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?



  1. This is a great article and perfectly exemplifies my thoughts.

    You shan't be too hard on it, though:
    Percy Jackson is a Middle Grade series
    Harry Potter is a Young Adult series

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