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Should You Read Rick Riordan’s Latest: Magnus Chase?

magnus-chaseMagnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor

Rick Riordan’s The Hammer of Thor is the second book in his Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. After saving the world, sixteen year old Magnus Chase and his friends are thrown headlong into another adventure orchestrated by the god of mischief, Loki. Thor’s hammer has been stolen and it’s up to Magnus to find it before giants attack and Ragnorak (the Norse Apocalypse) is unleashed.

While I did not think the first book was appropriate for the middle grade audience, I enjoyed the story and I had hope that this book would continue to engage an older teen audience. Unfortunately, when I got about a third of the way through the book, the cautions became too great for me to be able to recommend this story to our audience here at Redeemed Reader.

Giving a Voice to the Marginalized

Rick Riordan is an author who is unafraid to give a voice to characters who may be marginalized or misunderstood in society. In the Percy Jackson series, Percy is an ADHD kid who never fit the mold of traditional learning. Percy was a symbol of hope for other kids with learning disabilities. As a teacher, I saw firsthand how special Riordan’s series was to students who felt like their differences were a handicap.

Through the years, Riordan sought to give a voice to students of different races, talents, and backgrounds. One of my favorite aspects about his work is that he writes diverse characters for a diverse audience. He normally treats characters and their struggles with respect, but lately his work has seemed less respectful to those characters he wants to explore.

Turning a Corner

This latest installment highlights this lack of respect in glaring technicolor. Riordan introduces Alex Fierro, a trans-gender, gender fluid teenage shapeshifter. Alex is a child of Loki who wants to break free of the god’s powerful hold. The introduction of Alex felt forced, especially when other characters are constantly left wondering what gender the teen will identify with at any given moment. This is treated by the author as something that other characters have to accept, respect, and if they are confused or hesitant, they (and the reader) are treated to a lecture on tolerance.

While Alex certainly has a painful backstory, other characters in Riordan’s world who have painful stories have refused to let their pasts define them. A great example of this would be Samirah al-Abbas, another child of Loki who is a Muslim. She’s had to endure many obstacles during her life, but is a brave, well-rounded character who is treated by the author with respect. Riordan beautifully portrays her heart and desire to honor her culture and family. Her heritage is brought up frequently, but she does not wear it as a chip on her shoulder. She quietly encourages Magnus (an atheist) to open his mind and heart.

Alex, on the other hand, is not given the same courtesy by the author. Riordan uses Alex to force tolerance in his readers. The subject is approached multiple times, and Alex’s spiteful attitude towards the world is given a pass because of the pain he endured.

In Conclusion

Riordan’s treatment of LGBTQ issues has been disrespectful to both the characters and the audience. Young readers should not be bullied into tolerance. Riordan spends a good deal of time convincing readers that to disagree with an LGBTQ lifestyle is to be narrow minded. Along those same lines, characters in a story should have room to grow and should be identified beyond their sexuality, race, gender, and special skill set. Samirah al-Abbas is given goals (she wants to be a female pilot), a sense of humor, integrity, and loyalty. Alex is forced into the box of sexual identity. We as people should not be reduced to one aspect of ourselves and neither should these characters.

Riordan may believe he is giving a voice to the voiceless, but his brash manner and heavy handed language will alienate readers who used to love his work, and does a disservice to anyone who feels excluded in our society.

We’ve given Riordan a lot of attention here at Redeemed Reader–one summer, The Lightning Thief was one of our official Summer Reading picks! As always, we encourage our readers to be discerning; one author’s body of work is not always equally bad OR good. For reviews of/coverage of Riordan’s other works, see our posts on Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus 3), A Reflection on Rick Riordan, The Trials of Apollo (book 1), The Lightning Thief Movie, The Lightning Thief (Summer Reading), The House of Hades, Sea of Monsters Movie

 

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Talk amongst yourselves...

9 Comments

  1. Justine says

    I enjoyed your thoughts on this. I am a reader who loved reading Riordan’s books. As more have been written, I have not enjoyed the social agenda. Writing is a powerful thing. I will not steer my children away from the earlier books but will definitely not have them reading the later ones.

    • Alysha says

      Justine,
      Thank you for the comment, and I agree with you, writing is a powerful thing. The earlier works are a wonderful resource for readers!

