don't like. It's called an opinion, and if it wasn't warranted, I wouldn't be writing it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Single Handed Part 1

I know that with everything I write I sometimes ruffle a few feathers. I think criticism, and the ability to use criticism to make your work better, is the sign of an excellent writer. That being the case, I'm going to take things one step further and put a piece up that I've been working on for a while. This is actually part two of a four part project that I'm putting together. So any comments, critiques or criticisms are appreciated. So, without further ado, this is "Single Handed"

Single Handed: A Noir Mythology

With a shout of panic I fell out of bed, limbs tangled in the comforter, and crashed onto the tiled floor. Eyes streaming in pain, I glared up at the ceiling, trying to divine some hidden meaning in the cracks, which stubbornly refused to give any answers.

Looking up at the clock on the side of the bed, I groaned as I saw that it was only 4:22 AM. The bank wouldn’t be open for several hours, and after the dreams I’d just thrashed out of, I wasn’t eager to go back to sleep. Grumbling at the bed, my sore wrist, and the general unfairness of the universe, I disentangled myself from the covers and threw them back on the bed.

The apartment I was living in at the moment was a small efficiency. All of it was one room: living room, bedroom, and kitchen. The only other room in the apartment was a bathroom the size of a urinal cubicle, and made me feel claustrophobic just thinking about going in there. It was a piece of shit, in a bad part of town, but it had two things going for it. It was right next to a bank and grocery store, and it was cheap enough that I didn’t go broke on rent with my retirement check.

I walked across the room to the kitchen and turned the coffee maker on. Refried coffee grounds bubbled in the maker and I swore when I went in today to cash my check I would get some fresh grounds.

I looked out the small, dirty picture window above the sink. Today was the kind of day Asgard saw so rarely: the snow was falling in gentle powdery drifts on the street with little wind to speak of. It almost made the hellhole look picturesque. It was the perfect weather for a quick stroll down the street and back.

The coffee machine let out a sad, almost despondent beep, and I was going over with a clean-ish mug from the rack when the answering machine across the room went off. The first thing I’d done when I’d retired was take the ringer out of the phone. I didn’t have any close friends who would drop by if I didn’t answer. I was reaching for the coffee pot when the voice came out of the machine and I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Hey Tyler, it’s the Chief…Chief Locke,” the voice paused, and I felt my hand grip down hard on the pots handle. Locke sounded like he always did, as if he were grinning from ear to ear at some private joke and I could just imagine the smug look on his pointed face.

“I’m calling to remind you that the Mayor is still trying to set up a time to deliver your commendation. He’s been very patient since your retirement, but he seems to think he’s waited long enough, and I’m beginning to agree. It’s time to get off your ass, stop lounging around, and accept thanks for all your hard work. Call me back, you know the number.” There was a genial laugh, and the line went dead with another sad beep.

It was the last beep the answering machine ever made. With a shout, I twisted around, throwing the coffee pot. It spun in the air, flinging sludge-like coffee around the room, making angry little Rorschach inkblots on the floor and accumulated clothes. With a blast of coffee, the pot hit the answering machine and exploded in a million pieces.

I glared across the room at the mess for a few minutes before slamming my arm down on the counter, bruising my already sore wrist, and cursed bitterly.

The Aging Reader and the Dying Series

With everything that's been happening out East in Boston this week, I decided to postpone my snarky comments about The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett, or any other book for that matter, and speak about something a little more sober, if not somber. This being something that's close to my heart, and therefor at least moderately more serious. First of course, I would like to say that my heart goes out to the people of Boston, and to any people who know people out there. This is a trying time for everyone, and you are in my thoughts.

When I was little, I think around 8-12 years old, I found a book in a Walden Book Store, (If that doesn't tell you how young I was, I don't know.) The book was the first in a series called the Diadem Series and was called The Book of Names. In it, three kids were transported from their own individual world to another, where they find out that they can do magic. In the books world, the galaxy was set up in concentric rings, and the closer you got to the center rings, the more powerful you got, but the downside being that if you weren't powerful enough to handle the magic, it would kill you. The book was exciting, I couldn't put it down for days. I also, unfortunately, could never find book two.

Or three.

I found book four a few months later, but honestly, what kind of person actually enjoys reading books out of order like that? There was so much missing from the plot that I didn't know about that it was like coming home to find someone's rearanged all of your furniture, broken all of the lights, and left lego booby traps all over your carpet. I never found the other books when I was younger, and I always felt disappointed at that, because I felt it was a wonderful series and would I have loved to continue it. I used to wonder if the book was only available in other countries and hadn't been translated over, or if possibly the author or publishing company had gone under, and the two copies I had found were all that was left. Very post-apocalyptic, but hey, I have an active imagination

Well wonder of wonders, now that I'm an adult, I found that the books did continue, and that there are a bunch of them out there that I never knew about. On Amazon I found a ton of them just ripe for the picking. But I find myself wondering: am I a bit old to be reading these books. I'd buy them in a heartbeat, knowing that they have a special place in my heart from my childhood, but would they still hold up as an adult.

That's a problem with a lot of these longer book series. I remember the Animorph books, and Everworld by K.A. Applegate. The books went on for so long that, by the time they finished, I was already on to bigger books and I was always left to wonder at what happened to those old friends I left behind. I imagine it must be worse from those older than myself. I remember reading something about a woman who was upset she might not live to see the last Dark Tower book by Stephen King, and I know it was five and six years between the last two George R. R. Martin books.

So I sit here at my computer, glaring between this blog and Amazon and my bank acount, wondering at the time that I missed in Diadem and wondering what happened to the people I once knew so well. Are you well friends? Did you get what you were looking for, and would I even recognize you if I saw you again? I might buy them, just to test the murky waters again, and if I find them somewhat tepid now that I've had time to grow, I may give them to my younger sister, so that she can start a journey of her own that I can foster.