Percy Jackson and the Olympians

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Updated: May 04, 2021
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The world of Percy Jackson proved to be enthralling to many young readers all across the world. Rick Riordan crafted an immersive world, compelling characters, and an exciting story that raptured the attention of millions. So when the book was slated to be adapted into a movie the fan base was genuinely excited and anticipating the adaptation. Fans of Riordan’s series were excited to see one of their favorite stories brought to life on the big screen. However the actual product that was delivered proved to be thoroughly disappointing to many die hard fans of the series. The story that many had come to love had been altered to an extent that was unforgivable for many of the fans of the pentalogy series. The adaptation took away so many of the things that made the readers come to love the story in the first place and distorted it into something nearly unrecognizable. As a fan of the books I’d previously dismissed the adaptation as simply a disrespectful attempt at translating a great movie. However I want to take the time to delve deeper into the world of film adaptations. The goal of this paper is to gain an understanding of why the film adaptation for Percy Jackson the Lightning Thief varied so drastically from the book.

When adapting a book to a film it is an accepted fact that many aspects will not translate over into the movie. Literature and film are two seperate mediums of expression and consequently use two different methods to express themselves. Literature is all about using words to convey its meaning. An author does this through vivid description, extensive dialogue, and plenty of exposition. Literature is focused on using its words whereas films are all about using images to deliver a message. Therefore literary works require a great amount of shearing in order to translate the piece into something that is conveying its meaning through less words and more visuals (Hutcheon). This brings up the issue of their being comparisons between the original work of literature and its film adaptation. Despite the fact that they are two entirely different forms of media many fans of the literary work are constantly comparing the movie to the book. In famous adaptations such as Lord of The Rings we can see instances that show film does not detract rather it enhances many visual aspects of the story truly bringing the world to life (Nel). However the popular opinion is that a film adaptation is a derivative form of the original literary work . Individuals like Robert Stam argue that a work of literature will always have an unquestionable advantage over any adaptation because of the fact that it existed first (Hutcheon). However others argue that a film adaptation is its own separate entity all together not to be compared to its literary counterpart at all. An adaptation is a reinterpretation and a reimagination of another work not a direct copy. Therefore the argument in favor of adaptations is that an adaptation is not meant to live in the shadow of its literary work, rather it is meant to stand alone in its existence.

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So another question is why adapt in the first place? If an adaptation is meant to stand on its own apart from its original work why not craft a new story instead of reimagining an old one? There are many examples of adaptations all throughout media showing that they carry a certain popularity. However they also seem to carry a certain negative tradition of being routinely scorned, yet we continue making them. Linda Hutcheon argues that this partially “comes from the comfort of ritual combined with the piquancy of surprise.” which is basically saying adaptations are a result of our love of the familiar. We can see this throughout many of the stories we have repeatedly adapted all throughout time. Romeo and Juliet is a famous play that has been reimagined in dozens of films. For many adaptors all throughout history they have known that art is derived from other art (Hutcehon). We can see so many examples of the same stories told slightly differently or with a twist yet we remain engaged by them as if we have never heard them before. The practice of retelling and reformatting various stories has been popular practice for many years. Western culture is filled with people that retell stories, so much so to the point where Walter Benjamin states “storytelling is always the art of repeating stories.”

However enhancing the artistic experience through reimagining the story is not the only reason some adaptors take to adapting different works of art. Reimaging a story is more true to the art and culture of a piece, however some adaptors are simply seeking to make profit. Some adaptors recognize the severity of the fact that they are altering another artists piece of work. However other adaptors are simply seeking to profit off the literary work of another individual. There is a culture of commercial exploitation of literary works that already have a strong and reliable fan base. Adaptors profit off of prize winning works such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Beloved because they claim to be the original screenplay therefore a source of financial gain (Hutcheon). There is also the issue of expenses when thinking of a collaboration.Any work of art requires a vast amount of time and effort that goes into bringing said work of art into fruition. So in consideration of collaborative art forms the safest bet is usually adaptations. This is safe because if you’re adapting a piece that means it already has a fanbase that will ensure the relative success of the movie. Not only that but that makes it easier to go about expanding the franchise. The writers of the original work however are impacted negatively because the film option fees for novels are quite small due to the fact that few literary works are actually adapted to film. So it is easy to see that economic motivation impacts every stage of the process one goes through when adapting a literary work.

