044 đź“» Yay! Being Auto-Better Than the Immortal Parents!

🚨 Assume there are spoilers everywhere. 🚨

Once upon a time, when I was in elementary school, I used to listen to the Harry Potter series in cassette tape format.

Yes, this was the nineties. This was when there was no such thing as streaming. It was the days of cassette tapes that could get stretched after repeated and prolonged use, which, stretch they did, in the case of my collection of the Harry Potter series cassette tapes, because I listened to them so much. Probably more than a hundred times.

And back then, I lived in Germany. I don’t know how it is these days, but back in those days, in the town I lived, children went to bed by 8pm. Sharp. 8pm. Every night. Lights out. But then, even if you go to bed at 8pm, sometimes you can’t or don’t want to fall asleep right away—which was when the tapes kept me company, along with one of those nightlights that glow… in a really eerie red color, when I think about them now, but back then, for some reason, I found that eerie reddish color comforting.

Anyway, snuggling under my soft comfy blankets, I listened to Harry Potter. Reading books is fun, and reading is still my preferred mode of absorbing fiction stories, but there is great charm in having the story read to you when all around you, there is near-darkness. The whole wall and ceiling become the canvas for your imagination. Even with your eyes closed, you can see what is being read.

And since this was in Germany, the voice that read all those Harry Potter books was Herr Rufus Beck’s. Rufus Beck is basically the voice of my childhood. I have very fond memories of stories in audiobook format thanks to Rufus Beck. And recently, as I started listening to the Percy Jackson series in German, I felt… extreme youth, coupled with pleasant nostalgia. It was like being transported back to those days when I had to go to bed at 8pm. I felt like I was right there under the warm comfy blankets with a comforting-back-then, now-eerie-seeming reddish nightlight.

There was no other element that contributed to that teleportation through spacetime, other than the fact that someone was narrating a Young Adult fiction story in German. The Percy Jackson series isn’t narrated by Rufus Beck. Still, the perceived teleportation happened. The Percy Jackson series is written in English by Rick Riordan and in the German language, it is read by Marius Clarén.

Ah. This episode of Sponge isn’t going to be about the German language. It isn’t going to be about voice acting. It’s going to be about the amusing symmetry between the nonexistent/bad parent figure archetype of the Young Adult genre and the wild freedom attributed to and taken advantage of, to the maximum degree, by the Greek gods.

But. Just saying. If you want to feel extreme and unexpected youth, this is one method to try. Do what you did when you were a child. It has to be an activity that you haven’t continued to do. It has to be an activity that you specifically did as a small child, and for whatever reason, stopped doing. In my case, the activity was consuming a YA story in a particular language in a particular format. But it could be anything else. It could be baking cookies, if you did it when you were ten but haven’t done it again in fifty years.

So… sometimes I think of the things that I wish I had continued to do consistently, over all the past decades. At other times, like in this case, it’s actually nice to have an unexpected time capsule. That was what it felt like to listen to Percy Jackson. It felt like I had unintentionally opened a time capsule to my childhood even though this was the first time I was listening to Percy Jackson.

Many YA stories feature the nonexistent or bad parent figure archetype, and it is inevitable. Think of all the terrible things that happen to underaged humans in the YA genre. If the parent figure—whether an actual parent or a guardian or some other adult responsible for the wellbeing of the underaged human—if such a parent figure were existent in an effective way, as in, if they were actually functioning properly according to the norms set by the surrounding society, then most of the things happening in a YA story cannot happen. Someone would be there to save the child. But then, when you think about it… most of the things that happen in a YA story wouldn’t even happen to adults.

Meaning: The idea that a parent figure was either actually nonexistent—as in, dead or absent—or practically nonexistent—as in, they might as well be dead or absent because they perform their function so poorly—is very clear in the YA genre. And the idea that things happen to the underaged protagonist because of the nonfunctioning parent figure or figures is also clear. For example, Harry’s parents are dead, in the Harry Potter series, and his aunt and uncle are abusive. They don’t even care to buy Harry proper eyeglasses. Also, they’re muggles—as in, they have no magic in them—and thus they are not equipped to help Harry in any shape or form in his fight against Voldemort the evil wizard. Thus, Harry goes through a ton of hardship. He faces a three-headed dog. He fights a giant poisonous snake. He has to fight dragons. All sorts of stuff.

