There’s something that’s been bugging me about Rick Riordan’s more recent books.

Alright so a recap for those of you at home who don’t know who I’m talking about: Rick Riordan is a novelist/school teacher who, who found out that his son’s were grades were failing and that he absolutely hated reading. He then discovered that said son has ADHD and dyslexia, but could be motivated to read if it involved Greek mythology, and then decided to write his own modern day story about a kid who got wrapped up in classical mythology by virtue of being a contemporary demigod, inspiring his son to keep reading and teachers to choose interesting books for kids to pick up. These books, titled Percy Jackson and the Olympians were immensely popular, and since he’s written several short stories, began two spin-off trilogies (one on Egyptian mythology titled Kane Chronicles and one on Norse mythology titled Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard), and two sequel serieses (Heroes of Olympus and Trials of Apollo).

The basic draw to the series, to me at least, was that it put the Greek gods in modern day; it applied ancient archetypes to the world we live in now, and showed off how they were still relevant or culturally prevalent. So for instance, Ares, the Greek god of war, appeared in modern day as a really badass biker, with an asshole attitude to match.

Zeus, on the other hand, appeared in a pinstriped suit, as if he were the CEO or president of some big company or the head of a prestigious family.

In that vein, a lot of the humor revolves around gods and monsters interacting with modern day things. Dionysus getting frustrated while playing Pac-Man at someone’s birthday party in a bar is still one my favorite scenes in anything ever. Likewise, Circe acting as if her island was a spa/resort was weird, but it made sense because it’s mostly true to the kind of person Circe was in Homer too.

And I’ll admit that at times it would get heavy-handed, like the scene in which a sphinx gives a test about facts (complete with answer sheet) instead of riddles of cleverness was kind of obviously Riordan in Teacher Mode ranting about how he hates the unfairness of measuring kids’ worth by standardized testing.

But I think that lately…Riordan’s been relying way too heavily on pop culture references.

To be clear, this isn’t completely new to his work; the very first book The Lightning Thief had a joke about how the satyr character, Grover, could play the Hilary Duff’s song “So Yesterday” on his pipes, which was a dated gag when I first read the book shortly after it came out. But other than that, for the most part the books stayed away from dating themselves too badly with things that’d be quickly out of fashion. Okay, yes one of the short stories shows that Leo watches Psych, but that was a long-running program so I’d let it slide. Mostly. Kane Chronicles has a Doctor Who reference, but again, that’s a long-running show (much longer than Psych) and is a part of the cultural mindset for the past fifty years. It’ll be around for a lot longer too, so that’s not really an issue.

But then…we get the retelling-of-Greek-mythology books, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes which go even more out of their way to bring up things like iTunes, and Frozen and the like. And now we’re on the Norse mythology series, there’s bits of randomness like Thor being obsessed with binge-watching TV shows like Game of Thrones and Arrow, and Heimdall being always plugged into his phone taking selfies, and Magnus’s talking sword (just roll with it for a sec) singing specific pop songs by Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez.

These are almost all things that are pretty recent fads that won’t stick much in the popular consciousness. It’s less going with mythological archetypes and applying them and more cheap stock jokes that won’t work in ten years. And it kind of really bothers me. But to get to the point as to why precisely, I’ll need to talk a little bit about a thing called intertextuality.

“Intertextuality” is a big word to basically talk about when texts refer to other texts. And let me be clear as possible with these terms: when I say ‘text’ I don’t necessarily mean books. In this con…text, it can refer to any sort of published material, whether that be prose, poetry, music, film, video game or comic book. And if you haven’t noticed already, just about everyone uses this. Seriously, try to imagine your favorite movies if it didn’t have any references to the Bible, or Shakespeare, just to name the two most popularly referred-to sources in the Anglophone world. It’s pretty dang difficult.

There are two main types of intertextuality: obligatory, in which the knowledge of the outside text is necessary to understand any of the one you’re reading/viewing, and optional in which it isn’t.

[There’s also accidental but that’s not relevant to our talk today so we’ll just stick with the two.]

Parodies and satire are pretty good examples to go off of. Like take, Galaxy Quest or Red Shirts by John Scalzi, for instance, as uses of obligatory intertextuality. Those are stories that have jokes on their own, but for them to make their intended impact you have to have at least a basic familiarity with Star Trek. Without out that key knowledge, the satire falls flat.

