Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions, and you are welcome to have your own but there will be slight spoilers (or major depending on how much you care about certain characters). In this article I will talk about all of the Harry Potter universe as well as the Riordenverse (all of Rick Riordan’s books).
I have been an avid reader since I was a small child and the first series that got me into reading was the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. My mom read it to me in the second grade and then I re-read the series in third grade. After that I was left with a giant problem which was: What do I read now? I don’t really know how I came across the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan and I was obsessed. I made my parents buy all of the books that were out at the time (which included the companion books like The Demigod Files) and I got Barnes and Noble gift cards with which I bought multiple Greek mythology books and am planning to take Greek for my college language credit and possibly studying abroad over the summer in Greece (although we will have to wait and see about that one because… money).
As I grew up, I noticed that there were always debates about whether Harry Potter or Percy Jackson was better and since I was a huge fan of both of those series, I couldn’t pick between them back then. That has since changed and I now have opinions on both. While I do think both of the series are brilliant in their own way, I think that Percy Jackson is better than Harry Potter. Here is why:
The Writing Style
I really enjoyed both of these writing styles but Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson series, has a light-hearted and digestible writing style which makes it easier for a wider audience to understand and enjoy the books. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Harry Potter style of writing but as a second grader, I don’t think I completely understood everything that was being said whereas in Percy Jackson it was very straightforward. Let’s compare the opening paragraphs of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
Let’s first look at the opening of Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief:
“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life. Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways. If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened. But if you recognize yourself in these pages – if you feel something stirring inside – stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they’ll come for you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
My name is Percy Jackson.
I’m twelve years old. Until a few months ago, I was a boarding student at Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York.
Am I a troubled kid?
Yeah. You could say that.”
Now let’s look at the opening paragraph of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large moustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere.”
Personally, the opening of Percy Jackson is more interesting to me because of a couple of different reasons. One reason is the point-of-view. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians is strictly in Percy’s perspective while all of the Harry Potter books are in third person. Having Percy’s perspective and inner thoughts makes me connect more to the character whereas using third person, in Harry Potter, is used more for the purposes of describing different characters and the wizarding world. This isn’t a bad thing, it just made me more interested in the wizarding world and other characters (like Hermione, Draco Malfoy, and Sirius Black) rather than have the main focus on Harry as a character. Having Percy’s view made me feel like I was going on a journey through his eyes and it was fun watching him discover… women. I know it sounds weird but it is extremely fun having Percy’s inner thoughts about liking Annabeth and how clueless he was for so many years.
The second reason is that in the first page of Percy Jackson, we are introduced to the main character, get to know more about him, and it’s relatable because he is a troubled child (his words) who has Dyslexia and ADHD and has trouble at school which is super relatable to younger audiences. On the other hand, the opening of Harry Potter takes you on a long winded explanation of Harry’s Aunt and Uncle’s relationship with his parents which is definitely needed for the exposition of the book but it takes so long to be introduced to Harry himself whereas it only took a few sentences in Percy Jackson.
Ok, I’ll admit this was a very close one. The wizarding world of Harry Potter is one that I think is very well done and could have even been explored more if Rowling were to write good books after the Harry Potter series (be honest… no one liked The Cursed Child). The Percy Jackson world is equally as interesting because it takes place on Earth but the monsters, gods, and Half-bloods are covered up by “mist” which makes mortals completely unaware of what chaos is happening right in front of their faces. With the mist, humans see the monsters that literally are hunting down children, as your average pre-algebra teacher or a school principal. The mist is very interesting because it can also trick demi-gods to see what the humans see because it is just that powerful which I find very interesting and adds an extra layer to the Percy Jackson universe. A good example of the mist would be in The Lightning Thief where Percy is fighting Ares, the Greek god of war, and Percy holds up his sword (called Riptide) but the mortal police that are watching the fight see Percy holding a gun instead.
The wizarding world is cool but muggles can still see what wizards do at the end of the day which, in my opinion, is a little disappointing. I know that is supposed to make the allure of wizards and witches more exciting but I want to see full on battles in open areas like they did in Percy Jackson. Another thing about the Percy Jackson series is that it uses actual Greek mythology and later on goes into other mythologies as well such as Egyptian, Roman, and Norse. This added to my interest because some of the stories mentioned in Percy Jackson are actual myths that I can do further research on whereas Harry Potter created a whole new universe. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the wizarding world but having that extra information like how Poseidon, Percy Jackson’s father, and Athena, Annabeth Chase’s mother, hate each other and actually be something that is true in Greek mythology play into why Annabeth is wary of Percy at first is a small detail but a very interesting one.