But at the same time, I’m saying, normally, these things don’t happen to adults. So, to say that if Harry had parents, he wouldn’t have to go through all this, is… that’s not how things seem to be.

And I find this amusing. At first glance, the poorly functioning parent figures are to be blamed. But then when I think about it, it’s… no. Most parents in the universe would not be prepared to go through what Harry Potter goes through, with him. Most adults do not go through what Harry Potter goes through.

The same thing applies to Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games, as well as Percy Jackson of the Percy Jackson series. All these child protagonists have nonfunctioning parent figures for various reasons. The parent figures are dead, gone in some other way, weak, or, in Percy Jackson’s case—one side is a Greek deity. Percy Jackson’s mother is a human and his father is Poseidon, who, according to Wikipedia, quote, is “presiding over the sea, storms, earthquakes and horses.” End quote. And at first glance one might think that having a deity daddy would work to a kid’s advantage, but that’s not how it goes in the story. So, all these child protagonists have nonfunctioning parent figures and usually, at the beginning of a YA story, it looks like the reason the child protagonist is suffering is directly because of said parent figures. However, also usually, it is revealed very quickly, that these child protagonists must face challenges that 99.9999% of the human population, adults included, never have to face.

This can be interpreted in many ways. One way is to say: well, if these child protagonists weren’t so special, there would be no need for a story to be written around them. Or at least, if a story were to be written about a child protagonist who has nonfunctioning parent figures but does not face extreme action-adventure challenges, then such a story wouldn’t be categorized as YA. It would probably be… Literary Fiction. I cannot think of another genre in which people would want to read about an underaged protagonist who has poor parent figures and on top of that, must face the truest of true hardships of life: which is that they aren’t special, so there is no action-adventure for them.

So, you see? It’s like… In a way, it is sadder for a child protagonist to not have all these action-adventure challenges going on. That’s the weird thing about the YA genre. It knows that the readers sympathize with the child protagonist. It knows that a lot of the readers probably have a traumatic memory or many traumatic memories about their own parent figures from their childhood. And I think—this is my theory—it seems to me that the YA genre knows that deep down, the readers know, that the worst part wasn’t that the parent figures sucked, but that the readers weren’t special enough to face extreme action-adventures and rise victoriously from them.

There are studies on how a not insignificant portion of the YA readership isn’t young adults. It’s older people, people well beyond the young adult age, reading the genre. It’s regular adults and old adults reading the young adult genre. Why is this? Why do we read about abused abandoned neglected child protagonists with nonexistent or bad parent figures, and then rejoice in the fact that things don’t end there? Rather, things keep getting worse, so much worse that these child protagonists must survive and thrive in extreme action-adventure situations: fighting monsters, flying dragons, and participating in a survival game.

One reason this genre is popular might be that perhaps what we wish for isn’t a perfectly existent and good parent. And by existent, I mean that when the parent is there, they’re actually there. By this I mean that when a parent is sitting with the child at the dinner table, the parent is actually there, instead of looking at their phone or reading the newspaper or whatever. The parent is there, paying attention to what’s going on in the life of the human they created. And having such an existent parent is nice. It is quite nice indeed. But perhaps that’s not what we want, deep down. What we want is to have parent figures that are so very overtly undeniably nonexistent and bad, which gives us the opportunity to do whatever we want and become whatever we want, regardless of what the hell the parent figure thinks, and then on top of that, to survive and thrive victoriously despite all the monstrous challenges of life.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Percy Jackson series is that it overtly ties the idea of the parent to the idea of a god. This tying is done so frequently across various cultures and religions that I sometimes don’t even think of it as tying. But that’s what happens: the equating of a divine figure to a parent. It’s kind of ironic, when you think about it. This divine figure is supposed to be divine, as in, beyond human, and yet that figure is often called father or mother. Even something like Mother Earth, which isn’t religious, exactly—in fact, “Mother Earth” is used in political or scientific contexts just as much as in spiritual contexts, it seems. There is this idea that that which is divine is our—the humanity’s—parent figure.

Which then leads to the question, do we think that the parent figure is divine? Or that it should be divine?

My guess is that most grownup people don’t think that way at the conscious level. But there is a time in our lives in which we can unapologetically believe in the divinity of our parents, and that is when we are children. If your parents do not give you food, you don’t get food. If they don’t give you water, you will die. If they throw you out, you are thrown out. If they lock you up, you are locked up.

