Monday, February 15, 2010

Percy Jackson vs. Harry Potter

We went to see "The Lightning Thief" last week (, the first of the Percy Jackson books to make it to film.  I haven't read the books, so this post is going to be comparing the Percy Jackson film to the Harry Potter films ( especially the first two HP films which were directed by the "Percy Jackson" director, Chris Columbus).  I won't be comparing films to books or books to books.

My husband hasn't read any Harry Potter books nor has he read the Percy Jackson books.  He's not much of a fan of fantasy, honestly.  But on our way home from the film, we were struck by the differences between Harry and Percy, their strengths and weaknesses and other characteristics.  Percy came up short in every way. 

The hero in a film, novel or story has to capture your imagination, be sympathetic, charming and likable in various ways even if he's not a totally nice guy.  The depth of his character development will depend on if the story or film is character-driven or story-driven.  In Harry's case, although his stories are adventures and full of action, the center of interest for the story is Harry himself, his character, his goodness of heart (even if he does break the rules every so often, he's a good kid), the serious way he looks at his life, his "saving people thing."  In Percy's case, the adventure is the thing, and not much is done to develop his character.

While both boys have adventures (well, in Harry's case, it's more of a mystery than an adventure at first) starting at the beginning of their films, the emphasis isn't the same and the results are hugely different.  Do we care about Harry?  Absolutely.  Do we care about Percy?  Not that much.  Why the difference?

In Harry's case, he's a genuinely nice boy who's kind, generous and protective of his friends.  Percy seems like a nice enough kid, and he's kind and generous too, but he also has no qualms at all about killing someone, and when he loses someone close to him, his pain is so brief, you wonder how much pain he actually felt.

Harry has a melancholy nature because he lost his parents when he was a baby and grew up with horrible relatives.  Percy isn't melancholy, but he is somewhat rebellious.  Of course, we meet him when he's a teenager, not a young boy like Harry, and Percy has his mom, who he loves, and a horrible stepfather.  One of the things I noticed about Percy early on was that his rages, rebellion and everything else are mild compared to those of many teenagers.  He doesn't seem to feel anything to any extreme, certainly not as much as Harry does.

Percy hasn't been beaten down throughout his childhood the way Harry was.  Harry's a survivor with a strong moral compass.  He got through his childhood on his own, with no outside help, and he has a good sense of right and wrong despite the way he was treated by his relatives.  He has depths to his personality that just doesn't show in Percy.

Percy's had plenty to eat, a relatively normal childhood (he takes the usual classes, although he does have a learning disability, and seems to have friends at school, unlike pre-Hogwarts Harry; he has clothes that fit  him; there's no "Dudley" to make his home and school life hellish).  Percy's had a protector all his life (his best friend) as well as his mom.  The only real hardship he's had to deal with is his stepfather.  Yet of the Percy's the one with the "I'll do whatever it takes" attitude from the beginning of his adventure that includes breaking all kinds of laws, no remorse about damaging property, stealing things, or injuring other people.   You might expect Harry, who's been abused all his life, to have that kind of attitude, but the only "I'll do whatever it takes" attitude we see out of Harry is when his "saving people thing" kicks in.  He will do whatever it takes to rescue someone, even at the cost of his own life, and it doesn't take Harry long at all to decide to jump into such situations.

Harry will do the very best he can in adversity, but he will also hope for help since he feels inadequately prepared to deal with the dangers facing him.  Despite his lack of training, he always rises to the occasion.  He succeeds with the  help of his friends, but also because of his own courage and good character.  Percy has a demi-goddess as a sidekick and another "super-friend" helping him, but there's more of an "I did this" feeling to Percy than there is to Harry, who always credits his friends for their help, even if what they did seems minimal to the rest of us in comparison to Harry's efforts.

Harry's modest about what he can do and embarrassed when someone praises him.  Percy seems to take such things in stride, and not just because he's a teenager.  When Harry's Percy's age (in the later films), he's still modest about his accomplishments and still says he had "a lot of help" while in truth, it was nearly all Harry's great courage, power and sheer luck that got him through the crisis.

These films are fantasy, yup, but Harry's films show him learning how to do what he needs to do, while Percy, who's a demi-god (half-human son of Poseidon) picks up a sword and immediately knows how to beat other more experienced people his age in training.  Harry has to learn how to use his powers and how to analyze situations so he can deal with them.  Percy just goes from high school kid with learning disabilities to demi-god hero without having to learn any skills to speak of and with no real mishaps on the way to becoming skilled.  He gets some weapons and is instantly the master of them.