For an example of optional intertextuality, take the recent Marvel Netflix series Luke Cage. There are several references right from the first episode to African-American culture, history and authors. None of these are particularly relevant to the Plot of the series; you won’t be able to guess the outcome of the story by having read Invisble Man by Ralph Ellison, but seeing it Luke’s bed while he’s packing up adds to the story by building atmosphere. If you recognize it, you get a bonus; if you don’t, that’s alright, and you may end up having learned something interesting.

Or, you know, popping back to Star Trek again, if you watch Wrath of Khan you probably know that the titular villain is a fan of Moby-Dick as his dying words are quotes from Captain Ahab. This adds a level to the narrative, and you begin to realize that Khan’s pursuit of Kirk is more than just a bad day, it’s obsessive and all-consuming, in the exact same way that Ahab’s pursuit of the White Whale is. But if you didn’t notice this allusion, you don’t actually lose anything from the film, as the words still speak for themselves.

Optional intertextuality doesn’t even have to be a part of the writing alone; it can be part of the visuals as well as the writing. If you ever read the Hellboy comics, you might notice that the depictions of Hell and the demons living in it are weird: human bodies with animal heads and the like, along with having a strict aristocracy with ranks like knight, marquis and kings. This isn’t part of Christian theology, but it makes perfect sense as visual and literary references to the Ars Goetia and other works like it.

Heck, it can be even more vague than that. The late Monty Oum’s webseries RWBY has character designs built almost entirely on optional intertextuality. The team of the title has designs based off of fairy tale characters, Ozpin’s cabal is an allusion to the Wizard of Oz, Team JNPR has designs of legendary cross-dressing warriors from around the world. This leads to completely mind-bogglingly deep references, such as Jaune’s sword being named after Julius Caesar’s, or Cardin Winchester being named after the man who oversaw Saint Joan of Arc’s execution, or Neptune Vasilias being based off of Roman mythology), a WWIII mascot), and a Journey to the West character all at the same time.

So what’s the difference between those and pop culture references?

The short and skinny of it is that pop culture references don’t tend to actually add anything, and they certainly didn’t in the examples from Rick Riordan that I listed, and it’s obligatory. The joke isn’t that the reference relates to the text in any way; the joke is that it’s there. And the gag doesn’t work at all unless you know the pop culture. Magnus’s magic sword singing Selena Gomez’s “Hands to Myself” doesn’t actually relate to the plot in any way, and it doesn’t add anything to the sword or Magnus’s characterization. The joke is that he’s singing a song that has nothing to do with anything but that you probably recognize it.

And part of what pains me about this is that it’s so easy to avoid. Part of the story is that Jack/Sumbrandr (Magnus’s magic sword) was buried at the bottom of the river for hundreds of years before the events of the first book. Riordan easily could have written that because the sword’s been out-of-touch for that long, the “pop” songs he sings are songs that were written decades ago, but are new to him. Y’know, sort of like Cap’s “Things I Need to Catch Up On” list from Captain America: The Winter Soldier? This would actually make a joke, develop something interesting about the character, and possibly get readers to learn about something new. Because I’m all about some tangential learning In that sense the joke would still work whether or not you knew the songs.

If you’re going to reference popular culture, it can’t be something that’s an obvious fad either, otherwise you’ll date it immensely. There are ways around dating something like that. An example that’s not strictly intertextuality (but still works I think) is how Thirteen Reasons Why got around exactly how dated tape cassettes are by having the teen characters in-story mention that they’re old. That way young readers won’t feel like they’re missing out on something.

Popular culture references aren’t even necessarily bad. The example from Captain America isn’t bad, though it relies heavily on pop culture, particularly those bits of popular culture that have become huge parts of the popular consciousness.

Likewise, something like Dresden Files is constantly doing quotes, shout-outs and homages to popular fantasy, science-fiction and detective stories, again because these are things that are huge parts of American culture and in some cases give you a bit of handle on what’s going on. Harry doesn’t have to say “Goblins are like ninjas. From Krypton.” But it’s a quick shorthand for saying that they’re hard vicious and hard to kill using a reference that the majority of the author’s audience (people in the English-speaking world who know who Superman is) can understand. It’s in-character, it makes sense, and gets the point across quickly. It can be a bit distracting at times, true, but in most cases Butcher doesn’t rely on it too heavily. He can write characters and jokes that don’t rely on these allusions.