And basically, the YA genre… it’s like… I mean, it can be mostly for entertainment and it is entertaining oftentimes. I like YA stories. All this talk of parents and divinities aside, many YA stories are great stories, as stories. Sometimes YA stories have deeper and truer catharsis than the most serious award-winning works out there. There is love and hatred and war and peace in YA.

But also at the same time, basically, the YA genre is like everything that we wished our parents were, but they failed to be, or everything that terrified us about our parents deep down because of the godly power they had over us—the aforementioned, if they don’t feed you you starve to death type of absolute power—put into the first 10% of the storyline—meaning, in the setup stage of the storyline—and then the YA protagonist prevailing over all that trauma. I’m saying, the absolute power that parents have over children, even when parents did not abuse it and always delivered, can be traumatizing by definition. Humans are unlike any other creatures on earth. Human babies absolutely will die if a grownup individual does not take care of them.

And the Percy Jackson series uses this YA setup to the maximum by giving the main characters one human parent and one divine parent. At first glance, they’re substandard parents. Both the human one and the divine one. In the Percy Jackson series, children who are half-gods don’t get to live very long, because they are being hunted down by mythological monsters. And these parents knowingly, full-well knowingly put these children out there.

In Book 1 alone, the things that Percy’s parents do are super meh. For example, Poseidon tells Percy that he regrets having Percy, which is like… “Thanks Dad, I regret having you as my father as well”? Like… what? I mean, it’s one thing to be human and to suck as a parent. Imagine the level of incompetence it takes to be Poseidon and yet not even being able to figure out if he wants to have a son or not. That’s some extreme level of failure as a god. In fact, a lot of what these gods do is… it’s less than what humans would do. The dude is a god and he can’t even get contraception in order? And then he tells the product of his massive contraceptive failure that he would rather not have had the boy?

Also in Book 1 of the Percy Jackson series, these supposed Olympian gods get robbed by a half-god. And they cannot even figure out who the robber is.

And Percy’s mother, she does… she basically does nothing. There is a brief mention how she lives with an abusive human guy who smells horrible, so that the reek will mask Percy’s smell of half-godness. But that part aside, Percy’s mother… she whines. She whines. Throughout Books 1 to 3, she cries. She breaks out in tears randomly. Not to say that parents cannot cry, but there is a difference between crying, and whining. Percy is 12 years old in Book 1, and this woman whines habitually in front of her son, and she doesn’t have that many scenes, which means that when she appears, she whines.

And I think this is fully intended by the author. I fully believe there is a reason why, when either the human or divine parent of Percy Jackson make their rare appearances, all they do is prove how much they suck as parents. The parent figures in the Percy Jackson series, more than in most other YA stories I’ve come across, are intentionally and overtly massive failures as parents, specifically in order to give Percy Jackson the immense freedom to do whatever he pleases. That is my theory.

There are various mythological creatures in the Percy Jackson series that also have a half-and-half parents thing going on, just like the half-gods. For example, the satyrs are a mixture of goat and human. Centaurs are a mixture of horse and human.

The odd thing is that in the myths, satyrs are all-male. That means that they can only reproduce by mating with other creatures. Which then leads to the question, how is it that the satyr genes don’t get thinned out? Mythology doesn’t need to be scientific, but the question remains. How is it that people created this mythology where these creatures called satyrs are half goat and half human, and yet they don’t mate with humans or goats, necessarily, and they still remain satyrs?

As to the centaurs, apparently there are female centaurs, so at least with centaurs, it makes sense that two centaurs mate and the result is a baby centaur. But here also there is the question of why… how?

Well. From an article titled, “Where Did The Centaurs Come From? A Journey Through Ancient Art,” which was on The Collector, quote,

Their origin story was a bit weird. Ixion was in love with Hera, Zeus’ wife. Zeus made a cloud (Nephele) assume Hera’s form in order to expose Ixion’s lust for his wife. Ixion fell into the trap and mated with Nephele. From their union, Centaurus was born. In his turn, Centaurus mated with the Magnesian mares, and a race of half-horse half-man creatures was born.

“Where Did The Centaurs Come From? A Journey Through Ancient Art”

End quote. So… Centaurus was human. And he mated with Magnesian mares. So he is the human daddy and the mares are the horse mommys. But from then on, for some reason, centaurs stayed centaurs, instead of diverging back to being closer to human or closer to horse.

