Last winter, I wrote a post describing my disenchantment with the popular middle-grade author Rick Riordan. I criticized him for being too attached to one idea – namely, that ancient gods and goddesses are real – but now I’m rather pleased with him again. For a very different reason. Spoilers for The House of Hades ahead!
I may actually start reading Rick Riordan’s books again.
I eagerly read each installment in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series as soon as they were published. The Kane Chronicles weren’t quite as good but I still got through most of them. Yet somewhere along the line, my interest in his books evaporated like the mist in Iris messages. I certainly don’t consider Riordan to be the worst author (that honor goes to Christopher Paolini) or even a bad author. He is actually quite the creative guy, but his obsession with mythological stories has gone on long enough.
Until recently, he wasn’t proving to be anything other than average.
The House of Hades, book four in his Heroes of Olympus series, came out (no pun intended) yesterday but spoilers were leaked about a week previously. I was cautiously optimistic because some jerks will make fake spoilers – even Riordan posted something on his blog about not believing everything you read. But I shouldn’t have worried.
Rick Riordan included an LGBTQ+ character in The House of Hades. He did. He actually did. He had Nico di Angelo admit to having a crush on Percy Jackson. You can read the page here. Nico. Nico, one of the few characters I enjoyed. (I’ve never thought Riordan’s characters were his strong suit. I read his books for the humor and retellings.) This is not something I ever expected Riordan to do. I am very happy with him right now for the following four reasons.
The House of Hades is a mainstream book.
I am filled with astonished glee. This is Rick Riordan we’re talking about. Rick Riordan wrote this. Rick freaking Riordan. RICK “MY BOOKS ARE PUBLISHED BY DISNEY AND THEY’VE BEEN TURNED INTO MOVIES AND I’VE MADE MILLIONS OFF THEM” RIORDAN. Regardless what you think of his writing, you can’t deny that he’s very popular with middle-grade and YA readers. LGBTQ+ kids are going to read The House of Hades and, hopefully, see that they’re not the only ones.
There aren’t many mainstream works of fiction that have canon LGBTQ+ characters. For the record, I’m familiar with two. Harry Potter doesn’t count because Dumbledore’s orientation isn’t in the books or films proper. There’s A Song of Ice and Fire /Game of Thrones (which I wouldn’t recommend to little kids as it’s one of the darkest things I’ve ever read) but you have to look really hard for the subtext, which stinks. There’s also Doctor Who, which wins for sheer number of LGBTQ+ characters but tends to use them for laughs only. So it’s nice that Riordan is being upfront, positive, and serious.
LGBTQ+ characters have long been in books aimed at children and teens, books that are often written by – gasp! – LGBTQ+ authors. As those books are usually centered on LGBTQ+ issues and not, well, monster-fighting demigods, they don’t tend to get picked up by the major publishers. I am a little irritated that it takes a big-name author to get people’s attention, but hey. If Riordan can make a kid feel better, more power to him.
LGBTQ+ characters are canon to Greek and Roman mythology.
“But why do we even need gay characters in fantasy? They’re just stories! They’re not reaaaaal!” whine the homophobes. Well, maybe because LGBTQ+ people are real? I find it disturbing how so many people are unconcerned about the representation of this very real group, caring more about dragons, elves, and whatnot even though those things are, you know, not real.
And with Greco-Roman mythology, LGBTQ+ representation is beside the point. (Don’t you just love it when people bring down their own arguments by not knowing what they’re talking about?) If you don’t believe me, take a look at any collection of myths that wasn’t edited – just translated straight from Greek or Latin. It’ll be full of such characters. They include Orpheus, Laius, Narcissus, Pan, Ganymede, Achilles, Patroclus, Pelops, Cyparissus, Hyacinth, Daphnis, Apollo, Poseidon, and Zeus. Don’t even get me started on Hercules and his innumerable boyfriends.
So yes, including Nico makes perfect sense. Actually, what doesn’t make sense is why there aren’t more LGBTQ+ characters in this series that has, what, one hundred characters? (I apologize if I’m way off. I’m a bit out of the loop in all things Riordan; people keep talking about Hazel and Frank and I don’t even know who they are.) But I’m not too fussed. Riordan saw his chance and he took it.
The House of Hades is a children’s book.
Gather round and I’ll tell you a story! Once upon a time, there was a little girl who couldn’t find any characters who were really, truly like her. She looked at a lot of fiction and when all she found were stories about girls crushing on boys, she worried that maybe there was something wrong with her. Maybe people like her weren’t good enough to be in stories, as characters who have adventures and go on quests and are admired. It took her a long, long time to stop feeling bad about herself.
That is why we need LGBTQ+ representation in books – not just YA, but middle-grade and children’s books as well. We need these books earlier rather than later because there’s no set age one has to be before one realizes that one is different.
Predictably, there’s been a fuss about the whole thing. I looked at The House of Hades on Goodreads this morning and quickly wished I hadn’t because many users were writing in their reviews how Nico doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he’s only fourteen. If that’s true, why don’t people object when kindergarten boys and girls pretend to marry each other on the playground? Funny how you’re apparently never old enough to know your sexuality unless it’s straight.
Here’s another story: Once upon a time there was a teenage girl whose lack of LGBTQ+ books caused her to read far much into many friendships between characters of the same gender, hoping to find someone like her. She read The Titan’s Curse, the third Percy Jackson book, and thought Artemis and Zoe seemed suspiciously close. (She hopes she wasn’t the only one to do this. Anyone else?) Although Artemis makes a big deal about “staying a maiden forever”, she immediately follows this up with how she’s sworn off guys. Just guys.
That teenage girl thought neither it nor anything like it would ever happen. Not with Rick Riordan.
The other characters react well to Nico’s coming out.
Cupid even offers him advice. Jason’s fine with it and better yet, doesn’t pull any of that “but it’s probably not a good idea to tell people” nonsense. Riordan seems to understand that being gay (or whatever Nico is – I love that it’s ambiguous) is simultaneously a big deal and a small thing.
It irks me when people say something thing, “I’m cool with your sexuality, but I don’t see why you have to tell everyone”. Hello, you contradicted what you just said by implying that there’s something wrong with me that I should not tell others about. Riordan doesn’t do this. He doesn’t undermine his newly created potential. He understands that it’s just who some people are, but also that it can affect their life in huge ways.
As you can see, I’m rather proud of Rick Riordan. He’s not perfect and LGBTQ+ representation in books still has a long way to go, but this is progress. I still stand by my earlier remark that he really needs to move past the retelling-mythologies idea, but hope that he doesn’t move past any further discussion of Nico. After all, he’s had twelve books with mythology as a major topic and only one with LGBTQ+ as a minor topic. I think I’m going to give the Heroes of Olympus series another go.
And now, I’m off to resume my bewildered happiness: Rick Riordan. Dang. Definitely not who I expected. Thanks, dude. You’ve moved up a few notches in the “Authors I Really Admire And Respect” list (which I made up just now).
What are your thoughts?