If you had a Greek mythology phase in the early 2000s, you most likely have one man to thank: Rick Riordan. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians world he introduced to young readers went well beyond what we learned about in textbooks, resurrecting these myths by giving them a new life. Along with this, he gave kids (and adults too!) the chance to feel seen. The greatest part of it all is that Riordan continues to do all these things through his voice, literature, and most recently, his prominent role in the upcoming Percy Disney+ series.
To celebrate his 58th birthday, we’ve decided to take a moment to appreciate Rick Riordan’s life and the influence he has on readers across the world!
Before PJO, Riordan was a teacher and adult fiction writer. Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1964, Riordan began writing short stories at a young age. In 1997, he released his first mystery novel, Big Red Tequila. The book followed Tres Navarre, a private investigator based in Riordan’s hometown. He was awarded the Anthony, the Edgar, and the Shamus awards for his work. In 2007, Riordan concluded the series with its seventh book, Rebel Island. While writing the Tres Navarre books and teaching, Riordan’s students would often ask why he was not writing for children. It only took a few years, and a bedtime story, to realize what audience he knew best.
The Story That Started It All
Haley Riordan would ask his father to tell him stories of the Greek gods at a young age. Once Riordan had exhausted the lore, his son requested for him to create new ones with the existing characters. After crafting a story that took three nights to tell, Riordan turned it into a series that would revive Greek mythology for a new generation. In 2005, he released The Lightning Thief, the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. The novel featured twelve-year-old Percy, who not only discovered that he is a demigod, but that his father is Poseidon. The book became a hit, winning multiple awards and paving the way for a spin-off series, movie adaptation, and a musical.
The novels bore The Heroes of Olympus and the Trials of Apollo series which each includes five books set in the same universe. In 2010, the first Percy Jackson movie, starring Logan Lerman, hit the big screen, much to Riordan’s dismay. He has never watched any of the movies and even revealed, in a now deleted tweet, that it was his “life’s work going through a meat grinder” based off the script alone. On the flip side, Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki, the writers behind The Lightning Thief musical, received Riordan’s blessing and worked closely with his team. Most recently, Riordan has expressed his excitement and hands-on role in the upcoming Disney+ series, Percy Jackson.
His Fight For Inclusion and Acceptance
Early on in his creation of PJO, Riordan based Percy on his son, Haley. Percy, similarly to Haley, was written as a young boy with ADHD and dyslexia. Riordan had a few students read through his drafts, and many of them offered insight as to how to write kids with these conditions. It is not often to find characters who are dyslexic or have ADHD in many genres, and it created a space for kids and adults alike to feel seen.
After the casting announcement of Percy Jackson, many were overjoyed at the age-appropriate and diverse actors that would be starring in it. Riordan expressed that he was looking for the best actors to portray these roles, not as a way to score diversity points. When hateful speech began circulating online towards Leah Jeffries, the young girl playing Annabeth Chase, Riordan immediately put a stop to it. He writes on his website,
“The core message of Percy Jackson has always been that difference is strength. There is power in plurality. The things that distinguish us from one another are often our marks of individual greatness. You should never judge someone by how well they fit your preconceived notions.”Rick Riordan
In addition to this, he calls out the blatant racism and prejudice against this young woman who will most definitely be an inspiration to anyone who watches the series. He ends his blog post by expressing the pride he takes in this adaptation, and that he is continuing to improve on ways for kids to find themselves in his stories.
In his career so far, Riordan has taught our generation more than Greek mythology, but how to be a better person and friend. He has shown through his own actions that “being a hero doesn’t mean you’re invincible. It just means that you’re brave enough to stand up and do what’s needed.”
Happy birthday, Rick Riordan, and thank you for all you’ve done, and continue to do!
Click here to read more on the upcoming Percy Jackson series.