I think Percy Jackson might be a bit of a Sue.
I know what you’re thinking. Hell, I’m thinking it: “What are you doing Jurakan?! Don’t you like Percy Jackson and the Olympians? Aren’t those books and Heroes of Olympus two of your favorite book series and one of the most well done Greek mythology-in-modern-day stories ever written, utilizing Riordan’s knowledge of mythology to include little-known details and obscure creatures? Why in the black name of Tartarus are you picking on Percy now? How dare you accuse Percy of being a Sue!?!”
…yeah, I’ve been struggling with this for a while. Also, I talk to myself.
But the point of this series of essays is not to say, “That character is definitely a Sue and you should hate them.” It’s more “that character displays Sue-ish qualities and might be a Sue.” That doesn’t mean they’re awful characters or it’s awful writing or the author is a shitty author. It just means that maybe that character is a bit over-the-top in their positive qualities. So… after a lot of thought, I think Percy might qualify. Feel free to disagree with me.
So… just so you know, tons of spoilers ahead.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it goes a bit like this: Perseus “Percy” Jackson is a preteen/teenage boy with ADHD and dyslexia who often has trouble fitting in and keeps getting himself expelled. He finds out that he’s actually the demigod son of Poseidon and he’s got awesome water powers, and goes to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp where demigods go to train and be safe between quests. He goes on quests to fulfill his destiny and all that good stuff, fighting monsters, giants, Titans, and the fact that he’s kind of oblivious. After starring in his own series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, he becomes a main character in the sequel series Heroes of Olympus.
So does he count as a Sue? I don’t know. But let’s look at the facts:
Is Percy overpowered? Eh… maybe? It doesn’t really get into the ridiculous levels until later on in the first series, and as he’s not always in focus in the sequel series it doesn’t come across as much, but there’s definitely a case for it. As the son of the god of the sea, he has power over water, can breathe underwater and not succumb to water pressure, can call upon small hurricanes, control ships, immediately know where he is at sea, is a master swordsman, and can make earthquakes. I mean, the majority of those make sense given he’s the son of Poseidon. Here’s the thing; we’ve never seen anything near that level of destructive capabilities from any other demigod. Thalia, Jason and Nico, demigods1 who are supposed to be around that level, and they have impressive powers, to be sure; Thalia and Jason can summon lightning, and Jason can fly. Nico is able to summon and control undead, shadow travel, and has some power over earth, making him the only one who comes close to Percy. But hurricanes, earthquakes? Yeah, not really, we’ve never seen him throw around that much raw power. Nico even says that Percy’s the most powerful demigod he’s ever seen.2
Percy’s also described as being ridiculously attractive. Well, maybe not “ridiculously,” but even girls who aren’t interested in him note he’s attractive; throughout both book series he has five different characters display romantic interest in him.
And the guy’s got the biggest hero complex I’ve ever seen; he always has to be the one to go save people. When Percy meets the god of fear, Phobos, he sees Camp Half-Blood in flames and all his friends and people he knows there begging him to save them. If that doesn’t scream SAVIOR COMPLEX, I don’t know what does. It’s lampshaded by Athena herself, who explains to him (and the readers) that his fatal flaw is his personal loyalty; he would sacrifice the world to save a friend. Mind you, that “fatal flaw” doesn’t really manifest in any way. Percy doesn’t have to overcome it, nor does it really any villain really exploit it in a way that really makes him question his values. One of the gods straight-up tells one of the other characters that there’s going to be a choice that he won’t be able to make because of it, and it’ll make or break the heroes’ quest. But it really doesn’t amount to anything as the choice (one of their team members, Leo, sacrificing himself to defeat the Big Bad Gaia) isn’t really presented to him at any time; they just tell him about it after that guy’s dead. He doesn’t even seem particularly upset about Leo’s death. So no… the character’s “fatal flaw” really doesn’t amount to anything.