This isn’t even to say that I think Riordan’s bad at optional intertextuality. Sword of Summer actually has a rather clever reference to a Longfellow poem. I think it’s also pretty clear the guy knows his stuff, as he references classic sources in his Greek mythology serieses all the time; he’s mentioned using Theoi a few times, an online encylopedia that cites and sources actual historical literature and books on Greek mythology from ancient Greece and Rome. But it seems as if, in deviating from Greek and Roman mythology, Riordan doesn’t always know what to do depicting mythological elements so he falls back onto pop culture jokes. And I don’t know whether to fully blame the guy or not; he’s doing two full novels a year along with side projects, so I can understand if he’s a bit worn out and not always at the top of his game.

But… c’mon, man, Jack sings “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift in the second chapter of Hammer of Thor. That song had been out over two years before the book was released. The joke was already old. I get that the humor is meant to be derived from the silliness of it, but when your current pop culture reference is to something from two years ago, it sounds lazy more than anything else.

Also I really hate that song, so that certainly didn’t help my reception of the joke.

For intertextuality to work, there has to be something added by the reference being made. When any other song would have fit the joke just as well, there isn’t any justifiable reason for selecting that one. Like, what if instead of the sword, we had Loki singing pop songs, and at one point Magnus overhears him singing to himself “Cool Kids” by Echosmith. Yeah, that’s still a pop culture song, but it’s one about not fitting in, and in many interpretations, it’s heavily implied that Loki’s resentment is built from not fitting in with the Aesir. It’d be a pop song that fits the joke but also makes you wonder if it’s reflective of the character’s mindset.

It’s disappointing to me, because throwing “Shake It Off” at us a joke without any sort of wit or cleverness to it, and it’s obviously beneath Riordan’s skill as a novelist. If it was only that, I’d be more lenient, but his Magnus Chase books are filled with these. Thor keeps mentioning popular TV shows. Heimdall is glued to his smartphone screen. It’s a shortcut, and it only looks like the author is trying to sound cool to a younger audience.

Heck, you don’t even have to have to use pop culture references for this level of shallowness. Apep has mentioned in his own sporks of Mortal Instruments that there are abrupt references to Shakespeare and Virgil that don’t actually relate to the story at all.1 Likewise, I mentioned in my own Angelopolis sporks that it doesn’t make any damn sense for Trussoni to split the book into sections named after the circles of Hell in The Divine Comedy. It’s only there to make the author sound smart and educated.

I recognize that it can be difficult sometimes to decide whether or not placing a reference in your story really adds to the story or just seems superfluous. Sometimes an idea just sounds so good in your head that you feel you have to have it on paper. But a good way of checking is if the story would have any sort of different meaning if the reference was removed.

You remember those Seltzerberg movies, like Scary Movie or Epic Movie where we all started hating them because there weren’t any jokes, just references to recent movies directed at the audience? Yeah, I’m scared that Rick Riordan’s going to become like that. I know that’s still a long way off from where he is now as a writer, but I can’t help but wonder.

When he’s on top of his game, Riordan can be an astounding writer. But when he (or any author) takes lazy shortcuts in something obviously, like intertextuality, it makes you question the writer’s skill. Because you can do so much better than just showing us that you’ve been listening to contemporary pop music or watching popular television shows.

Don’t be lazy. Do better.

1 I don’t blame her for taking a Julius Caesar quote as the title. It’s a damn good title.

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Comment

  1. The Smith of Lie on 30 January 2017, 16:33 said:

    I have two additional reasons for why the pop-culture references in Dresden Files work in that particular case.

    First, the person who does references and jokes. Since Dresden is first person narrator and something of a nerd, all the references make sense as something that is close to him as a person. In a way they build character, because trhough them we learn bits and pieces about Harry, that are not important to plot but build him up as a character. And they are even worked into his interactions with other characters – like Micheal don’t getting a Monthy Python quote and treating it literally or Start Trek vs Star Wars thing with Molly.

    Second, the choice of references. Stuff that Harry references has two important characteristcs. First it fits well with how Harry is written. It is easy to buy that he likes Star Wars or Princess Bride, because he has been established as guy with taste for such things. Secondly, most of things that he references has already withstood the test of time. When the reinforcments arrive blasting “We Will Rock You” by Queen it is not a problem, because the song is so cemented in popular awarness that if you say “stomp, stomp, clap” most of people born before year 2000 will recognize it on the spot. This makes the references more imprevious to being dated.

  2. Anton on 31 January 2017, 11:15 said:

    What I find so frustrating about Riordan’s increased tendency to lean on pop culture references is that he’s demonstrated that he knows better than to date his work. In The Titan’s Curse, when Percy asks Bianca who the president is, the narration says she “named the current president.” That’s a great way to avoid setting the book in a particular year, during a particular administration; and it shows that Riordan knows that dating his work can jerk the reader out of the narrative. So the fact that he’s leaning more heavily on gags that intentionally date his work is a sign of quality decay, in my opinion.

  3. Resistance on 31 January 2017, 13:22 said:

    Really interesting article, and I learned quite a bit about intertextuality, including what that word means. I think the message at the end about “you might want to put it in there but think about whether or not it adds meaning” is a very valuable sentiment. Like you said about Angelopolis I think writers can be tempted to throw something in there to kind of brag about what they know, which is always so annoying. And there’s also the trap of taking pop culture references just for the sake of it, and I think this article did a good job of explaining why that’s not great. Loved it.

  4. Juracan on 1 February 2017, 15:05 said:

    Since Dresden is first person narrator and something of a nerd, all the references make sense as something that is close to him as a person. In a way they build character, because through them we learn bits and pieces about Harry, that are not important to plot but build him up as a character. And they are even worked into his interactions with other characters – like Micheal don’t getting a Monthy Python quote and treating it literally or Start Trek vs Star Wars thing with Molly.

    What I think is interesting is that most of the references to movies that he intentionally makes are, in fact, older movies and well-established in popular culture. And of course, they have to be older because the newer technology is, the more likely Dresden is to screw it up; so he can’t see newer movies or television shows. It reinforces his inability to cope with technology. When Bob throws a Firefly reference at him in Cold Days Harry’s just confused.

    Secondly, most of things that he references has already withstood the test of time. When the reinforcments arrive blasting “We Will Rock You” by Queen it is not a problem, because the song is so cemented in popular awarness that if you say “stomp, stomp, clap” most of people born before year 2000 will recognize it on the spot. This makes the references more imprevious to being dated.

    Agreed, again. Most of his references are key parts of culture—if you don’t catch an obvious Star Wars reference, then that’s actually pretty odd because it’s a movie nearly everyone’s seen and has been referenced all over the place. The same with “We Will Rock You” which is still played in sports events today.

    All that being said Butcher’s not immune to going too far with this. This exchange from his short story “Bigfoot on Campus” comes to mind:

    Barrowill: I react poorly to those who threaten my family’s well-being, Dresden.
    Harry: Yeah. You’re a regular Ozzie Nelson. John Walton. Ben Cartwright.
    Barrowill: Excuse me?
    Harry: Mr. Drummond? Charles… in Charge? No?
    Barrowill: What are you blabbering about?
    Harry: Hell’s bells, man. Don’t any of you White Court bozos ever watch television? I’m giving you pop reference gold, here. Gold.

    Yeah, I only got one of those names, and only through guesswork. The conversation with Michael about Monty Python was also pretty fanservice-y in my opinion. And of course, Harry singing the theme song to Underdog during his rescue in Death Masks was pretty far out there. It didn’t add much and was only funny in how absurd it was.

    What I find so frustrating about Riordan’s increased tendency to lean on pop culture references is that he’s demonstrated that he knows better than to date his work. In The Titan’s Curse, when Percy asks Bianca who the president is, the narration says she “named the current president.” That’s a great way to avoid setting the book in a particular year, during a particular administration; and it shows that Riordan knows that dating his work can jerk the reader out of the narrative. So the fact that he’s leaning more heavily on gags that intentionally date his work is a sign of quality decay, in my opinion.

    Yeah…I’m kind of surprised the president thing didn’t make it into the article, as that was one of the things that helped inspire this. It’s clear that Riordan is at least aware of the issue of dating one’s work, but he doesn’t seem to know how to deal with it outside of specific references to the president. Or maybe he just doesn’t care any more and realizes that the majority of his readers (preteens and teens) seem to like pop culture jokes. It doesn’t change that it’s still beneath his skill level.

    Like you said about Angelopolis I think writers can be tempted to throw something in there to kind of brag about what they know, which is always so annoying.

    Well in the case of Angelopolis part of the reason I objected to it was because Trussoni sucked at it, either misunderstanding what she claimed to know or putting it in when it didn’t matter. I was interested in a lot of that exposition the first time I read that book, only to hate it when re-reading because I knew it all amounted to nothing and made no sense when put together.

  5. The Smith of Lie on 1 February 2017, 15:48 said:

    All that being said Butcher’s not immune to going too far with this. This exchange from his short story “Bigfoot on Campus” comes to mind:

    I never read Big Foot on Campus, so I didn’t even know about that exchange. And this one reference is a pretty big miss for me. I know none of the names…

    As for Monthy Pyhon and Underdog references I didn’t mind them. They might not add much but were funny enough to get a pass from me. Also, as for the Underdog part in Death Masks I believe that it had an inteded narrative purpose. If memory serves, Harry was pretty delirious and loopy by the time the rescue came, what with all the mistreatment he suffered. But then again it might be me reading too much into things and subconsciously defending the series I like.

  6. Juracan on 1 February 2017, 16:22 said:

    And this one reference is a pretty big miss for me. I know none of the names…

    One is from The Waltons. Another is from Bonanza. As to the rest, I have no idea. What makes it more frustrating is that Dresden acts like anyone should get those references, when they’re pretty out-of-date.

    Anyhow.

    They might not add much but were funny enough to get a pass from me. Also, as for the Underdog part in Death Masks I believe that it had an inteded narrative purpose. If memory serves, Harry was pretty delirious and loopy by the time the rescue came, what with all the mistreatment he suffered. But then again it might be me reading too much into things and subconsciously defending the series I like.

    Possible, and Harry being loopy is as good a reason as any I guess. I still think it’s much better than a character randomly singing Taylor Swift songs. It’s certainly less lazy and makes more sense in context.

  7. Deborah on 1 February 2017, 18:59 said:

    Captain America’s list works for a similar reason to Harry’s references. Many of the stories on it have been around for decades (Star Wars, Star Trek, Rocky, etc.)
    Marvel’s other good example is Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, who only references stuff from the ’80s because that’s when he left Earth. (And his music is important to the story).
    I think the key to referencing things is to pick a reference that’s been around for a while. If the reference is too recent, the story is more likely to wind up being dated. That sounds like the problem with the latest Riordan.
    (On a completely different note, I’ve read The Sword of Summer, and my biggest disappointment was that I thought Thor was kind of lame. Does he get better in the next book?)

  8. Juracan on 3 February 2017, 22:24 said:

    Captain America’s list works for a similar reason to Harry’s references. Many of the stories on it have been around for decades (Star Wars, Star Trek, Rocky, etc.)

    And again, those are references that are large enough parts of popular culture that even if you haven’t seen those movies/shows, you have a basic idea of what they are. I’ve never seen Rocky but that doesn’t give the reference less meaning because I know its role in the pop culture sphere.

    Marvel’s other good example is Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, who only references stuff from the ’80s because that’s when he left Earth.

    Truth be told, I’m kind of bothered by popular culture’s obsession with the 80’s. That so many shows replace actual jokes with 80’s references kind of leans into this, but I don’t know if that would require it’s own essay…

    (On a completely different note, I’ve read The Sword of Summer, and my biggest disappointment was that I thought Thor was kind of lame. Does he get better in the next book?)

    Haha…no, not really.

    Another problem Riordan’s had with mythology books lately is how useless the gods are. In PJO I think there were pretty good explanations as to why the gods don’t just solve everything (disagreement on dealing with the Titans, fighting Typhon, etc.), and the times where we do see the gods fight (like Artemis vs. Atlas and the Olympians vs. Typhon) it’s pretty impressive. Heroes of Olympus has the excuse of “Zeus told them to buzz off” and that mostly works, but while the first book tries to make Zeus sound not so dickish (“He has to be uptight and hard-assed to be a solid leader”), the final book turns around and makes him egotistical to the point of him threatening to kill Jason for daring to suggest he could be wrong. And then Trials of Apollo outright calls him an abusive father, meaning he of all the gods has apparently not adapted to modern day standards of behavior.

    Gods of Asgard throws out any pretense of the gods being useful. We find out in Hammer of Thor that he has a Man Cave, and…that’s pretty much all his development. He’s still completely clueless throughout the entire book, and doesn’t do any fighting without Mjolnir. And he shows up too late to the final confrontation and still raves about how awesome he is.

    So no he doesn’t get any better.

  9. Apep on 4 February 2017, 23:34 said:

    Truth be told, I’m kind of bothered by popular culture’s obsession with the 80’s. That so many shows replace actual jokes with 80’s references kind of leans into this, but I don’t know if that would require it’s own essay…

    I think that’s more an issue with the writers than anything else. For a while, all/most of the writers working in TV were old enough to have grown up in the 80s, and they decided to include jokes/references to stuff from back when they were young, and it kicked off a whole wave of 80s nostalgia stuff (how do you think they managed to get the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies off the ground?).

    But I think we’re also starting to move into 90s nostalgia, what with stuff like the Power Rangers movie and Disney doing a live action Beauty and the Beast. I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad, to be honest.

  10. Epke on 5 February 2017, 06:06 said:

    Gods of Asgard throws out any pretense of the gods being useful. We find out in Hammer of Thor that he has a Man Cave, and…that’s pretty much all his development. He’s still completely clueless throughout the entire book, and doesn’t do any fighting without Mjolnir. And he shows up too late to the final confrontation and still raves about how awesome he is.

    I wonder why Thor, or well, any Norse gods, so often get shafted by Western writers. Either he’s a mockery, like Marvel’s, or a useless bum, like Riordan’s, or serve to be killed in two seconds in Supernatural, or that book where they’re killed by some nutty druid for weird reasons (can’t even recall the title)…

    Anyhow, this was a good read and quite truthfully, I’ve never thought about it before. It makes me wonder how many books I’ve missed this in…

  11. Apep on 5 February 2017, 12:07 said:

    I’d say it’s because Western society, even those parts that are at least partially Germanic in origin, is derived largely from Greco-Roman culture. Greek/Roman mythology is woven into our cultural fabric – these are the myths and stories that we learn in school. People in Western society generally don’t know many of the myths about Thor, Odin, Loki, and probably aren’t even aware of who Baldr, Frigg, Tyr, or Freyr and Freya are.

    So we end up falling back on basic knowledge and going from there. And to be honest, Thor being something of a frat-bro and being utterly useless without Mjolnir is pretty accurate to the myths. Heck, there’s even a story where it gets stolen, and getting it back involves him dressing up as a woman – the implications aren’t all that subtle.

    (And to be totally fair, we’re even worse with Celtic mythology.)

  12. Juracan on 6 February 2017, 14:28 said:

    I think that’s more an issue with the writers than anything else. For a while, all/most of the writers working in TV were old enough to have grown up in the 80s, and they decided to include jokes/references to stuff from back when they were young, and it kicked off a whole wave of 80s nostalgia stuff (how do you think they managed to get the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies off the ground?).

    But I think we’re also starting to move into 90s nostalgia, what with stuff like the Power Rangers movie and Disney doing a live action Beauty and the Beast. I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad, to be honest.

    In some ways it’s just as bad, in that we’re more and more making revivals and reboots of things. At least I get a lot of the references this time?

    But yeah, I remember when the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies launched, entertainment sites like IGN were flooded with people demanding that their favorite 80’s cartoons be made into live-action franchises. Like Thundercats. As if a live-action movie with actors dressed up as cat people was a cash cow just waiting to be milked.

    Back on topic though, I don’t mind people referencing the media they grew up with in their work, I just thought the 80’s were a bit overdone and found the overabundance to that nostalgia frustrating, especially when it seemed as if almost everyone was doing it.

    I wonder why Thor, or well, any Norse gods, so often get shafted by Western writers. Either he’s a mockery, like Marvel’s, or a useless bum, like Riordan’s, or serve to be killed in two seconds in Supernatural, or that book where they’re killed by some nutty druid for weird reasons (can’t even recall the title)…

    IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. Dear Lord I only read the first book but I had so many thoughts about it I considered it for a sporking. It was like Dresden Files if all the problems that the protagonist faced fixed themselves with zero effort.