When adapting a literary work there are also many legal matters to take into consideration. It is clear that adaptors are not copying the original work of art rather they are taking the bits and pieces that they like and leaving the rest behind. When it comes to issues of control over a work of art in terms of adaptations contracts typically seek to absolve publishers or studios of any legal consequences. An adaptation is quite literally called a derivative work under the constraints of the law. However laws like copyright infringement literally solely cover the literal copying of words. This has been proven by many unsuccessful suits by novelists whose novels had been used as the source material for a film adaptation. In the sight of the law straight forward adaptations are not truly their own form of art however they are closer to being described as postmodern appropriation art. Which is basically the practice of taking others work and “refunctioning” it through things like title changes or recontextualization (Hutcheon).

So it is clear that in terms of adapting nothing is truly simple. We live in a society that both loves adaptations as proven by our repetitive recreations of various works of art. However we also criticize them for being derivative and detracting from the quality of the overall work of art. There is the one group of individuals who argue that adaptations are simply a way of expressing oneself and that art derives from other art. These individuals do not believe that an adaptation is derivative at all rather it stands out on its own as a powerful and independent work of reimagined art. However there is the other group of individuals who views adaptations as disrespectful and diluted versions of already amazing works of art. They focus on the many negative aspects of adaptation such as the fact that adaptations tend to cut out a fair amount of the source material in order to reformat it. And by cutting out the source material they lose the essence of the story and what it truly means. They also focus in on the negatives of the people who are adapting. Despite the fact that there are some adaptors who respect the source material there are others who simply seek to manipulate a literary work of fiction for their own financial gain. Not only the financial gain but the fact that the author is routinely slighted in the financial dealings. Those both for and against the topic of adaptations have many good points that would support their side. There are many aspects that go into formulating an adaptation that are both negative and positive. After evaluating the various point both for and against film adaptations of literary work I would like to refocus on the specific adaptation in question which is Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.

Imagine you lived in a world where meeting myths and slaying monsters was just a typical tuesday afternoon. A world where you can bend water to your will, summon fire in your hands, or call down lightning at the drop of a hat. Imagine a world filled with unbelievable magic where the impossible is routinely proven to be possible.This is the world of young Perseus Jackson. Percy Jackson and The Olympians is an imaginative and immersive book series written by Rick Riordan and published in June of 2005. The series introduces the readers to a world in which the greek gods of olympus are all alive and thriving. Since the days of the fall of Greece they were thought to be gone, however in reality they have been following the progress of western civilization. This lands them directly above the streets of Manhattan in New York City living above the Empire State Building. The series focuses on a young man named Percy Jackson who finds out that he is the forbidden son of one of the most powerful greek gods, Poseidon god of the sea. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are known as the Big Three among the gods. Children from these big three are some of the most powerful and the most dangerous demigods to ever exist. So decades ago the three of them came together and formed a pact to never sire demigod children again. So the simple fact that Percy exists immediately causes turmoil among the gods. However, it is all made exponentially worse by the fact that Percy has been framed for stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt. His bolt is Zeus’s most powerful weapon and stealing it was essentially a declaration of war. Percy discovers that there is a deadline by which the bolt must be returned. If not Zeus and Poseidon along with the rest of the gods will go to war.

The first book of the series is centered around Percy learning about and adapting to this new world where all the gods and monsters of myth are alive and out ot destroy him.Percy has to set out on a quest in order to find Zeus’s lightning bolt, proving his own innocence and preventing an all out war between the gods. As the story develops you find that Percy is merely a pawn in a larger war waged between forces that are much more powerful than even the gods can handle. The story is filled with twists and turns that leave the readers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.The story proves to be engaging and exciting and has captured the hearts of many young readers all over the world. Over the years the series has gained an enormous following with a fan base that is continues to grow even now.

