“So if the gods fight,” I said, “will things line up the way they did with the Trojan War? Will it be Athena versus Poseidon?”
She put her head against the backpack Ares had given us, and closed her eyes. “I don’t know what my mom will do. I just know I’ll fight next to you.”
“Because you’re my friend, Seaweed Brain. Any more stupid questions?”
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
When I first thought of this series, I was just coming up with all of the weird and unusual characters that have stuck with me through the years. I wasn’t really focusing on what made them that way, or why I liked them. I wasn’t thinking about them in the context of their story, or how that context is an important part of why they stuck out to me.
At first I just listed them: Captain Hook (Peter Pan), Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride), Numair Salmalin (The Immortals), Briar Moss (Circle of Magic), Zuko (Avatar the Last Airbender), Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes).
Read that list again. Do you see the problem with it?
It’s all men.
I felt a little sick when I realised that. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of female characters that I adore – I just didn’t think of them when I was coming up with the list. And when I made a point to think of women, suddenly there were so many of them.
I think what I really wanted to say by pointing it out is that it shows how pervasive this kind of internalised misogyny is. I was raised by feminists, and consider myself one. I’ve been exposed from childhood to books with some really incredible female characters, so I can’t use the excuse that there just aren’t enough of them. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t think of any women.
(I did ask my boyfriend about his favourites, and he immediately came up with all villains, so I’m a little worried about that too.)
It’s frustrating that I can’t say it was my original intention to include everyone, of all genders, colors, and sexualities, especially since I can say it about my monthly reading, so it isn’t as though I’m not capable of being inclusive. I suppose I can only say that it has made it even clear to me that I can’t trust myself in this. Constant vigilance, it seems, is the only way to make a difference in the world’s view of who is important, and who is not.
Annabeth Chase (Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and Magnus Chase series by Rick Riordan):
Originally I had a hard time liking Annabeth. She’s introduced as a bit of a golden girl in the first few chapters of The Lightning Thief. She’s hard to read, a bit arrogant, and a know-it-all. In the last few books of the original series she gets caught in an unfortunate love triangle. Love triangles never make anyone look good.
Skip forward eight books. (I wouldn’t normally suggest this.) The Mark of Athena begins with Annabeth’s point of view, and she drives the plot more than anyone else. This book revolves almost entirely around Annabeth’s impossible task, and all the reasons that task is based on her weaknesses, her worst nightmares.
“Won through pain from a woven jail,” Frank recalled. “Woven, like webs?”
Annabeth’s face turned as white as printer paper. Piper suspected that Annabeth knew what awaited her … or at least, that she had a very good idea. She was trying to hold down a wave of panic and terror.
The Mark of Athena
It’s also her shining moment. That’s the great thing about heroes (and heroines): they are always at their best in their worst situations, when everything else has gone wrong. In some ways, that’s why we as a society look up to them, because of their ability to do the right thing, make the right choice, at the moment it matters most. That is the greatest power of a hero.
Unlike Percy, who’s always had an air of powers he doesn’t know about, or further unexplored depths to the powers he already has, Annabeth almost seems to suffer a decrease in her powers as she gets older. After the climactic battle in The Last Olympian, where her notable exploits are saving Percy, saving Rachel, and saving Percy again, Annabeth spends the first two books of the next series desperately searching for Percy, not a major player. She’s still her intelligent, strategic self, but she’s not at the forefront any major battles right up until her impossible task at the end of The Mark of Athena, the task that book hinges on.
Wisdom’s daughter walks alone.
That didn’t mean just without other people, Annabeth realised. It meant without any special powers.
The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
For eight books Annabeth has been the smart one, the strong one, the one who always knows the answer before anyone else, the first to sacrifice herself, the first to do what’s necessary. If it weren’t for the fact that she angers easily and can be suspicious of others, she’d be a little too perfect.
The Mark of Athena, and all subsequent books, strip that away. Although the end of MoA is not the first time Annabeth has had to rely solely on her wits, it’s the first time we as readers have a front row seat to her point of view, how scared she is, how determined she is, and how much love she feels – for Percy, obviously, but also for her mother, for the camp, and for the friends she’s made aboard the Argo II.
From then on, she’s a much better character, not only because the completion of her task places true value on her previously undefined abilities, but because it pinpoints the emotions that drive her, revealing the depths of character that make her Annabeth Chase.