Demigod, god or monster? Rick Riordan’s Hercules
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books incorporate an ever-increasing breadth of mythical characters, figures and places. Hercules’ role within the books is limited: he appears only twice within the first two series, indirectly in a dream in The Titan’s Curse (2007), and directly in The Mark of Athena (2012). However, as the modern demigods follow quests and kill monsters, the ancient Herakles’ presence is felt on a number of other occasions, not least because the range of monsters he encountered provides fruitful material for the books.
In keeping with his somewhat irreverent portrayal of the Olympian gods, Riordan’s Heracles/Hercules is caricatured for his violent behaviour, which also functions as entertainment for the other immortals. He had his own television series, ‘Heracles Busts Heads’ (Sea of Monsters), and he ‘had a good publicist’ (Demigod Diaries). Riordan adopts a schema involving fixed categories of character-types; modern characters (mortals and demigod heroes), and ancient mythical characters (generally gods and monsters). When the modern demigods encounter Heracles/Hercules (either in dream or in person), he is revealed as monstrous rather than heroic: he lies, cheats and harbours grudges.
This chapter will examine how Riordan develops the figure of Heracles/Hercules for a young twenty-first century audience, and how he uses Heracles/Hercules to question the distinctions he sets up between gods, demigods, heroes and monsters in the various narratives.