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  3. Fierrochase says

    I do not understand what you mean by “brash manner” and “heavy handed language”. He is trying to capture Magnus’s emotions through that tone. Magnus is a bottler, trying to hide his true feelings while spreading positivity. Alex is similarly a botter, and both of them are sarcastic to hide a darker past which they both share. They were both homeless, they both had rick jerk relatives, and they both complement each other nicely. I fell in love with Alex’s character – its just so refreshing to see some attitude and a bringing down of the cis-tem. I agree that these topics are more for the 14+ age group as such topics may be hard for young audiences. And can we agree that it’s cute that Magnus likes Alex? Atleast I think it is. I am hoping that Alex likes him back but I have to wait and see.

    • Alysha says

      Fierrochase,

      Thank you for your response. I feel like we should clarify some terms. I did not think Riordan’s writing style was brash or heavy handed. Yes, he is trying to set a tone…I thought that his treatment of Alex was brash and heavy handed. Riordan, although writing for a primarily middle-grade audience, threw in themes and ideas that some younger readers would not be able to process. Riordan created a character who is full of resentment, and uninterested in the feelings and opinions of others unless they completely agree.

      I got a different vibe from the story. Magnus has no problem expressing his feelings: look at his frank conversations with Sam, Blitz, and Hearth. Both he and Alex feel no need to expressly hide their pasts. They both have a history of homelessness and feeling rejected by society, but they both express that to one another and other characters. I agree that the sarcasm is a defense mechanism in both of their cases, but there comes a point where sarcasm ceases to be funny and begins to feel like an attack.

      I’m glad we can agree that the book should have been marketed to an older audience, but I’m afraid that’s the only main point on which we can agree.

  4. Strange you Yanks (I’m a Brit) seem to be rather nervous – just because this is an educational website? About a story about a genderfluid (since that’s the word of the moment: a couple of years ago we would have all have been saying transgender) character, who is upfront and brash about it. Would you rather they were shy?

    Is this because this is a subject which is sensitive to the Religious Right, Trump and the Republican Party as well? (Who, I am sure, would neither appreciate the Muslim Valkyrie, in a story for kids!) Is this a Christian site? I came across this page while Googling Rick Riordan.

    “Alex’s spiteful attitude is given a pass because of the pain he endured..” Well really, so that’ll make him like his dad, Loki, won’t it, in the original Eddas. Which God, actually, endured a lot of mistreatment – and at the last they bound him under lasting torture, in a manner which these days would breach all legal guidelines in practically every country! :/ (Actually I wish Riordan were more sympathetic towards Loki himself, who I think SHOULD be unbound in the stories, rather than the kid characters trying to stop this: I think most of today’s kids would agree with me on that one: on grounds of human – or gods’ rights! 🙂
    But then I may be biased for I am a Heathen Trickster-worshipper… 🙂 )

    Anyway: I thought you Yanks were – coming to be – better on thus. RL Stories of trans kids are now in *every UK women’s weekly magazine*: don’t know about the US ones: think that kids never read their mums’ mags? I used to love reading magazines when I was at junior school decades ago!

    Stories with bolshie trans kids in them not suitable for middle schoolers – Yawn, American conservatives. 😲😴

    • Janie says

      Liz: Technically comments are closed for this post, but we haven’t put up a notice about that so I’m glad to respond. Even though we fear no pagan hexes! :-). Our thoughts about Riordan’s treatment of transgender and genderqueer characters have nothing to do with being Republican, conservative, or even American. We are primarily Christians, and see all of life through the life and redemption of Jesus Christ. As he remained faithful to the teaching of scripture (which was HIS book, after all), so we try to be. That doesn’t mean that we always interpret scripture correctly, but it seems very clear to us that if God created the world he has a purpose for it and for everything in it, including our bodies. We ground our identity in Him, not in feelings, and if our feelings don’t line up with the worldview presented in the Bible then we need to align our opinions with that worldview, rather than wrest scripture to line up with us. In the big scheme of things, human perspectives are demonstrably prone to error. This is historically the case, and there’s no reason to assume that the present generation is any exception. It remains to be seen where transgenderism will lead, but we try to stay close to the Word. It’s all we can do as ambassadors for Christ, who surrendered all his “rights” to save us.

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