Fantasy literature has always been a bit of a conundrum for the Christian reader. Throw small children into the mix, and it’s positively controversial. When we did Hogwarts Summer School several summers ago, the question “What does a Christian do with Harry Potter?” is one that came up quite often. In a way, J. K. Rowling made it easy– God is barely mentioned in her books, unless someone is taking His name in vain. Nevertheless, the Christian message in the series shines through, especially in the last book, and the story told mirrors The Story. After reading the series for myself as well as the thoughts of other authors (John Granger’s (no relation to Hermione) Looking for God in Harry Potter
comes to mind), I felt perfectly comfortable inviting Harry Potter into our Christian home.
This summer, as we enjoy our own version of Camp Half-Blood, the question comes up again. This time, it’s “What does a Christian do with the Olympians series?” Fortunately, Rick Riordan makes it a little easier for us by addressing the situation in his first book.
“Wait,” I told Chiron, “You’re telling me there’s such a thing as God?”
“Well, now,” Chiron said. “God– capital G, God. That’s a different matter altogether. We shan’t deal with the metaphysical.”
“Metaphysical? But you were just talking about–“
“Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors; the immortal gods of Olympus. That’s a smaller matter.”
–The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
A smaller matter? Well, yes and no.
It would be easy to say that Mr. Riordan packs God-with-a-capital-G away in a nice little package and tucks Him off in a closet for the remainder of the series, but of course, that’s never the way of it. The children ask questions, they seem the similarities and–more importantly– the dissimilarities– between the Greek gods and their God, and they ask ponder the answers.
How can a god be so fickle?
How could a god break his promise?
Why can’t a god do what he pleases?
And with all of these questions, they’re scratching the surface, getting at the nature of the God they love and worship. This is what good books help us do.
In Book Two, The Sea of Monsters, Chiron is explaining to Percy his place in the grand scheme of things.
“…Humans don’t exist on the same level as the immortals. They can’t even be hurt by our weapons. But you, Percy– you are part god, part human. You live in both worlds. You can be harmed by both, and you can affect both.
That’s what makes heroes so special. You carry the hopes of humanity into the realm of the eternal. Monsters never die. They are reborn from the chaos and barbarism that is always bubbling under civilization, the very stuff that makes Kronos stronger. They must be defeated again and again, kept at bay. Heroes understand that struggle. You fight the battles humanity must win, every generation, in order to stay human. Do you understand?”
-The Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan
Heady stuff for the 9-to-11-year old set.
I don’ pretend to know what Mr. Riordan’s particular brand of spirituality is, if any. I’ve read his blog
a bit, and can’t really get a feeling for it. Honestly, I don’t think it really matters. I’ve always been a big believer that Truth-with-a-capital-T can make itself known through just about anything, and I believe that Greek mythology in general and the Percy Jackson books in particular speak some real Truth about the nature of humans and the nature of God.
Rick Riordan’s words echo the sentiment put forth by Michael Card in his song “Joy in the Journey”:
To all who are born of the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him,
Who belong to eternity, stranded in time,
And weary of struggling with sin–
Forget not the hope that’s before you,
And never stop counting the cost.
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost.
In God’s kingdom, we’re all called to be heroes. We’re all called to fight the demons, the monsters, the darkness, time and time again, because monsters never die. In Christianity, as adopted daughters and sons of the true Immortal One, we take up our arms, not by our own wits or power and not abandoned by a fickle god, but supported by the one true God, and we fight against the chaos and barbarism that has been part of this world since the Fall.
Pretty heady stuff for all of us.