    I think Marvel’s version is actually not so bad; as has been pointed out, in the films he’s the most well-adjusted of the Avengers, and while not genius is fairly intelligent and wants to help people. The comics were alright for a while too, though I don’t know about now with the whole ‘passing the Hammer’ thing.

    In Riordan’s case he’s sort of made most of the gods useless in all of his works, so it’s not entirely something he’s got against the Norse.

    I’d say it’s because Western society, even those parts that are at least partially Germanic in origin, is derived largely from Greco-Roman culture. Greek/Roman mythology is woven into our cultural fabric – these are the myths and stories that we learn in school. People in Western society generally don’t know many of the myths about Thor, Odin, Loki, and probably aren’t even aware of who Baldr, Frigg, Tyr, or Freyr and Freya are.

    So we end up falling back on basic knowledge and going from there. And to be honest, Thor being something of a frat-bro and being utterly useless without Mjolnir is pretty accurate to the myths. Heck, there’s even a story where it gets stolen, and getting it back involves him dressing up as a woman – the implications aren’t all that subtle.

    Well this, and I also suspect that we tend to stereotype the Norse gods (and the historical Norse) as “those barbarians who run around drunk whacking people with axes.” The whole idea of a warrior race taken to extreme, if you will.

    We also have to take into account that a lot of Norse mythology wasn’t written down until pretty much after those regions were Christianized. There’s tons of speculation that maybe we’re not getting the pure mythology, and that plenty of the Norse stories that we call the mythology is at the very least filtered through a different cultural lens. Greco-Roman mythology, on the other hand, was written about at length, because the Greeks and Romans refused to shut up about it and went so far as to assume that other people’s deities were just theirs under different names. And even with Greek mythology, a lot of our ideas come from certain locales, rather than the whole of Greece which would have had varying practices in their religion.

    (And to be totally fair, we’re even worse with Celtic mythology.)

    True dat! Mostly it’s hijacked for New Age-y purposes and faerie stories.

  13. Apep on 6 February 2017, 15:34 said:

    Like Thundercats. As if a live-action movie with actors dressed up as cat people was a cash cow just waiting to be milked.

    Well, Cartoon Network did do a re-boot/remake cartoon. It was… eh. But they did get the original VA for Lion-O to play a bit in the pilot, which was kinda cool.

    IRON DRUID CHRONICLES.

    I’ve read the first book, and have heard good things, but I will admit that upon reflection, certain bits are resolved a bit too easily. Like, the Irish Catholic neighbor lady being willing to cover up Atticus killing a guy because he was British. And she accepts the existence of magic and whatnot just a bit too easily.

    We also have to take into account that a lot of Norse mythology wasn’t written down until pretty much after those regions were Christianized.

    That too.

    Greco-Roman mythology, on the other hand, was written about at length, because the Greeks and Romans refused to shut up about it and went so far as to assume that other people’s deities were just theirs under different names.

    The fact that Christianity also started in that region and spread because of the Roman Empire probably didn’t hurt, either.

    Mostly it’s hijacked for New Age-y purposes and faerie stories.

    To be fair, though, I can’t help but think part of it has to do with a lot of the names being difficult to parse, at least for English-speakers. (Personally, I’m half convinced that the written forms of Celtic languages – Welsh, Irish, etc. – started out as jokes played on the Anglo-Saxons.

  14. Juracan on 7 February 2017, 10:05 said:

    Well, Cartoon Network did do a re-boot/remake cartoon. It was… eh.

    I actually really liked it. I mean…you’re right, it was ‘eh’ but like I’ve said before, I’m not too harsh a critic. I thought it made more sense that if one was to revive Thundercats to do it as a cartoon series. It’s a concept that lends itself well to animation and not at all to live-action, is what I was getting at.

    I’ve read the first book, and have heard good things, but I will admit that upon reflection, certain bits are resolved a bit too easily. Like, the Irish Catholic neighbor lady being willing to cover up Atticus killing a guy because he was British. And she accepts the existence of magic and whatnot just a bit too easily.

