Well, Rick Riordan is at it again, taking on mythology to weave a story of action and adventure. And he succeeds again at spinning a solid story (and start to a yet another new series of books) with The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle. If the title isn’t self-evident, the god Apollo has been cast down to Earth as a mortal by Zeus, and he must earn his godhood back by performing heroic deeds.
If you like Percy Jackson and all of the other Riordan books about Greek, Roman, Egypt and Norse mythology, then you are sure to enjoy this one. I’ve had a handful of students loving the book, and as a read-aloud book with my son, I enjoyed it for what it is. I’m finding the narrative voice of his characters a little too much the same, but that’s my own critical reading, I guess.
Actually, I don’t want to review the story here. Rather, I want to note a subversive element that Riordan is working into his stories these days. Let’s note that, in my estimation, the target audience for these books is probably nine year olds to 13 year olds.
The subversive element (which perhaps is the wrong choice of words) that I am noticing began with Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades, in the Heroes of Olympus series, and continues with Apollo in this one. Riordan is making visible the gay sexuality of some of his characters, and while it did not make me or my son uncomfortable (if you knew the community we live in, you’d know why … diverse families are part of the fabric of our city), it did strike me as a daring move by Riordan, given the size of his youthful audience.
Now, let me be clear. There is nothing risque about what Riordan is doing. In fact, there is a tenderness to it. And Riordan does not make a big deal out of Nico being a gay character in this story (in an earlier book, we learn that that he had a crush on Percy Jackson). But here, Nico has a male partner (Will) in Camp Half-Blood. The two hold hands and show love openly. And Apollo, as Gods are oft to do, is clearly bisexual. He has loved and cast away female loves of the past as much as male loves of the past, and those memories haunt him.
In particular, Apollo recalls multiples times in the novel how Hyacinth was one of his “true loves.” Apollo regrets how his own jealous actions led to Hyacinth’s brutal death, and how the flowers he created from Hyacinth’s spilled blood is a reminder of that love between God and man.
Now, Riordan could have ignored this sexuality element of Apollo’s mythology, but he hasn’t. I can only imagine the discussions going on with publishers. I may be wrong. Perhaps the turning tide of acceptance makes this homosexuality element a non-discussion point.
But I doubt it.
I admire that Riordan has not flinched from that part of the mythological stories, particularly in these controversial days of awareness of gay rights and equality. Still, I can’t help but think that some parents (and maybe teachers, even), if they bother to read what their kids are reading (as many are no doubt reading Riordan on a regular basis), might feel different about the move, given the conversative political and strict religious views of parts of the country.
I remain hopeful that the storylines will spark a discussion that can lead to understanding of lifestyles. Maybe a young reader, confused about their own sexuality, will see themselves in the story and find a path forward themselves. It may take writers like Riordan to plant seeds of compassion in young readers with literature, and the flowers may yet bloom in years to come. Adults are always more difficult.
Peace (is not a myth),