Percy Jackson, Homer and The Mighty Dead
If you happen to have kids between the ages of eight and 15 in your life, you've heard a lot about Rick Riordan's best-selling series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the follow-up series, The Heroes of Olympus.
Those books occupy the kind of primacy in the minds and bookshelves of young readers that Harry Potter did a decade ago. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series alone has sold some 20 million copies and the movies based on them have been blockbusters.
This is not your grandparents' Olympus. Riordan's books are an updating and remixing of Greek mythology and Homeric epics. In the first-person narration of Percy Jackson, who is the son of Poseidon and a human mother, the stately rhythms and fusty diction of Homer's verse are replaced by teenage vernacular and contemporary culture.
Riordan's books have also spurred a surge of interest in Greek mythology among kids who now hold schoolyard debates over who's cooler, Ares or Hades? Who's more beautiful, Hera, Athena or Aphrodite? And even if they think Homer is the main character of The Simpsons, they're talking about the adventures, gods, heroes and monsters that Homer chronicled in The Iliad and The Odyssey: the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis, the mercurial moods and passions of the Olympians.
Homer has never lost his currency in the Western world. The Iliad and The Odyssey permeate Western culture. The clang of swords in The Iliad, the deadly songs of Sirens and phrases like the "wine-dark sea" echo through the millennia.
Adam Nicolson has a more intense relationship with Homer than most. He has won many awards for his non-fiction books, which include God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, The Gentry: Stories of the English and his new book, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters.