Monday, May 12, 2008

The Battle of the Labyrinth

Of course Walker read the new Percy Jackson book, The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan, the day I brought it home. As soon as he got out of school he picked it up and began reading me the chapter titles out loud (my favorite title is "Nico buys happy meals for the dead." Let me tell you, that chapter definitely delivers what it promises.) Walker also had to read me the first sentence out loud: "The last thing I wanted to do on my summer break was blow up another school." So Walker started reading at 2:30 and despite interruptions to take care of the guinea pigs and then the rabbit, finished at 5:30. "How was it?" I asked him. "It's better than #2 and as good as #1 and #3," he said.

Last night I finished reading it (courtesy of mother's day, time to sit around and read). It was thoroughly enjoyable all the way through. There's a nice mix of new characters and clever plot twists (yeah, they're literal in the labyrinth) with characters as old as myth itself and situations that you can see coming if you've read enough of the myths. Another good chapter title (well, they're all good, let's face it) is "We steal some slightly used wings." Guess whose. (Here's a hint: "'Land!' Annabeth yelled. 'These wings won't last forever.'")

One of the things that interests me about this book is Grover's quest to find Pan. It comes to a satisfactory conclusion, especially in terms of word etymology as an explanation of how the foes of the half-bloods are suddenly overthrown when Grover screams. But the culmination of Grover's search for Pan strikes me as a bit of a seam in this otherwise seamless fictional world. Grover and his friends are advised to take care of some little bit of nature, because the God can't do it anymore. It reads a bit like the usual kid "save the rainforest" propaganda. Don't get me wrong; I'm in favor of saving the rainforest. I gave an impromptu speech on it the other day when a kid came home from school asking "but what's wrong with drilling for oil in Alaska?" But I am not in favor of mixing propaganda in with fiction. Good fiction convinces because of the story, not in terms of something added to the story.

The whole kid conservation movement bothers me, and I'm beginning to be able to articulate why as I continue to read and think about what's currently being called "nature deficit disorder." Wouldn't it do the rain forest more good if a kid learned to value the nature in his own neighborhood and then extrapolate from that love to wider vistas as his power to influence his world grows? Kid conservation encourages them to pay lip service to a problem without being able to solve it. As adults, these kids are going to feel that they did what they could, but it didn't work. Oh well. On to something else.

But what else? I am a supporter of the space program and Robert Heinlein's idea that humans shouldn't "put all our eggs in one basket" (e.g. should find other inhabitable worlds). Have we done that, though? No, we've largely given in to the people who prate about how we shouldn't be exploring outer space when we can't even feed the people on earth who are hungry. And we shouldn't eat cheap hamburgers because they're raised on land chopped out of the rain forest, where medicines we can't even dream of could be available....

We do need someone larger than life, someone who doesn't have to be tarnished by the election process, to get us out of some of the strange loops created by teaching children the "correct" way to treat the earth. We need a Percy Jackson, with wise parents to guide him on a path neither of them can follow.

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