Perhaps the difference between them is that Harry is human and Percy is a demi-god but I prefer Harry's humanity.  It's obvious that he cares when his friends are hurt.  Harry's scared to death yet faces danger bravely despite the full knowledge that he's very likely to die from the danger he's about to deal with.  Percy sort of stumbles through things but never seems to be scared, and he laughs when he survives a battle, unlike Harry who suffers through his recovery both emotionally and physically.  Harry gets hurt in battle, Percy doesn't.

Being a demi-god doesn't mean Percy can't be killed, yet he never seems that afraid of what he's getting into.  Nor do we see  him plucking up his courage the way we do Harry.  Percy just jumps headlong in to whatever he's about to do.  Harry dreads what he has to do, but faces the worst with grim determination despite his fear.  Harry is human.  Harry's much more heroic and a far more complex character than Percy.

The Percy Jackson film and the first two Potter films were all directed by Chris Columbus.  I don't think Columbus slacked off in  his direction of an experienced teenage actor (Logan Lerman, who plays Percy) versus his direction of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, who was many years younger than Logan and a much less experienced actor at the time.  I think it must be the writing of the characters themselves that's the difference.

Even in the first HP film, Harry has a depth of character that Percy just doesn't exhibit.  He's horrified to have killed Professor Quirrell, despite the fact that he was fighting for his life.  Percy gives his most serious opponent a moment to decide if he's going to surrender or not, but when he doesn't, Percy does away with him with no apparent remorse but more of a "good riddance" attitude.  Yes, Harry was a young boy when he killed Quirrell, but even in the later films when he's around Percy's age, while Harry is determined to kill his enemies, you can tell that it costs him something to even contemplate it.

Remember, I'm not talking about the books here, since I haven't read any of the Percy Jackson books.  But based on the films, Harry at any age we've seen so far is more sensitive and has a wider emotional range than Percy.  Harry's rages are harsher than Percy's and  his joy is more palpable as well.

Harry normally doesn't kill without remorse, although when he kills Voldemort, he won't be sorry he killed them.  There will be a cost to his spirit and we will see that.  And remember, Harry doesn't use the Unforgivable Curses properly because he isn't a cruel enough person to manage it.  Harry tries to disarm his opponents rather than kill them.  He uses "Expelliarmus" instead of "Avada Kedavra."

Percy deliberately uses lethal force, knowing exactly what the consequences will be.  Percy also doesn't seem to be that bothered by killing someone he thought was a friend at first.  It's his lack of remorse, his lack of moral depth that bothers me and led to this blog post.  It's also what prompted my husband, who cares very little about fantasy, to talk about it on the way home from the film.

Could the difference between Harry and Percy be in the skills of the actors portraying them?  Possibly, but Logan is a very experienced actor, one who's been nominated for a lot of awards and won three (I checked  Daniel is a gifted actor (nominated for a lot of awards and won 19 so far) who was so well-cast as Harry that he didn't need a lot of experience to play him well as he honed his acting skills.  Dan's growing skills have added layers of complexity to his portrayal of Harry, but still, I think the basic morality of the characters is based in the writing, not in the acting or directing.

When you're creating characters in your writing, I try to give them depth as well as a lot of action.  When I read,  watch TV or films, or write my own fiction, I want to see complex characters who are torn by the things they have to do to deal with the adventures facing them.  Some people prefer to write action with very little character development, but to me, a more entertaining story is where I see how the action reveals and develops the character of those involved.

Will I see more Percy Jackson films?  I don't  honestly know - perhaps I will.  But I will definitely see the last two HP films.  I'm looking forward to seeing how Dan will play the darkest scenes in Harry's life.  I'm sure it will be a rich and layered portrait of a good man who has more required of him than anyone should ask.  I think Logan is probably capable of greater things but he needs better material to work with.  It will be intersting to see both of these young actors mature and develop their craft. 

I wish them both lots of excellent scripts and talented directors and co-stars.  And I'll continue to work hard to create richly layered characters with great moral depths in my writing, as well as great adventures.


  1. Anonymous2:37 PM

    I just read you port and i agree with you based on the Films, However The Percy Jackson movie is nothing like the books. They have completely changed almost every fact in the movie. I have read alot of you writings and I believe you would like the Percy Jackson books. The book's suck you right in and you don't come out until you have finished all 5. I don't believe they are better then Hp, but they are as close as I have found in recent books. Also the only things I believe they got close in this movie was the Actor who played Percy, He did a good job, but he was supposed to be 11 years old...

  2. Percy was supposed to be 11? Boy, that really is close to the Potter books! I figured the books were far different from the movies - they usually are. I may read them - just haven't had time yet. Thanks for the comment!