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Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Episodes Seven and Eight

This week we follow our protagonists to the depths of the underworld and the heights of Olympus as we reach the end of season one! Despite learning that they have missed the deadline, Percy and his friends choose to continue their quest for the Master Bolt, heading down into the underworld to confront the villain Hades and request its return.

Our protagonists are far from the first heroes to travel to the underworld, with such a journey being known as a ‘katabasis’ (meaning descent). The most famous of this number is possibly Orpheus, who travelled to the underworld to retrieve his lost love Euridice, and ultimately failed in his quest. His travels were aided by the god Apollo, who was possibly his father, though other sources give this honour to the Thracian king, Oeagrus. Apollo went on ahead of Orpheus to let Hades know that Orpheus was on his way to petition for the return of his lost bride while Orpheus himself travelled to the underworld through the gate of Taenarus (located in Taenarum in Laconia). This same entrance was used by Heracles as he travelled into the underworld to battle Cerberus, and by the then-human Psyche as part of her efforts to prove herself worthy again of Cupid’s love.

Unsurprisingly (given that they aren’t anywhere near Greece) Percy, Annabeth and Grover can’t use this specific entrance and must use other means to travel to the underworld. They do this by visiting the shop of Procrustes, where they know there should be a secret entrance to the underworld. Procrustes, who we have already talked about in a previous article, is a son of Poseidon and the half brother of Percy. This is a fact that is never brought up in the original ‘The Lightning Thief’ book, where Procrustes is treated like any other monster. He is described as having ‘leathery’ skin and a ‘cold, reptilian smile’, going by the pseudonym ‘Crusty’ and subscribing to the ‘Monstrous Yellow Pages.’ He also, presumably, disintegrates into dust, as all monsters do, once Percy kills him.

In a continuation of the show’s themes regarding the closeness between monsters, gods, and demigods, the Procrustes in the ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series is explicitly referred to as Percy’s brother and appears more manipulative than his book counterpart. He appeals to Percy’s insecurities and the struggles of being a half-blood in an attempt to convince his brother to willingly give up. In response, Percy springs the trap he and Annabeth had set, with an invisible Annabeth trapping Procrustes in his own bed. In a deviation from the books, Percy does not kill this version of Procrustes, perhaps because he appears as a far more human than monster, and it is a little dark for Disney to have their protagonist decapitate his older brother in cold blood.

Procrustes taken care of, Percy, Annabeth and Grover head into his office where they find the entrance to the underworld – a normal door that opens to a dark and spooky tunnel. Passing through it into the underworld, our protagonists find a dark and intimidating world, filled with sand and wind and lines of silent, unresponsive souls waiting to pass into the afterlife. While Annabeth, Percy, and Grover were lucky enough to skip the river Styx – the tunnel letting them out on the other side – they are not quite lucky enough, finding that the entrance to Hades’ realm is surrounded by a gigantic wall they are unable to cross. Heading to the front of the queue they encounter Charon – the ferryman who guides souls across the Styx and into the underworld. Tragically, Charon only guides those who have had the proper funeral rites and been buried appropriately with a coin either in their mouth or near their body. These lucky souls are able to pay Charon for their transport across the river. Those not buried with a coin are forced to roam along the banks of the Styx for one hundred years before they are permitted to cross. Recognising Percy, Annabeth and Grover as souls who have not crossed the river, paid the fair and, crucially, not died, Charon calls security – the gigantic, three headed dog, Cerberus.

Cerberus famously guards the gates of Hades, preventing the dead from leaving and the living from entering. Though Cerberus is most popularly depicted as a three headed dog, older depictions show him with a mane of snakes, and a serpent for a tail. The series, however, leans into the more popular depictions, showing Cerberus as a three-headed Doberman dressed in chainmail. Annabeth manages to bribe the giant dog with scritches and a red ball, giving the trio a chance to escape into the underworld, and what they later discover is the Asphodel Fields.

The Asphodel Fields, or Meadows, appear as one of the sections of the underworld in Greek myth. Though these Meadows have often been described as a pleasant, if not exceptional, afterlife, the depiction in ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ likely pays homage to Homeric descriptions in which the Fields are said to be a miserable, dark place, where the souls of the dead wail and weep. The Fields share a name with the Asphodel plant and there is much speculation regarding the origins of the name some ascribing the name to the flower’ positive qualities, such as its pleasing scent, others toits negative ones – the flowers pale, ghostly colouring.  In ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’, appropriately enough, those loose souls in the Fields of Asphodel find themselves putting down roots and loosing themselves, transforming into gigantic trees. During their travels through this eerie forest, Annabeth is caught by the roots of the land and trapped. Discovered again by Cerberus, Percy and Grover are forced to flee with Annabeth distracting the dog before using one of the pearls – gifted to Percy in a previous episode – to escape the underworld.