I thought the idea of a hero’s flaw being explicitly spelled out in the narrative as something demigods have was a bit heavy-handed in the first place, but I cut some slack because this is a children’s/young adult series. But truth be told, this hero’s flaw… isn’t one? If anything consistently gets Percy in trouble, it’s his stubbornness and tendency to make rash decisions. For Zeus’s sake, the guy decides to mouth off Hera, Zeus’s wife and Queen of Heaven because she talks badly about Nico when he’s not there.
Furthermore… the whole ‘he will go to the ends of the cosmos for his friends’ is not all that accurate. He forgets about Bob and Calypso, immortals who have helped him, when they’re no longer directly in front of him, meaning they clearly didn’t mean that much to him to begin with (which, to Riordan’s credit, is highlighted and Percy is called out on it in the text). He’s also incredibly quick to assume that Nico’s intentions towards him are malicious without evidence to go off of other than he’s not doing precisely what he wants, with no consideration to Nico’s own difficult situations as the son of Hades.3 Yeah, the guy’s being mysterious and vague, but so are half the characters in this series.
And of course, Percy Jackson is in part based off of Rick Riordan’s son, who has ADHD and dyslexia. The story of The Lightning Thief, before it was a book, was one Riordan told his son to encourage him to read in spite of those conditions. And like Rick Riordan himself, Percy started dating his soul mate since the age of sixteen.
Like I said though, it’s not that some of his flaws aren’t lampshaded. The second series, Heroes of Olympus, has put some emphasis on how much he’s treated some side characters like crap by forgetting about them. And he’s not the main focus of the books anymore; he’s still one of the main characters, but he shares that spotlight with eight others. And throughout both series, he’s sympathetic enough; it’s always amusing to see his point of view on all the weird stuff that happens in this Greek mythological world.
But I can’t shake the feeling that he’s almost… too perfect at times. And I get it; he’s the most popular character in the series, the flagship of Rick Riordan’s most popular book franchise thing. When he’s not part of a project, fans tend to bitch about it as if they’d been punched in the gut. So I understand why he takes up so much time and gets as much adventures as he does.
That being said, it isn’t as if he’s the big hero in every occasion. In both his original series and the sequel series, he very clearly isn’t the one to take down the Big Bad. He has a part to play, and he’s certainly the protagonist, but it’s actually Luke redeeming himself that takes down Kronos, and Leo, Jason and Piper’s team up that takes down Gaia in the final battle. So it isn’t as if he’s the invincible hero who took down every major threat the universe faced on his own. And that’s quite refreshing for a young adult series.
And though I pointed out that Percy’s love interest (Annabeth) reflects part of Riordan’s life, and it’s painfully obvious from the get-go that she’s the love interest, their relationship is developed and in the end you can understand why they would end up together. It isn’t a forced relationship, like with so many famous Mary Sue relationships, where you wonder what they see in each other.
So is Percy Jackson… a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, or whatever)? If he is, he’s certainly one of the least harmful examples I’ve stumbled across. And to an extent, it might be that he’s an attempt to be a reconstruction or throwback to the ancient Greek heroes, who had exploits that often sound like the punch lines to those Chuck Norris jokes your friends used to tell. It’s difficult to discern; on the one hand, there are some glaring and noticeable failings in the way the character’s written, but on the other it’s obvious the author didn’t try too hard to make him perfect and makes him likeable enough that he’s not hateable.
I don’t know! But it’s something I thought I’d bring up, because in some ways he meets the criteria and I don’t know if anyone’s ever pointed it out before. He certainly could be, but like I said, if so Percy’s the least hateful one I’ve ever seen.
1 When I say “around that level,” I mean that they’re children of the Big Three (Zeus, Poseidon or Hades), who in-series are described to be among the most powerful demigods.
2 Though it’s later revealed that Nico is a bit biased, so… I suppose we should consider that.
3 Percy’s crappy treatment towards Nico is made all the more noticeable and dickish when we find out that Nico’s standoff-ish around him because he’s actually infatuated with Percy. Yeesh, give this kid a hug.