 Again, mythology doesn’t need to be scientific, but there is a whole lot of this idea of “there are parents but them in their original form are nowhere to be found anymore” type of thing going on in mythology.

In the Percy Jackson series, the manticore also makes an appearance. According to the Britannica, it is, quote, ”a legendary animal having the head of a man (often with horns), the body of a lion, and the tail of a dragon or scorpion.” End quote. So this one has three branches of parents. The human, the lion, and the dragon or scorpion. So this is completely beyond any known biology that involves human reproduction. And, again, the parents are nowhere to be found. For some reason, there is the idea of these creatures coming from somewhere—from the human, from the horse, from the goat, from the scorpion—but the parents either don’t exist in the biological and mythical sense, or, as in the case of centaurs, there is a clear case of mythological story there, but the centaurs are so far removed from their original parents, it’s not like they can start mating with humans and become more human-like or start mating with horses and become more horse-like. Centaurs just stay centaurs, it seems, as creatures that are neither like their original Mommy or Daddy figure.

So. Parents who are nonexistent and/or bad. They are everywhere in the Percy Jackson series. Pretty much no matter what anybody does, they have a parent figure who didn’t do much in the parental realm, so that they can do whatever they want. These Olympian gods run around in a juvenile fashion, sometimes literally so. They literally take on the form of a juvenile and flirt with juveniles, making it somewhat more disturbing than Edward Cullen, the 100-year-old vampire, flirting with the high school girl Bella in the Twilight series. I enjoyed the Twilight series, by the way. It only becomes disturbing when you think about it, and you don’t have to think about it. The stories are perfectly enjoyable. I like vampires, in general, because they’re weird.

Anyway. The reason they—the Olympian gods—can do that despite their numerous offsprings they will not take care of is, partly, because they had Mommies and Daddies who were not much different.

This is so in the original mythology, and also in the Percy Jackson series. These gods are godly because of their unapologetic massive failures. They don’t care if they don’t fit the human standards of parenthood. The gods are all immortal and they just don’t care. In a weird way, it is divine to be spectacular failures and not even know it. It’s weirdly exhilarating. Even with all that power, these gods haven’t gotten over the basic arcs of the most cheesy soap opera. In fact, most modern soap operas are less cheesy than the family drama of these gods. In Percy Jackson, the large overall arc that stretches across the books within the series is that of the Titans against the Olympians. Meaning, Percy and his half-god friends’ parents are fighting against their parents. Talk about family drama. It’s godlike and also not godlike, but what is godlike anyway?

By the way, if you’re curious what the Titans and Olympians do to each other, you can look up “Saturn Devouring His Son,” the painting by Goya, and also read the related story of how… literally Saturn Devoured his son. I mean, these gods. All they do is feud within the family, create offspring that they’re gonna go around and threaten, and then prove themselves spectacular failures.

And at first glance, it seems to make no sense to call such beings divinity. Most random humans would be better qualified to raise children than these gods. Perhaps it comes from mortality, I don’t know.

But, ironically or not so ironically, from the fact that these gods are so absorbed in themselves, it becomes crystal-clear that they aren’t here to save anyone. They aren’t here to save other gods, they aren’t here to save their own half-god children, they are most definitely not here to save the mere mortals who aren’t even half-gods. Thus, the idea of a god outside of a person who solves problems and becomes the target of prayers cannot function within Greek mythology. Yes, there is the worshipping of divinity, yes, there are temples. But some other god could come along and destroy the temple. Some other god’s half-god offspring will kill the offspring of that particular god, or, that god’s Daddy or Mommy will devour them, which will compel the daughter or son to, I don’t know, tear the Mommy or Daddy into pieces into eternal hellfire? Something like that?

This total lack of control, even for the gods, is absolutely freeing. And yes, I think this is a total lack of control, not just a little bit of lack of control. I repeat, these gods cannot even control which offspring they have, or whether to have an offspring at all or not, apparently. Within the Percy Jackson series, a god may drive around in a Maserati, but he doesn’t know how to use a condom. It’s hilarious.

And this is no chance. There is a dark humor strain going through the Percy Jackson series. For example, at the end of Book 1, Percy’s mother uses the head of Medusa to turn the smelly abusive guy she lives with into stone. In other words, she basically kills him. On top of that, she sells that stone statue for a profit. And all of this is mentioned with the same lightheartedness with which the book deals with parental threats toward children.

