Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Flying Under the Fundamentalist Radar

My primary lover will be teaching fourth grade this year, rather than the third she's taught in her first two years of teaching. When I'd mentioned to her that I was looking for stuff to read that was similar to Harry Potter in feel, now that I'd finished with Deathly Hallows, she said that she was going to put me to work for her. She'd been wanting to find some Harry Potter readalikes to read aloud in class that were on the same reading level, but shorter and would allow her to get through more books in a single school year. So, she asked me to read a few and to give her my opinion.

I'd mentioned a book to her, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, so I read that one first. This book is first in a series of three (so far) called the Young Olympians. The main characters in the books are the half blood children of Greek gods and mortals.

It was an engaging read, though not quite as satisfying for an adult reader as the Potter books. But there were definite elements in it that would resonate with Potter readers. Percy Jackson, the "Harry" character, is the son of Poseidon and a mortal(Muggle) woman. His two best friends Grover (Ron) is a satyr, and Annabeth (Hermoine) is the daughter of Athena and a mortal(Muggle) man. Percy has a stepfather, Stinky Gabe, who is amazingly like Vernon Dursley.

The half-blood children attend Camp Half-Blood(Hogwarts), where Dionysus(Snape) is a counselor who doesn't much like Percy. Percy's former teacher, Chiron (Lupin), also helps out there. There are 12 cabins that correspond to the 12 major gods and goddesses and a camper is assigned to the cabin that corresponds to their divine parent. The children of Ares(Slytherin) are particularly nasty to Percy, with Clarisse(Draco) being their leader. Percy is alone in the Poseidon cabin, but most of his friends live in the Hermes(Hufflepuff)cabin.

During his adventure, Percy, Grover, and Annabeth fight all sorts of monsters, but end up dealing the the Furies(Dementors) most often.

I won't give away the plot so as not to spoil it for anyone interested in reading it for themselves or to give it to a preteen or teenager, but I was able to recommend this book for my lover to use in her classes. I think once she reads it to her students, they'll want to read the others in the series.

But there were certain elements in the book that might cause problems with fundamentalist parents if they happen to read the book themselves. First of all, the Greek gods and godesses were never much on monogamy. Let's face it, most of them were decidedly libertine in their proclivities. And Riordan doesn't sugar coat this fact in the books, either.

Every kid at Camp Half-Blood was born out of wedlock and Riordan presents this in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental way. The only concession to traditional morality he makes is to refer to the mortals as "girlfriends" and "boyfriends" of the gods and goddesses, rather than properly referring to them as "lovers". And he highlights the fact that some had more "girlfriends" and "boyfriends" than others, sometimes concurrently.

In Percy's case, his mother was single when she had an affair with Poseidon and there was never any pretense that there would ever be any marriage. She kept her own last name when she married Gabe, and it's made clear in the book that she didn't marry him for love, but rather for security.

After reading the book, I wandered over to Amazon.com to read the reviews, fully expecting to see angry reviews from fundamentalists claiming that the book was immoral and eeeeeeeeeevil, as they've done with the Potter books. But there was nary a fundie review to be found; the book enjoyed high ratings from nearly everyone.

I was a bit baffled at how this book fell under the fundie censorship radar -- perhaps they're so busy frothing at the mouth over the Potter books that these less well known books were able to slip by unnoticed.

At any rate, I'll get a perverse satisfaction knowing that my lover will be reading the first book to her fourth graders this year. I hope she's able to get through it without any fundamentalist parents being any the wiser.


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