Now alone, Grover and Percy continue their journey to Hades’ palace – shown as an upside-down castle descending down from the roof of the underworld. Before they can reach this castle, the magical shoes that they were gifted by Luke activate, and Grover is dragged away towards a great pit in the sands – the entrance to Tartarus. As with much of Greek myth, the concept of Tartarus has changed much over time. In early tales, the cosmos was described as a great sphere, with the top half taken up by the sky, the bottom half the great pit of Tatarus and – dividing the two – Earth in the middle. The personification of this pit (also Tartarus) would father a child with Gaia – Typhon, the great monster who fought against the gods and fathered Echidna’s monstrous children. Like many who attempted to overthrow the gods, a defeated Typhon was thrown into Tartarus and imprisoned. Tartarus would later come to be seen as a part of the underworld, where those deemed worthy of punishment are kept – such as Sisyphus, Prometheus, and Tantalus. Still dragged by his flying shoes, Grover almost becomes on of this number but luckily, being a satyr, the shoes don’t fit quite right. They slip free, disappearing down the gigantic pit, and Grover is saved.

It's not all good news, though, as Percy realises that something is wrong with the bag that Ares gifted them. Pulling it open, he discovers Zeus’ Master Bolt inside – they had it this whole time.

In possession of the Master Bolt, Percy and Grover could (and should) leave the underworld, return to the surface and return the Master Bolt to Olympus. But Hades still has Percy’s mother. They decide to continue, meeting with Hades and asking him for Sally Jackson’s safe return.

In myth, as befits a deity of death and the afterlife, Hades is generally described as stern and pitiless, – if not entirely unmovable – he did after all give Orpheus a chance to recover Euridice. The Hades of the ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series is quite different. When Percy and Grover first appear in Hades’ Hall, his imposing throne is empty, and Hades walks over to them from behind it – looking incredibly modern in a turtleneck and robe. He is genial and jokey with the boys, if somewhat awkward, and makes it clear that he had no interest in the Master Bolt. He only desires the return of his Helm of Darkness – a helmet that allows him to become invisible, stolen a few days before the Master Bolt, presumably for the purposes of the second theft. The Helm was made for Hades by the by the master craftsmen, the Cyclops, who also created Zeus’ lightning bolt and Poseidon’s trident.

Realising that Hades is not Ares’ accomplice, Percy and Grover also realise who must be to blame – the Titan, Kronos, father of the Greek gods and current resident of Tartarus. With this new threat, some of Hades’ jovial mask begins to slip, and he demands the Master Bolt from Percy, believing he will need it to fight his father if the Titan truly is emerging. Percy refuses and, along with Grover, they use the same pearls as Annabeth, escaping the underworld and coming face to face with Ares.

Fortunately, as we’ve already seen, heroes have beaten Ares before. Percy challenges the god to single combat, the victor decided by first blood. Summoning a giant wave, Percy takes advantage of the ensuing chaos to cut Ares’ leg – winning the bout. Being a god, instead of red, Ares’ wound bleeds gold – Ichor, the blood of the gods and poisonous to regular humans. In an act of pettiness, before he leaves Ares reverts to his true form, a godly form that is famously deadly to human eyes. One lover of Zeus, Semele, was once tricked by Hera into convincing Zeus to show her his true guise. The sight was too much for the mortal, leaving Semele to die and Zeus to incubate their unborn son, Dionysus. Luckily, Annabeth, Grover, and Percy are familiar with the myth and look away from the sight before it can kill them.

Master Bolt retrieved, the enemy (or at least, an enemy) defeated, there is one last thing to do, return the Master Bolt to its rightful owner, Zeus. Sending Annabeth and Grover back to camp, Percy heads to Olympus. The tallest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus is said to have once housed the Greek gods. Interestingly, it is not the only ‘Mount Olympus’ in existence – it isn’t even the only Mount Olympus in Greece! Mountains across the world share the name in Turkey, Cyprus, America, and even on Mars (which Ares would probably be smug about!) In the world of ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians,’ Olympus is no longer found on a mountain at all, and instead on the top of the Empire State Building, invisible to the mortals below.

Being the home of the gods, in myth Olympus is described lavishly, bright and filled with houses and streets of marble and gold. While there were palaces for all the Olympian gods, the greatest of these was the palace of Zeus. There was also a courtyard for the gods to assemble and halls for their feasts. In ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ Olympus is equally impressive, crowded with tall and stunning buildings, though admittedly there is less gold decoration. Percy heads to the furthest peaks of Olympus, which do seem to resemble the mountain the original gods called home.

Though Percy returns the Master Bolt to Zeus and is almost able to leave without further danger but unfortunately, his mouth gets him in trouble. Realising that Zeus still intends to go to war against Poseidon, he argues. The king of the gods is not a person to take criticism well, and Percy almost loses his life to very weapon he just returned. Before Zeus can strike, Poseidon appears and willingly surrenders to his brother.

Quest complete, Percy returns to camp a hero – and the prophecy comes true. His friend does betray him. Luke, Percy’s friend and mentor was the real lightning thief all along, working for Kronos to take down the gods. Luke escapes and Percy returns home to his mother (who Hades released after the truth came out and his helm was returned), ready to wait a year for chaos to find him once more. The show has officially been renewed for a season two, so we’ll see you then, when we dive in to the ‘Sea of Monsters’.



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