And I do not think this lightheartedness is used in an attempt to minimize serious topics. I don’t think the series is making serious things appear less serious. I think due to this lightheartedness, readers can feel the kind of freedom that cannot be felt with every YA series. All stories give different vibes, no matter how archetypical they may seem. Otherwise, there wouldn’t need to be that many stories. Even with all the similarities within the YA genre, each story is different. The author is different, the characters are different. And Percy Jackson gave me a feeling of such unexpected freedom by making the symmetry between nonexistent/bad parent figures and the wild freedom attributed to and taken advantage of by the Greek gods crystal-clear.

Nobody can save anybody, especially not children with nonexistent/bad parents. And that might sound terrible, but it’s less so than it may appear at first glance. When we break a leg, there is the pain from having the leg broken. It’s painful and there is no denying it. And then there is the unnecessary suffering that comes from thoughts such as: this should not have happened to me; why is the world so unfair?; people will look down ib me because I am crippled, so on and so forth.

And I call it “unnecessary suffering” because it is not an absolute. We aren’t born thinking that we should not have our legs broken. We need only look at the history of torture devices such as the corset, which was immensely popular. For some reason, humans in a certain spacetime did not think that humans should not be put into those devices. Truly, humans are capable of believing anything as normal. They are also capable of believing anything as abnormal. I can totally imagine a society where having legs broken is considered normal. It’s just not the society that most of us happen to live in, right now.

And having ineffective parent figures is similar to all that. There is the pain that comes from having them, and then there is the unnecessary suffering that comes from the sense that ineffective parent figures should not be allowed. Over the years I talked to some of the humans I know whose parents either died or aren’t there anymore in various ways, and also, humans whose parents were “there,” physically, but those humans themselves say that they might have been better off without the parents being there physically. And much of what those humans say revolves around the idea of how… Yes, as a child especially, it was painful not to have one or both parents there in an effective way. However, worse than that was the expectation of they themselves and others around them that there should have been effective existent parents. Both parents. There was discrimination against children whose parents either didn’t or couldn’t stand up for the children. There was open pointing-out of how tragic it is that they don’t have parents. And… no matter how tragic a situation might be, someone’s repeatedly pointing out that it is a tragedy makes the tragedy worse. There is pain and then there is unnecessary suffering. I would say that the shame, aggression, and guilt that these humans without one or both parent figures went through can be considered unnecessary suffering, because if the nonexistence of said parent figures hadn’t been so often pointed out as an undesirability and abnormality, then perhaps those humans would have had to feel such emotions to a lesser degree or not at all.

Meanwhile, a story like Percy Jackson, so full of ineffective human parents and not only that, ineffective divine parents who should have had all the power but clearly they do not, gives us a lot of freedom. When one’s parent figures are useless to this level, one can do anything. One expects pretty much nothing from these parents. And so many charaters in this series have parents like that, so that nobody points out the uselessness of these parent figures anymore. The opinions of such parent figures are completely irrelevant. If we succeed on our half-god quest, that’s splendid. If we fail, so what? We’re only halfgods. What are the gods doing? Nothing better than us, clearly.

So, in a weird way, these children in the Percy Jackson series, who seemed like they were victims of overt abuse or passive neglect—they cannot be victims. They can do anything and everything. They can be anything and everything. There is no adult to help them, but there is no adult to stop them either. Even if adults or divinities were to try to stop them, these children can show them the middle finger and keep doing what they were doing and keep being who they were being.

Maybe that’s the appeal of the Greek divinities, overall, outside of the Percy Jackson series. The gods are so ungodlike to the point that one has to wonder what the word “godlike” means anyway. The bar seems to be very low. And thus, the ungods can become godlike. Only mortals can become immortal. Mortals can both die and live forever as an idea. Meanwhile, the so-called actual immortals—because they have known nothing else besides immortality—do not know what being immortal means. They don’t know how to disappear. One of the main reasons the Titans and Olympians must keep fighting is that… neither dies. They don’t know how to die.

So. Immortality in mortality. Much fun in the Percy Jackson series. There might be pain, lots of children running around fighting monsters because no one will do it for them, but it’s strangely freeing to the point that after a while, it doesn’t feel strange anymore. And there is no suffering. Suffering is pretty much nonexistent in this series. Terrible things happen and they don’t feel that terrible. Lots of fun for readers as well as the characters. A great series. Many extreme youthful feelings. Much nostalgia. Time capsule effect—immense.

And the mortal life is wonderful.

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