The fan base was decidedly upset when the product of the movie came out and the adaptation had strayed so far away from what the book had been. It was especially disappointing cause for many people the books were more than just a retelling of the old myths. While the series equips the reader with an insane amount of knowledge on every greek myth you could think of it is clear that Riordan is offering his readers more. Riordan essentially leads to the redefinition of these classic myths into another form of popular culture by making kids his target audience. Riordan also uses this series to acknowledge the value of metamorphosis and adapting

to a world that is continuously changing all around you (Morey). Riordan transmitted classic myths into a popular reading material among children and many people saw that as a very profound and impactful feat on his part. He manages to not only craft a fun story for children but his series happens to be educational as well. Riordan also exhibits a level of sophistication by including text that targets adults within his works as well. Riordan crafts a work of art that has layers upon layers of sophistication that impact the minds of young people and adults alike. So for many to see the alteration, distortion, and outright exclusion of many important aspects of Riordans work made the films disappointing for not only the fans but the author as well. Rick Riordan had to watch as his work of art was turned into something he did not approve. He sold the rights to his movie and therefore “I had no information, influence or control over what Fox might do with them.” (Riordan).

There were many of the aspects of the film that were slightly altered. The character of Annabeth Chase for instance. In the series she is described as blonde with stormy gray eyes. In the movies however the actress portraying her is a brunette with electric blue eyes. Those details however small they seem were made frequently throughout the entirety of the movie. When all of these small details continuously accumulated the result is an entirely different experience for the audience. Which it’s thought to be why those who first read a literary work are more critical of its adaptation to a film. However it was not only the small choices and features that were altered within the Percy Jackson adaptation. There were many large points and key characters that were completely excluded from the movie. The god of war Ares for example was completely excluded from the movie. However in the book he played a instrumental role in the development in the story and the overall result of the quest. There was even a major fight scene that he

initiated with Percy that delivered one of the most shocking twists of the entire story. The quest itself was also greatly altered when the book was adapted into a movie. In the story Riordan centered the entire adventure around Percy looking for clues that would lead him to Zeus’s bolt. The adventure progressed as Percy discovered more and more clues that lead him to finding Zeus’s bolt. However in the film adaptation the story was predominantly centered around Percy and his companions locating three pearls. The fact that the found the Lightning bolt at the end of their adventure made little to no sense and was a stroke of pure luck. And those are only two of the many examples of large and important details that were either altered or completely excluded from the adaptation. There are many more characters, backstories, and details that were drastically changed. This resulted in the changing of the entire experience for the audience that had read the book and was now watching the movie.

After evaluating that there are many aspects that go into adapting literary works into films I gained a deeper understanding of the entire process. I came to understand what adaptations truly mean from a cultural perspective and the various reasons we continue to produce them. Creating adaptations is a long standing tradition within our culture. Adaptations is our way of drawing stories from within other stories in order to slightly alter and change them therefore giving us brand new works of art. I do now understand that when adapting a literary work to a film the film is not meant to be an exact replica of that literary work rather a separate entity that goes towards enhancing it. Films are meant to stand on their own not in the shadow of the work they are based off of. However I stand by the assessment that when adapting the Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief book into a movie the adaptors did a horrendous job. Although film adaptations are meant to stand alone they are still meant to uphold the message that the original work was trying to convey. When adapting Percy Jackson the adapters lost many important aspects of the books that drastically changed the overall message and meaning of the movie. When adapting the story the adaptors detracted to many details integral to the significance of the story. Consequently robbing the adaptation of its cultural significance and the features that made it so popular with its fans. So while there are instances of adaptations that vary slightly from the book those adaptations at least do a good job of retaining the important messages and features of the text. The adaptations made to Percy Jackson did not achieve the same goal and therefore became known as an example of a bad film adaptation. It was lacking in many of the major components that had contributed to the overall success of the story. Rather than making slight alterations and enhancing to the message the adaptors of Percy Jackson stripped most of what made Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief so poignant. This greatly worked against them when they had delivered the product to their target audience and they were met with much disappointment. So it is true to say that our culture greatly values adaptations. However there is a right way and a wrong way to do it and the adaptors of Percy Jackson did it wrong. 

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Percy Jackson and The Olympians. (2021, May 04). Retrieved from