Academic journal article Mythlore

Pyramids in America: Rewriting the "Egypt of the West" in Rick Riordan's the Kane Chronicles Series

Academic journal article Mythlore

Pyramids in America: Rewriting the "Egypt of the West" in Rick Riordan's the Kane Chronicles Series

Article excerpt

RicK Riordan is well-known for his best-selling books that feature ancient mythological characters and stories within a modern American context. Riordan's works, marketed towards a cross-over audience of older children and younger adolescents, include Percy Jackson and the Olympians (2005-2009), The Heroes of Olympus (2010-2014), The Kane Chronicles (2010-2012), Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (2015-2017), and The Trials of Apollo (2016-). Among these, Percy Jackson is Riordan's most popular, allowing readers of all ages to follow along with Percy's exploits as he discovers that he is the son of a Greek god and that Ancient Greek gods have settled across the United States. The first book, The Lightning Thief (2005), has the teen protagonist and his friends travelling across America to uncover the twisted plot behind the theft of Zeus' lightning bolt and to recover the godly weapon before the gods can declare war on each other. In The Kane Chronicles, which employ a similar formula using Ancient Egyptian mythology, The Red Pyramid (2010), The Throne of Fire (2011), and The Serpent's Shadow (2012) follow siblings Carter and Sadie Kane on their quest to deal with troublesome Ancient Egyptian gods and, ultimately, Apophis, chaos itself. In the first book of the series, The Red Pyramid, the teen protagonists discover that they have inherited magic from the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs and can channel the very gods. Similar to the journey in the first Percy Jackson book, Carter and Sadie's discovery leads them across continental America as they hunt the devious red god Set and fulfill fantastic quests linked to American landmarks that have Ancient Egyptian ties. While the formula is comparable, a striking difference can be found in the way the first book of each series incorporates myth into the American landscape. While The Lightning Thief focuses more broadly on major American mid-century landmarks such as the Hoover Dam and the Empire State Building, The Red Pyramid and its sequels are much more specific about "Egyptian" settings, with Riordan narrowing in on landmarks that have a clear relationship with Ancient Egypt, such as the giant obelisk of the nineteenth-century Washington Monument, Cleopatra's Needle in New York's Central Park, and the modern glass structure of the Memphis Pyramid. By mixing authentic antiquities like New York's Cleopatra's Needle with modern and nineteenth century recreations and making each equally magical, Riordan's use of settings displaces age as an inherently powerful force, making The Kane Chronicles a reversal of what we often see in children's fantasy dealing with antiquities and ancient cultures. (1)

The specific landscapes and landmarks in Riordan's novels carry certain meanings that work together to shape and reflect the overall ethos of the text. On one level, Riordan's use of American landmarks signals that new stories using old myths have just as much power as the originals and that renewal is inevitable. On another, Riordan's particular settings assert America's power as the inheritor of ancient myths, suggesting that the American landscape is an appropriate tableau upon which to enact Ancient Egyptian stories. The text's matrix of American landmarks, some modern and some from the 19th century, taps into America's long history of appropriating Ancient Egyptian forms and symbols; however, the text does little to acknowledge the layers between the source myth and the contemporary landscape, collapsing decades and centuries. Instead, Riordan's choice of American landmarks modernizes nineteenth-century American Egyptomania's ideological foundations, reaffirming that America is the new and most powerful empire within (an anachronistic concept of) "Western civilization." (2) While The Red Pyramid, like The Lightning Thief, occasionally critiques modern American culture (particularly consumerism), Riordan's strategic choice of landmarks serves to reinforce aspects of American self-mythology. …

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