Diversity (and the authors response)
So, this is one of the major differences in why I like Percy Jackson over Harry Potter. Rick Riordan does a very nice job of including characters of all races, genders, and especially sexualities (you could make an argument that almost all of the characters he writes are part of the LGBTQIA+ community which I love) whereas Harry Potter is quite literally about straight, white people. That’s not a bad thing but the way that J. K. Rowling has tried to add in that Dumbledore was gay all along is complete crap. Hermione’s race also came into question when Noma Dumezweni, a black woman, was cast to play Hermione Granger in The Cursed Child play, which is completely fine (get it girl!) but when Rowling commented on Hermione’s race in the books, just like with Dumbledore being gay, it felt like a quick grab to say “the world of Harry Potter does have diversity, look who’s playing Hermione in The Cursed Child.” It didn’t seem like Rowling actually wanted to show characters of color and make intricate plots for them.
While Rowling does have characters of color like Dean Thomas, the Patil twins, Cho Chang, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and the Zabini family, they all are forgettable characters compared to the Riordanverse where there are many series with main characters of all different races, genders, sexualities, religions, and physical abilities. A few good examples of this would be Nico Di Angelo, a child of Hades who is gay, and plays an extremely important role through Percy Jackson and the Olympians as well as the second series, Heroes of Olympus, where it is revealed that he had a crush on Percy (he later dates Will Solace who is a son of Apollo). Another example are the characters in the Magnus Chase series. Magnus Chase, Annabeth’s cousin, and son of a Norse God is pansexual and is attracted to another character named Alex who is gender fluid and another character named Hearthstone is deaf and uses sign language. Also, In Trials of Apollo, Apollo is bisexual. The Kane Chronicles are led by Carter Kane who is African American and explores Egyptian mythology. Riordan has other examples like Frank Zhang (Chinese-Canadian), Piper McLean (Cherokee), Leo Valdez (Latino), and Hazel Levesque (African American) who are all part of the Prophecy of Seven which is the main prophecy (overarching plot) that takes place in the second series, Heroes of Olympus. Not only are these characters the main characters of the books, but they have fleshed-out storylines of their own that are explored throughout many books, not just Heroes of Olympus, that explain their backstories, their importance in saving the world, and their own feelings and identities.
Rick Riordan does a nice job most of the time with including diverse characters but that does not exclude him from making mistakes and garnering criticism. A big issue that blew up within the Percy Jackson fandom was the use of feathers in Piper McLean’s hair because she is Cherokee. This sparked lots of fans to call him out and told him that this perpetuated many Native American stereotypes. Riordan did respond by explaining where he researched and what he researched and where he got that from. It wasn’t the best apology ever but he at least made moves to explain where he got the idea from. There was also a matter of confusion on some aspects of her heritage being muddled which was explained in some of Riordan’s other books.
There is also a scene from the Magnus Chase series (which I have not read yet) where Samirah al-Abbas, a Muslim Valkyrie, took off her hijab because the people around her felt like family. From listening to my friends talk about this series, she seemed to be in an arranged marriage as well which both of these things are extremely harmful because it perpetuates stereotypes and many pointed out that it was extremely offensive and the representation for her character was handled horribly.
I would also like to mention that there is a branch of Disney-Hyperion called “Rick Riordan Presents” where according to Rick Riordan’s website they aim “to publish great middle-grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage.”
Where Rick Riordan seems to attempt to learn from his past mistakes and make space for underrepresented cultures, J. K. Rowling continuously spouts transphobia. She has marginalized a community that once loved her books and has been called out by millions online as well as some of the cast of the Harry Potter films such as Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter. If you would like a full timeline of J. K. Rowling twitter transphobic trainwreck, I’ll leave a link to Glamour who made the timeline. I will not be going into detail about her tweets but she doesn’t seem to look like she will stop spouting transphobia anytime soon which has put a damper on my love for Harry Potter (I still love the story but I will never support Rowling or buy anything of hers again).
Percy Jackson and Harry Potter are two important book series from my childhood and upon my re-reading of Percy Jackson for a book club, I found myself still enjoying the writing as an adult and looking at different aspects of both the books and the author that I didn’t look at when I was a kid reading these books. Representation matters and should be done properly.
As a biromantic person, meaning that I feel romantic feelings for both men and women, I think it is important to have proper representation in all forms of media for all races, genders, sexualities, romantic orientations, religions, etc. because we are all important as human beings and deserve to be respected and loved. I also realize that people can make mistakes and have internalized biases (we all have them) but the difference is that some people, like Rick Riordan, attempt to apologize, learn from that mistake, and make room for others to educate them on the issues whereas others, like J. K. Rowling, only spew hatred.
“Differences of heart and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire