On my bedside table in my student accommodation rests a copy of Stephen Fry’s Mythos. I decided to bring it from home so as to have a comfort read I could relax with before going to bed. I’m trying to savour the experience, going through ten or so pages before calling it a night. I chose it because I know the plot well, not only because I’ve read that particular book before but because the stories it depicts are ubiquitous throughout literature and art. Whether it’s Renaissance masterpieces like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus or modern classics like Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, the Greek myths have been retold for millennia. The first time I interacted with that long-lived tradition, though, was with a Percy Jackson book.

I would first like to point out that Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods is a supplementary book published after Rick Riordan’s famous fantasy series. It is intended to provide a backstory on the deities that Percy and his companions encounter in the book series, but I picked it up before reading any of the main novels. I had no idea who Riordan was referring to when he mentioned either Annabeth or Piper. I could just about work out that the book’s narrator and namesake was the son of Poseidon, but that was about it. I was far more interested in the demigods’ Olympian lineage than their storylines in books that I hadn’t read.

Mythos and the Percy Jackson volume are fairly similar in scope, though the latter is geared towards a younger audience and founded upon a pre-existing fictional series. They both cover stories of primordial deities, the Titanomachy, and the misadventures of Zeus and his Olympian underlings. Each god is dealt with individually using their most famous stories: Athena being birthed from Zeus’ forehead; Hades kidnapping Persephone; Hera throwing Hephaestus down a mountain. Yet Riordan has a more conscious eye for entertainment. The Greek myths are already enjoyable enough (there are thousands of years of art as evidence for that) but Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods highlights the ridiculousness of these tales specifically through the chapter titles. Who could forget the flowery brilliance of “Artemis Unleashes the Death Pig” or the pure poetry of “Zeus Kills Everyone”? Its sarcastic, self-referential style fits well within the confines of the Camp Half-Blood universe.

The authors of both works have also recognised that the story doesn’t end with their selections. Fry and Riordan have published follow-ups with similar names: Heroes and Percy Jackson and the Greek Heroes respectively. It is perhaps understandable why the human heroic tales were left to the wayside for a second volume in both instances, given that the gods and goddesses are the staples of Greek mythology. The originals give a compact and accessible detailing of these deities, especially in Riordan’s case, as Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods only contains nineteen chapters dedicated to the primordial gods and titans, the Olympians, and a few other special cases.

Riordan’s book isn’t something I would return to now for an enthralling and complex vision of the Greek gods, but it certainly whetted my appetite for ancient mythology. We studied Ancient Greece in Year 6 History and I remember my hand shooting up constantly whenever we had a lesson on the Olympians. From Greek mythology I went on to explore the history of that period in general – from Greece to Rome, Rome to Egypt, then Egyptian mythology. Before I knew it, I was writing a collection of poetry centred around mythological women for my Extended Project Qualification in sixth form. Nowadays, I sustain the reverence I had as a child for those stories by indulging in modern retellings: Fry’s Mythos; Miller’s new perspectives on Circe and the Trojan War; popular digital adaptations like those by Overly Sarcastic Productions on YouTube. There’s always a new medium for retelling these classic tales. Without that first step into the world of mythology, enabled through a book I had no idea was meant to be read after the main Percy Jackson series, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Those passions drove me forward and put me on a path I didn’t even know existed.

Riordan’s engaging and accessible depictions of the iconic goddesses of Greek tradition was what initially drew me to what would become the subject of my EPQ. They are undeniably characterised rather cartoonishly (Demeter is called ‘Grainzilla’ in the title of her chapter), but for a book intended for teenagers it ensures these women are well-rounded and have just as much time dedicated to them as the Zeuses and Poseidons of the mythological world. Additionally, as Percy’s narration kindly points out, Riordan discusses the Olympians in birth order, meaning that he begins with the often overlooked Hestia rather than the typical focus on the King of the Gods. Less prominent divine women like Themis and Hecate pop up here and there, and although it is a shame the reader’s attention isn’t pulled towards them for any sustained period, I know that it certainly inspired me to do some research online whenever I came across an unfamiliar god.

The most important thing to take away from a book like Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods is an appreciation for a family of deities which has ingrained itself in modern culture. Shakespeare mentions Hecate in three of his plays, and foreknowledge of her status as goddess of magic and witchcraft helps to understand her relevance. When Björk sings about “Venus as a Boy”, a notion of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite makes the song even more impactful. When Kratos sets out on a quest to kill Ares in the original God of War, the destructive and violent behaviour showcased in his mythic origins provides some context to his villainous role in the game. In short, Riordan’s supplementary reading to his main fiction series may only be a small step into the vast world of Greek mythology and its cultural aftershocks, and it may only focus on the most well-known stories, but it got my foot in the door of a fascinating mythological world, the influence of which I still feel keenly today.