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.

So…yeah.

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.

In conclusion:

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.

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Comment

  1. The Smith of Lie on 28 September 2015, 05:00 said:

    Well, I’m not sure about the books (I only read the first one and found it underwhelming), but in the movie I’d say he’s one for sure. Though I must admit that the whole thing was so unmemorable that I’d be hard pressed to give detailed explanation other than an annoying scene where he becomes instant expert in swordfighting by falling into a river and takes on scions of Ares.

    I’d love to see your take on Valkyrie Cain in one of the essays.

  2. Juracan on 28 September 2015, 08:02 said:

    hough I must admit that the whole thing was so unmemorable that I’d be hard pressed to give detailed explanation other than an annoying scene where he becomes instant expert in swordfighting by falling into a river and takes on scions of Ares.

    Yeah…. that’s in the book, too. That being said, in the book, it previously shows him trying different things at camp to work out who he might be the son of, and swordfighting is one of the few things he doesn’t completely suck at, and he gets better when he gets dunked in water. It’s also possible that in the book it’s less of ‘he’s instantly an amazing swordsman’and more of ‘these Ares kids thought they were going to be pummeling a week kid and he ended up taking them by surprise by not sucking.’

    In any case, the reader is constantly reminded that not matter how good of a swordfighter Percy becomes, Luke is always better at it. The second series actually has him comment on becoming rusty.

    I’d love to see your take on Valkyrie Cain in one of the essays.

    Oh that’d be cool. I’d have to read the rest of the Skulduggery Pleasant books, though, and given that they’re not out in this country it’d take a while.

  3. The Smith of Lie on 28 September 2015, 14:07 said:

    Yeah…. that’s in the book, too. That being said, in the book, it previously shows him trying different things at camp to work out who he might be the son of, and swordfighting is one of the few things he doesn’t completely suck at, and he gets better when he gets dunked in water. It’s also possible that in the book it’s less of ‘he’s instantly an amazing swordsman’and more of ‘these Ares kids thought they were going to be pummeling a week kid and he ended up taking them by surprise by not sucking.’

    Well yeah. If I am being honest, I don’t remember the book all that well either. I can get why people like it, but I had the itch for mythology in modern setting scratched by Scion, so I just didn’t get into Percy.

    But I remember that in the book the scene was less grating. It didn’t just give the same vibe of Percy instantly becoming this incredible badass. So I could let it slide. In the movie however it was way more obnoxious.

  4. swenson on 28 September 2015, 21:22 said:

    Heyyy, I just finished reading the sequel series today actually! Lovely timing.

    I love Percy to death, but if the boy’s not a Sue, he’s just barely kept back from being one. I mean, I know the series is literally about demigods, who historically (well, not OUR history, but you know what I mean) were just about the Sueiest Sues to ever Sue. Sure, they all had horrible fatal flaws that led to their downfall and all that, but they sure made the universe revolve around themselves up to that point.

    I think Riordan realized just how easily Percy could overpower the story in the sequel series and tried very hard to make him NOT the lead protagonist, and to set up Jason as a plausible equal. The major problem I see (having just finished mainlining all five books in a week) is that we go into the sequel series already knowing how powerful Percy can be, while Jason… well, we get a lot of references to his past and the cool stuff he’s done, but we basically see none of it. When he’s introduced, he can’t even remember who he is. So I don’t think the reader ever quite gets to that point of believing he’s as powerful as he’s supposed to be.

    (by “believing” I don’t mean that the reader thinks he’s not powerful, just that you don’t understand how powerful he is the same way you understand how powerful Percy is, because you’re relying purely on what you’re told by narration, as opposed to seeing it for yourself. It’s secondhand knowledge, and that’s never as convincing as witnessing something firsthand.)

    Anyway, I think if Percy is a Sue or not depends firmly on defining what a Sue actually is; if you define them as somebody so powerful that the universe bends their rules for them (y’know, like the infamously touchy Greek gods holding off on murdering you after you sass them repeatedly), then he definitely is one, but if you define it as a perfect character who never suffers real problems and who is the only one the story cares about—I don’t think he qualifies.

    (fwiw, it’s been awhile since I read the original series, but I think they get steadily better as the series goes on. Either that or I just had gotten enough into the world to like them more and more)

  5. Juracan on 29 September 2015, 14:34 said:

    Heyyy, I just finished reading the sequel series today actually! Lovely timing.

    Oh goodie! Glad it was able to work out like that.

    I think Riordan realized just how easily Percy could overpower the story in the sequel series and tried very hard to make him NOT the lead protagonist, and to set up Jason as a plausible equal. The major problem I see (having just finished mainlining all five books in a week) is that we go into the sequel series already knowing how powerful Percy can be, while Jason… well, we get a lot of references to his past and the cool stuff he’s done, but we basically see none of it. When he’s introduced, he can’t even remember who he is. So I don’t think the reader ever quite gets to that point of believing he’s as powerful as he’s supposed to be.

    (by “believing” I don’t mean that the reader thinks he’s not powerful, just that you don’t understand how powerful he is the same way you understand how powerful Percy is, because you’re relying purely on what you’re told by narration, as opposed to seeing it for yourself. It’s secondhand knowledge, and that’s never as convincing as witnessing something firsthand.)

    I certainly agree. It’s fairly odd, too, given that most of the really big threats that Percy fought (Polyphemus, Hyperion, Kronos, et cetera)he actually didn’t defeat alone, whereas Jason, while talking about his past, talks about all the huge monsters and Titans he’s killed by himself. It’s as if Riordan’s trying a bit too hard to have him as a believable badass of Percy’s level, and it comes across as if the guy’s on demigod steroids or something.

    But yeah, like you said, Percy isn’t the focus of the sequel series, and I kind of like his lack of focus all the time. Although if you read The Lost Hero there are times when it seems like Riordan wanted Percy’s part of the series to be rather minor, which is what I thought was going to be the case going in. That would have been an interesting twist.

    (fwiw, it’s been awhile since I read the original series, but I think they get steadily better as the series goes on. Either that or I just had gotten enough into the world to like them more and more)

    It gets better. I guess he does get more powerful, but so do the threats and it’s less of Percy kicking everything’s ass and other characters get focus, which is great because some of them end up being awesome.

  6. Apep on 29 September 2015, 21:06 said:

    It’s fairly odd, too, given that most of the really big threats that Percy fought (Polyphemus, Hyperion, Kronos, et cetera)he actually didn’t defeat alone, whereas Jason, while talking about his past, talks about all the huge monsters and Titans he’s killed by himself. It’s as if Riordan’s trying a bit too hard to have him as a believable badass of Percy’s level, and it comes across as if the guy’s on demigod steroids or something.

    I can see the reasoning – I feel the same way about Galahad in Le Mort d’Arthur. When he’s introduced, he’s pulled a sword from a stone that supposedly only the “best knight ever” (or something) can pull, and sat in the Siege Perilous (which, again, only the “best knight ever” can sit in and not die).

    So no… the character’s “fatal flaw” really doesn’t amount to anything.

    Yeah, from what I remember of Greek mythology, those flaws tend to bite the hero in the ass, even when they’re not exactly “flaws”. For example, if Oedipus had just listened to everyone else and dropped the search for the previous king’s murderer, he wouldn’t have ended up stabbing his own eyes out and spending the rest of his life wandering the wilderness (or whatever he did after blinding himself).

  7. swenson on 30 September 2015, 09:14 said:

    Although I suppose in fairness, the original Perseus is one of the few Greek heroes that didn’t end tragically—he saves Andromeda while on the way back from killing Medusa, marries her, has a ton of kids, and dies peacefully of old age.

    (or whatever he did after blinding himself)

    Stands around making a bunch of speeches with his daughters before dying randomly, if I recall Oedipus at Colonus correctly. Not that I have any place to criticize Sophocles, but the other two Theban plays have way more action.

  8. Ne mo on 30 September 2015, 13:22 said:

    I find the best definition of a Sue is: A character that never suffers the logical consequences of his actions. I use the masculine pronoun because I prefer that default for undefined singular characters. Also in professional works Sues tend to be male. At least from what I’ve noticed.

    Yes Sues do tend to be overpowered for the setting. But, that is true of most hero protagonists and is extremely common in action heavy stories. I feel if you focus on that as evidence of Sueishness you will end up accusing a huge number of characters unfairly.