    Yeah. Maybe it gets better in later books, but the events go like this:

    -Atticus does something to offend Bres, the Fomorian
    -Bres comes to kill him walking down the street
    -Atticus takes down Bres easily, commenting on how stupid he was all the while
    -Irish lady neighbor witnesses and threatens to call the police
    -But Atticus says he was English so she helps him hide the body!
    -Brigid, Bres’s wife and queen of the Tuatha de Danann arrives
    -But it turns out she’s cool with it and never liked Bres anyway!

    Whereas I felt like in something like Dresden Files, for better or for worse all of these would compound on each other. It made a complicated plot that felt impossible, yeah, but it at least didn’t make it feel easy.

    In the first Iron Druid book everything is solved in a way that’s comically easy. Everything he does that should cause the supernatural equivalent of a World War is swept under the rug without much fanfare. So that he (easily) kills two members of the Irish pantheon isn’t seen as much of a big deal. Now I’ve heard that somewhere down the line his feud with Thor leads to some complications, so maybe that’s just a flaw of the first book. But I just hated how curveballs are thrown at Atticus and his casually swats it all aside.

    The fact that Christianity also started in that region and spread because of the Roman Empire probably didn’t hurt, either.

    Along with Greek and Latin being the ‘classical’ languages of the Western world for centuries.

  15. Epke on 8 February 2017, 13:37 said:

    Heck, there’s even a story where it gets stolen, and getting it back involves him dressing up as a woman – the implications aren’t all that subtle.

    Ah, yes, when the Jotun stole Mjölnir and demanded Freya as ransom – and Loki dressed up Thor as a lady to trick them. Honestly, I never thought of the Thunderer as a fratboy or useless without his hammer: in another story, he competes against the Jotun again and they use magic to cloak the truth: and Thor does extremely well in feats not needing a lightning chucking hammer. I think the former story is more Loki’s story: an example of how the Trickster of the Gods worked, rather than Thor.

    IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. Dear Lord I only read the first book but I had so many thoughts about it I considered it for a sporking. It was like Dresden Files if all the problems that the protagonist faced fixed themselves with zero effort.

    Thanks, Juracan :D I couldn’t even recall the title, I disliked it so much. Yeah, there’s no real consequence in the series, and I don’t know… a nigh-invincible druid taking down gods? It just feels so wishy washy.

    Norse gods (and the historical Norse) as “those barbarians who run around drunk whacking people with axes.” The whole idea of a warrior race taken to extreme, if you will.

    Sadly so. Looking past the military exploits of the Norse, we had a skilled merchant people, outstanding navigators, centuries ahead of their contemporaries when it came to women’s rights and kept themselves clean(er), but everywhere we get hulking, blond brutes that only know how to kill.

  16. Juracan on 8 February 2017, 22:36 said:

    Honestly, I never thought of the Thunderer as a fratboy or useless without his hammer: in another story, he competes against the Jotun again and they use magic to cloak the truth: and Thor does extremely well in feats not needing a lightning chucking hammer. I think the former story is more Loki’s story: an example of how the Trickster of the Gods worked, rather than Thor.

    And if I’m being fair to Riordan, Thor does have some depth to him in the books. He admits that he misses Loki and that they made a great team back when they were bros, which is more than I ever really expected from a modern-day depiction of Thor. But other than that it’s mostly “He watches too much TV and he farts a lot.”

    It isn’t as if most mythological figures really have that much character development in the way we think of it, especially in a belief system we have relatively little of. But it should be the author’s job to invent that depth. Relying on stupid jokes like “Thor’s obsessed with Game of Thrones and Arrow because reasons!” makes him across as even dumber and less memorable.

    Yeah, there’s no real consequence in the series, and I don’t know… a nigh-invincible druid taking down gods? It just feels so wishy washy.

    Pretty much. That every super-hot Irish goddess flirts with him (and one sleeps with him) didn’t help my perceptions of it. Maybe it works as light reading in the airport, but the one I read wasn’t much more than cheap entertainment compared to some other urban fantasy I’d read. Like cheap mythological fanfiction.

    Sadly so. Looking past the military exploits of the Norse, we had a skilled merchant people, outstanding navigators, centuries ahead of their contemporaries when it came to women’s rights and kept themselves clean(er), but everywhere we get hulking, blond brutes that only know how to kill.

    Also they may have invented rap battles.