Last week, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer announced the release of Midnight Sun. However, 2020 wasn’t done with surprises for fandoms, and this time the protagonist is Percy Jackson.
On May 14, months after Twitter was flooded by the #DisneyAdaptPercyJackson hashtag, Rick Riordan announced that Disney+ is developing a live-action series adaptation of his books Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Unlike in the movie version, Rick Riordan has announced that he will be fully involved in the project. In order words, the show will be respectful of its diverse characters. I am incredibly excited for a series that will allow middle-grade children to see themselves represented on-screen and celebrated for their differences.
I fell in love with his work when I was young. As a huge Greek mythology nerd, I loved the Percy Jackson stories and the world that they described, based on the premise that the ancient Greek gods are real and they have kids, and these demigods live among us. The humor is unbeatable. Just read the chapter titles if you don’t believe me.
Moreover, I hope that the Percy Jackson adaptation paves the way for the adaptation of his other novels. Riordan’s writing has progressed as times changed, and his later series are probably the most diverse out there. I now have deep respect for Riordan as a person because of everything that he has done to support representation in his novels and promote diverse authors.
Riordan is a great example of what an ally should be. He doesn’t only include diverse characters in his stories. He uses his platform to launch and support fellow writers that have fewer chances of being published. And I admire him for that.
It’s fantastic that ‘middle grade’ books include characters of different sexualities.
Riordan’s later book series Heroes of Olympus include many racially and sexually diverse characters. Nico and Will are canonically gay, Leo is Latino, Frank is Chinese-Canadian, Hazel is African-American, Piper is half-Cherokee and Reyna is Puerto Rican. In The Trials of Apollo series, we meet Lavinia Asimov, who is in a romantic relationship with Poison Oak, a (female) dryad, as well as Hemethea and Josephine, a lesbian and biracial married couple who are raising their daughter Georgie.
I think it’s fantastic that American ‘middle grade’ books include so many characters of different cultures and sexual orientations. Moreover, Riordan does it with extremely naturality, not making these traits the focus of their character’s arcs but just one more part of them. His latest series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, is a great example of this. The protagonist questions his sexuality as he tries to save the world with the help of his friends Samirah al-Abbas, a devout (and badass) Muslim, and Alex Fierro, who is openly and confidently genderfluid.
I am particularly thankful for Alex’s portrayal, which has led Riordan to receive a Stonewall Award. She asks Magnus to use the pronouns ‘she’ or ‘he’, instead of ‘they’, depending on what gender she identifies more on a given day and this is who she is referred to in the book. She generally feels female, hence my use of ‘she’. Moreover, although it’s rare to find genderfluid main characters, it is even more so for one to be the protagonist’s love interest.
In the Magnus Chase series, Riordan does not only show that being genderfluid is okay but also portrays Magnus learning about Alex’s experience, being attracted to her, and loving her for who she is.
Of course, real people can’t magically change their physical appearance, as Alex can as a child of Loki. However, she explicitly says that the “irony” of it is that she can control her form but not her gender. She also states that her experience is only one of many, as every LGBTQIA+ person has a unique one.
Rick Riordan has said that he based Alex’s character on students that he used to teach. He also read Magenta and Gender Outlaws to better understand Alex and has promised to “apologize when I screw up” and “learn from my mistakes”, something quite uncommon in successful authors.
Riordan’s novels started stories that he would tell his son, who has dyslexia and ADHD.
My heart is full thinking of all of those children that will see themselves represented in Riordan’s stories and might feel like they too have the ability to do incredible things.
After all, Riordan’s novels started as bedtime stories that he would tell his son, who had been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, to show him that his disabilities were powers. In his novels, he says the same thing to millions of children worldwide.
Although it’s great that authors include more diverse characters, what I truly admire is people that have a huge platform and use it to give a voice to collectives that don´t usually have one. This is what Rick Riordan does, and what being an ally should look like. It’s what I aspire to be.
It is rare for genderfluid characters to be the main love interest.
Riordan’s work is based on the concept of ancient mythology being alive in the modern-day. He states that many people have asked him if we would write about their national mythologies. However, he has recognized that “I wasn’t the best person to write those books.”
This is why he created Rick Riordan Presents, an imprint that aims to “publish great middle-grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage”. Riordan merely writes the book’s introductions and helps with editing. This is what real allyship looks like.
The books published by Rick Riordan Presents include: The Padava Quintet by Roshani Chokshi, based on Hindu mythology, the Storm Runner Trilogy by Jennifer Cervantes, based on Aztec and Mayan mythology, the Sal & Gaby series by Carlos Hernandez based on Cuban mythology, the Paola Santiago series by Tehlor Kay Mejia based on Mexican mythology and the Tristan Strong series by Kwame Mbaliia based on West African/African-American mythology. The imprint has also published two stand-alone novels: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee, based on Korean mythology and Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, based on Navajo Mythology.
Riordan uses his platform to support authors from underrepresented collectives.
I hope people look at Rick Riordan and understand that people do not hate white straight male authors. However, it is a sad truth that they are more likely to get published than anyone else.
Riordan did not have to do all of what he did to be successful or to justify his success. He has written great stories and that makes him a great writer. However, his commitment to promoting diversity in literature and publishing makes him a great person, and a role model for all of us who want to help underrepresented communities.
Being privileged does not make you a bad person, but being conscious of it and using it to help others makes you a good one.