Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Heroes of Olympus and Sacrifice

I never shared C.S. Lewis' agony of school, although having read many of his letters and works I can understand why he did. When it comes to school and education, I remember it more in the pattern of J.K. Rowling and school-life in Harry Potter, a healthy dose of mischief and learning.
And perhaps that's a bit nostalgic. But all nostalgia aside, I have many good memories of the seventh grade with Mr Reisig at Trinity Lutheran (and there are far too many stories to tell, most of which have something to do with his classroom antics, which you would never forget if you had ever sat in a desk in his classroom).

As of late, his love of literature, ancient Greek mythology in particular, has continued to influence and shape my love of literature, mythology and story-telling. Perhaps that is where my love of literature began to grow (or at the very least, take on new life) - like one of Jack's magic beans. Story after story was planted in my brain whilst sitting in one of those old wooden and metal encased desk-chair combinations on Killingsworth listening to Mr. Reisig read and lecture on the finer points of Odysseus and the Sirens or Jason and the Argonauts. He did it with such ease and imagination, as if he was Homer before a captive audience in an amphitheater. The adventure. The clash of mythical beasts and heroes. The suspense. The language. The characters and wild creatures. The imagination and story sub-created a world in my head and my day dreams during other school subjects. Library time was never the same. And that classroom, with its uncomfortable desk, became a blank manuscript where epic tales were inked across my mind.

A few years ago I took a chance on this book I had heard about from some of the youth group kids at church, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. It was excellent. I wanted more. To the thrill and suspense of Greek mythology. The reading is quick and easy in both series. However, the plot, character development, adventure and compelling story-writing have continued in this second series that now includes both the Greek and Roman mythologies all while creating a modern mythology set in an American context: a new Titan war in the Percy Jackson series and the new war of the Giants in The Heroes of Olympus series. Thankfully, my hunger for more good stories was answered as Rick Riordan began to write another series: The Heroes of Olympus. And there I was again, reading Greek and Roman mythology at my desk. Back in seventh grade. Back in Mr. Reisig's class.
But this time there was more. In these stories I see a glimpse of the true Story and the real Author, not gods but the true God, not a pantheon, but the person of Christ. In the voyage of Ulysses I see the struggle of the Baptized Christian. In Theseus' deliverance from the Labyrinth I see a greater deliverance by Christ who conquers not a Minotaur but the power of death, the devil and Hades itself. He's got the scars to prove it, but those are trophies, not weaknesses. He is the true Vine that Bacchus could never be. He is the Lord who thunders from Mt. Sinai and causes Gaea to quake at his crucifixion. He is the sum and total of all the things Greek and Roman mythology claim to be but fail to deliver.  

For He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1).

Even in these contemporary, reformatted young adult versions of Greek mythology there is a part of the story that points outside the myth to the greater and true story: the Gospels, where myth became fact, God became man. Not a demigod or a hero with an Achilles heel. But the pioneer of our faith, Christ, who was fastened to a cross - not to evade the Siren's call, but to answer it for us. To become sin and death for us. So that we might become sons of God. Not with special powers or super human strength, but heirs to an inheritance that bestows upon us the one thing that all the mythologies in the world could never offer - the one thing that really matters in the end: death and resurrection. All because of a perfect Sacrifice.

That word, sacrifice caught my attention the other day while reading Rick Riordan's latest book, The Mark of Athena, I saw a glimpse of this Great Sacrifice in the words of Nemesis:

"True success requires sacrifice."

Having read the previous books in these series, I know that sacrifice plays a proper protagonist's role in Riordan's story-arc and character development. But this is more than a plot device to move tension and literature to its end. Again, it beckons to the Ultimate Sacrifice. It's also an essential part of story-telling.

Now, I don't know exactly how the story will end - although I have my guesses. And I am not sure who will fulfill the prophecy of seven ( a key component in the books) or how it will be accomplished, or if that will even happen in this book (it's the 3rd of 5). But I know it will take sacrifice, that much is clear. For this is one of the manifold joys - even the joy of the eucatastrophe - that successful stories bestow upon the reader: sacrifice. And more importantly, that's what makes our salvation successful, finished, and accomplished - a Sacrificial Savior.

So, when the book is finished, I'll be sure to write about it. But for now...It's back to reading. And back to school. Now, get a book.

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