If the Gods Were Real   5 comments


He doesn’t look much like a Lightning Thief, does he?  But, Rick Riordan, author of the Lightning Thief which has just come out last week in movie format as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, is doing very well for himself. Rick was a successful adult mystery novelist when he switched his focus to writing for teens. His first book about demigod Percy (Perseus) Jackson called THE LIGHTNING THIEF came out in 2005. By 2009 they were making a movie out of it, and I watched the film last Saturday (Feb. 20, 2010) along with my son and his friend. From book to big budget movie in less than five years–that’s pretty much stealing the lightning as far as I can tell.

I liked Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The movie did exactly what it was supposed to do–that is, it entertained us for about 2 hours. The wizards of special effects were their wonderful wizardly selves. The battle with the Hydra in the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee (the Athens of the South) was incredibly well done–I loved it.  The stars were all good looking and bought into their parts enough so that you could believe in them. The Olympic Pantheon was godly and arrogant.

(A note about the Parthenon: I didn’t know this place existed, but now that I do know I’d sure love to see it in person some time.  I took this description from a webpage promoting Nashville as a tourist destination.

It is fitting that the “Athens of the South” is home to the world’s only full-size replica of the ancient Parthenon. Forty-six Doric columns encircle the building. The largest bronze doors in the world, weighing 7.5 tons each, stand at the east and west entrances. Featured is Athena Parthenos, the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world. Sculptures and friezes are modeled from Elgin Marbles at the British Museum in London. There are also four art galleries. Admission: $3.50 adults, $2 seniors and ages 4-17.)

     Percy Jackson (the movie) reminded me of Harry Potter (the movie). There are a lot of similarities. Both are about teen boys who come from disfunctional families but turn out to be special–gifted far beyond mere mortals. Both films move from the mundane to the magical quite quickly. Both show the hero with a cast of sidekicks and friends–one of whom is a truly fantastic girl–without whom they would have failed in their quests. Both stories take the protagonist to a special academy (Hogwarts and Camp Halfblood) for further training with others who are like them in magical abilities. Both have  wise kindly bearded magical teachers from mythology. (Hagrid the Giant and Chiron the Centaur) Both feature a modern boy dealing with essentially ancient magics, traditions, horrors. Although the stories seem different in events and setting, they are both versions of the Hero’s Journey–both of our young heroes have to fight the Forces of Darkness.

Hmmmm? Have I just rediscovered the bonafide sure-fire secret of success in writing Teen Fantasy? Dang! It’s one thing to know the secret in your mind. It’s quite another to successfully apply it.

However, I’d like to examine an underlying  premise for this movie–namely that the gods of ancient mythology are real. Because they are gods, they never did die off or vanish. There’s a scary corollary to this idea. If one ancient pantheon is real, then they are probably all real. D.C. Comics uses the Olympians as the basis of their Wonder Woman books. Marvel Comics likes the Norse pantheon better, but they use the Olympians too. i believe both Hercules and Ares are running around in the Marvelverse at the moment. If the Greek gods exist, then the Norse gods exist, and the Egyptian gods exist, and the Chinese gods exist, and the Brahmin gods exist, and the Voodoo gods exist, and the Polynesian gods exist. Hell! Maybe Chthulhu and the Old Ones even exist! There are hundreds of polytheistic pantheons in the world.  How do they all manage to co-exist? And how do they manage to keep existing when Jehovah/Allah wants to be the only god?

I guess the only way to reconcile the existence of many gods is to say there are no gods. Beings exist who are more powerful than we are, and they may share the world, galaxy, or universe with us, and they can do amazing things–live almost forever, control nature, explore the furthest boundaries of time and space, but they aren’t truly gods. They’re just different kinds of people–different from us in the same way that we differ from chimpanzees or howler monkeys.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from the word GOD. Christianity has me all caught up in believing that gods are all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal, but people haven’t always seen them that way. To be a god, it is sufficient to be more powerful and more intelligent than mere mortals. People are gods to dogs and cats and cows and horses and chickens and many other creatures.  Aardvarks are gods to ants and termites.  Maybe all godhood really requires is more power, more intelligence, and greater life span. By that standard the universe/world is full og gods.

Which leads me to wonder, why aren’t the gods fighting it out amongst themselves for total controll of everything? If there is one thing the various mythologies agree on, it’s that gods aren’t real good about sharing their powers with others. Zeus and his followers killed the Titans who were the gods before them. Set did a number on Osiris. Loki schemed to get Baldur the Beautiful slain, and if Marvel comics  has the right of it, he will never stop until he destroys Thor and rules Asgard. The mythologies of the world are full of struggles between one god and another.  Why aren’t they fighting?

Maybe they are. Maybe they work on a different time scale than we do. Just like dogs would never understand what it takes to build houses or drive cars, maybe we can never understand what the gods are really doing. Maybe global warming is just a ploy by Thor and the Asgardians to defeat the Ice Giants here on Earth. Maybe.

You know, I don’t want to think about the gods any more. That way lies madness! And whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. It does seem like there is an awful lot of madness in the world. It could mean that the gods are hard at work  here after all.




Posted February 24, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

5 responses to “If the Gods Were Real

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  1. The Greek and Nordic/Germanic pantheons feature very human-like deities, blurring the line between legendary hero and god. I suspect that’s why Marvel Comics used them the most. Hercules, Circe, Thor, and Gilgamesh are all Avengers.

  2. I think people need Gods more than Gods need people. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I forget which I am some times. Does the ability to forget imply that one is not omniscient? Is it possible for an omniscient, omnipotent being to forget anything?

  3. I’m not sure what you know about the Nephilim, but I think the answer to the world’s pantheons and also to Jehovah can be found in this ancient, but well-documented, tradition.

    This will be fascinating reading for you: http://thedivinecouncil.com

  4. I suddenly want waffles. Anybody else hungry?

  5. One of the reasons the different pantheons wouldn’t all be fighting each other is that if their pantheons are all real, then so are their apocalypses.

    The Norse couldn’t spend time fighting the Greeks — whose seat of power is the West in the books — because they would constantly be in fear of Ragnarok and wouldn’t want to weaken themselves thus aiding the Giants.

    Also bear in mind the similarities between the Giants and the Titans. Maybe the pantheons are different, but the foes might be one and the same.

    One of the ways the book deals with the metaphysical question of the gods is to avoid the discussion of whether that means “God” does or doesn’t exist — though the quick response leaves that possibility. Monotheism has far different implications, as you note, than polytheism. With a pantheon, the power of the gods may be limited to geographic regions or their may be rules dictating that in other regions the Greek gods may only act through their heroes — this is implied in the books.

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