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Author Rick Riordan: TV is ‘broader canvas’ than film for ‘Percy Jackson’

Left to right, Aryan Simhadri, Leah Sava Jeffries and Walker Scobell star in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," which wraps up its first season Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Disney+
Left to right, Aryan Simhadri, Leah Sava Jeffries and Walker Scobell star in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," which wraps up its first season Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Disney+

NEW YORK, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Best-selling, young-adult literature author Rick Riordan says television is a much better medium than film for his Percy Jackson epics.

More than 30 million copies of Riordan's fantasy novels have sold since the series about a tween dealing with the heroes and villains of Greco-Roman mythology was introduced in 2005.

Since then, the series has inspired graphic novels, two movies, a stage musical and most recently a TV show.

Riordan co-wrote the first episode of the Disney+ adaptation, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and served as executive producer of the show alongside Becky, his wife of nearly 40 years.

Wrapping up its first season Tuesday, the critically acclaimed show stars Walker Scobell as the title character, who discovers he is a demi-god after the death of his human mother, and is sent to Camp Half-Blood, a sanctuary for the super-powered children of deities and humans.

Toby Stephens plays the god Poseidon on "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," which wraps up its first season Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Disney+
Toby Stephens plays the god Poseidon on "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," which wraps up its first season Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Disney+

There, he makes fast friends with Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) and Grover (Aryan Simhadri).

Lance Reddick attends the special screening of "John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 2019. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Lance Reddick attends the special screening of "John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 2019. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Megan Mullally arrives for the Vanity Fair Oscar party at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2020. File Photo by Chris Chew/UPI
Megan Mullally arrives for the Vanity Fair Oscar party at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2020. File Photo by Chris Chew/UPI

"We were adamant that this was best suited as a season of television," Rick Riordan told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"I write episodically," he said. "It makes sense that we would go from adventure to adventure, from episode to episode, and it's a much broader canvas for the story that we need to tell."

Becky Riordan added, "Having one book be one season instead of a movie or an animation, we have more time to expand. We needed every second."

The couple was thrilled with the show's stars -- including Lance Reddick, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jason Mantzoukas, Toby Stephens, Megan Mullally and Jay Duplass, who made guest appearances -- because they all really seemed to understand and appreciate the books.

"Everyone comes to this season, not only with professional commitment, but also with this personal sense of wanting to do right by the source material," Rick Riordan said.

"They all have connections to the books. They either read them themselves or their kids are fans. They all have heard from the Percy Jackson fans in their lives, 'You need to do this right.' And they have."

Rick Riordan, a former middle-school teacher, emphasized how critical it is to keep Percy Jackson a coming-of-age story -- something two ill-received 2010s movie versions failed to do.

"Percy was the story about a boy who is becoming a young man and thinking about what that meant and who he was and what his identity was," he said.

"It's all about finding your family. It's all about finding out where you are in the world. To do that, we honor the age of the characters in the books," he added.

"Percy is 12 when we start this series. That was not something that was done in the movies, and I think that if you start these characters at the age of 17 or 18, it has a totally different feel."

After all, this is not a story about jaded teenagers, he pointed out.

"This is about discovering a world filled with magic and wonder and coming into your own," Rick Riordan said.

Becky Riordan noted that the show depicts Percy as an even younger boy in flashback scenes to help viewers understand why his life experiences made him who he is when the main action starts.

"We even have some back story with little Percy (Azriel Dalman), which is just fabulous and expands the story so much," she said.

Rick Riordan said he hopes this conveys how much Percy feels like an outsider -- a theme that is relatable to many young audience members.

"He feels different and he doesn't know why," he said. "To start that way and understand that the journey, the quest is not just about finding a lightning bolt, but it's about finding who he is."

Rick Riordan said he is proud that his work has been an integral part of millions of childhoods.

"I can't wrap my mind around the idea of 'millions' and i know that's true," he said. "I think i just concentrate on those anecdotal interactions -- those letters, the emails, the 'thank-yous that i get when I go to events."

Becky Riordan said the influence her husband has had on readers was crystal clear when he recently gave a talk to students at Harvard University.

"It's incredible to hear instructors say, 'Thank you for swelling the ranks of our departments.' But also college-age people who say, 'I grew up on your books. They were my childhood and now I am studying the classics -- or archeology or literature -- at Harvard,'" Rick Riordan said.

"It's a great honor and it's pretty unbelievable."