    Instead I feel it works better to ask: how would the real world react to this? If for example Superman encounters resistance when people realize how powerful he is and fear what he could do. The story doesn’t feel like it is worshiping him. He feels less Sueish. If on the other hand everyone praises Eragon for nothing. A portion of the audience will reject him.

    From what you’ve said here, I haven’t read the books, Percy Jackson doesn’t sound like a Sue. He sounds like an unusually charismatic and powerful character. But, I don’t see what I consider the primary Sue trait. Also hello.

  9. Shell on 2 October 2015, 15:59 said:

    I definitely agree with Nemo on this one. A Sue is someone who the story caters to,who is adored by all without doing anything, and who breaks reality. Bella Swan is a sue. Percy is borderline Sue but manages to stay on the right side. I don’t mind that he’s overpowered since in universe they explained the big three gods have more powerful children. And he’s not the smartest in the bunch. He has weaknesses and flaws and character development.

  10. Juracan on 2 October 2015, 22:20 said:

    I can see the reasoning – I feel the same way about Galahad in Le Mort d’Arthur. When he’s introduced, he’s pulled a sword from a stone that supposedly only the “best knight ever” (or something) can pull, and sat in the Siege Perilous (which, again, only the “best knight ever” can sit in and not die).

    See, the thing about Arthurian literature is that most of it is pretty much fanfiction. So Galahad and Lancelot are some of the oldest Mary Sues; characters injected into the narrative by later authors who are perfect. Honestly, Lancelot strikes me as more egregious, as he’s often described as handsome enough to seduce the queen as well as the greatest knight ever (also he’s French unlike the British knights and he was introduced to the story by French authors; coincidence? I THINK NOT!). Galahad might be a Sue, but it seems like someone actually realized that and tried to make it part of his story.

    Although I suppose in fairness, the original Perseus is one of the few Greek heroes that didn’t end tragically—he saves Andromeda while on the way back from killing Medusa, marries her, has a ton of kids, and dies peacefully of old age.

    Actually in-series Percy says that’s why his mother gave him that name, in the hope that he’d be like the original and not die horribly.

    Also in professional works Sues tend to be male. At least from what I’ve noticed.

    Yet there are those who would argue the term ‘Mary Sue’ is misogynist…

    From what you’ve said here, I haven’t read the books, Percy Jackson doesn’t sound like a Sue. He sounds like an unusually charismatic and powerful character.

    Perhaps. But I thought it was a possibility and something to think about. Because fact is that on the surface he seems to fit a lot of the criteria.

    Also hello.

    A Sue is someone who the story caters to

    Like, say, having convenient dreams that always tell him what the villains of the book are up to?

    I mean you’re right, he does have weaknesses and flaws and character development, and like I said he’s got enough likability that it’s not overt. But I don’t know if we’re being honest if we don’t say that the story never caters to him.

  11. A tiny meme on 29 December 2015, 02:29 said:

    To be honest, the only thing that keeps me from even trying to read these books is that they’re set in the US.
    Now, hear me out, as a European who gets swamped with US media (tv shows, movies, books) I’m fed up with everything being set in the US and it irks me that GREEK MYTHOLOGY is set in the US in these books. Why can’t I have greek youths suddenly discovering that the gods of their own mythology exist? That makes more sense and also: Greece is a beautiful country. Might as well have a book with a setting that not many people probably read about when they’re young.

    Yes, that is my only beef with the series. shrugs

  12. Juracan on 29 December 2015, 09:49 said:

    Well the idea was the original book was built off of a story Riordan told his son, who wanted him to make up a myth, and him being an English teacher thought it worked as a sort of superhero story and set it in the modern day. It was also trying to show how the modern day still owes quite a bit to the past, and how Greek culture influenced Western Civ. And the sequel series has the main characters travelling to Italy and Greece (if only for short bits), so I thought that was cool?

    [The Egyptian mythology series also has bits in Egypt, and one of the principle characters is in fact, from Egypt and ethnically Arab.]

    That being said, I do think it’s a bit weird that none of these kids are Greek (although one is Italian?). It didn’t bother me as much, not being in Greece, but I get what you’re saying.