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Tale of a Mortalised Immortal

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Tale of a Mortalised Immortal

The Trials of Apollo

Author : Rick Riordan

Publisher : Puffin, Rs 599

Anyone who loves adventure can enjoy this book — regardless of whether they know Greek/Roman mythology or history, or whether they’ve read the preceding parts of this series, writes RONICA WAHI

I heard a clap-clap-clap and wondered if the moorings that anchored my mind to my mortal skull had finally snapped. Then I realized Medea was giving me a polite round of applause.” (p.154) This speaker is the Greek god Apollo, turned by Zeus into an awkward teenaged mortal named Lester Papadopoulos. Pathetically hunched on all fours, terrified of the enchantress Medea — the same whom Euripides popularized, he is a stark contrast to his former immortal self, known for his physical strength, besides many other attributes.

Charged with freeing ancient Oracles as part of his penance in The Trials of Apollo series by the bestselling writer Rick Riordan, Apollo is compelled to face grave dangers without his godly powers, but with the support of young demigods — in particular, Demeter’s daughter Meg to whom he’s bound, satyrs, and dryads. The demigods, thankfully, hold some sway over the domains which their immortal parents rule — Meg, for instance, can magically grow plants, while satyrs and dryads too have their powers. In The Burning Maze, the third and the latest in the series, Apollo moves forth as per the ‘Dark Prophecy’ revealed in the previous book; battles the vicious Medea — whose powerful grandfather, the Titan Helios, Apollo had once replaced; faces the cruelty of an ancient heartless Emperor; and strives to save his friends and the larger world.

One of the most popular and one of the most represented Greek gods in art and literature, Apollo turns into a whimpering, stammering-in-dangerous-situations, wetting-his-pants-in-terror boy. It is to Riordan’s great credit that Apollo remains as interesting despite. As Apollo dons the role of the narrator, he laughs at himself, makes ironic remarks, dots even the grimmest of sequences with humour, engages in word play, and comes up with unlikely, fresh comparisons. His ‘asides’ and comments directed at the reader reveal the continuation of some of his qualities as put forth in legends — his love for music, for beauty, and for others’ appreciation of his “awesomeness”!

Riordan, as in his other tales involving gods, seamlessly blends the contemporary, the historical, and the mythological to create a novel and gripping adventure. As Apollo reveals the “secrets” and jealousies of other gods, the words of the ancient critic Longinus come to mind - “...Homer...has done his best to make the men of the Trojan War gods, and the gods men”. In this book, Apollo reveals his discomfort with sacrifice as a mark of heroism; he says, “I made a much better god than a hero.” (p.317) He weaves legends about himself into the narrative, presenting them as his memories. He even relates historical occurrences as memories, and at times, comments — Apollo, after all, is also associated with virtues — on what should have been done. For instance, he comments on behaviours that should be but remain unchecked: “I could still remember how cute little Caligula had looked in his miniature legionnaire’s outfit when he accompanied his father, Germanicus, on military campaigns. Why were sociopaths always so adorable as children?” (p.87)

The contemporary world has impacted the gods too — they use modern amenities, even employing them to redesign Mount Olympus! Hades possesses an elevator in Los Angeles that led to the Underworld, gods keep up with Hollywood gossip, magic gets a modern dimension — for instance, strawberries grow magically through playing the Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, and dryads love enchiladas, though modern weapons prove inadequate in fighting ancient forces. Apollo says that the magical Arrow of Dodona was also more apt at providing relevant information in areas with free Wi-Fi — such a comment reveals a possible source of information that Riordan has relied on, indicates that he has done his ‘homework’ well, and stresses that mythology has been used.

Human progress has negatively impacted gods too. The Greek god of the wild, Pan, went into oblivion as humans destroyed most of the wilderness for civilization. The Burning Maze emphasizes on the value of nature — its healing powers are strongly indicated, and the cruelty of caging animals in zoos discussed.

Various aspects of the nature of mortals and mortal life find place in the narrative: the rich were always the last to suffer in difficult times; people took too much for granted — including, the weather; the fear of the powerful could not be equated to loyalty; justice was wanting in how and when people met their deaths; good people had little likelihood of rising to power; and many others. As Apollo complains against the problems, pains, and fears of mortal life, he also realizes the extreme capacity for resilience in humans.

Apollo points to how, despite the fact that he no longer drove the sun chariot, the Sun rose each day. This is a comment on the human attribution of power to gods, on the immutable — at least within knowable time spans — aspects of existence, and on the laws of the universe - therefore, a remark on science versus religious belief. Apollo also comments on the human-developed iconography — the gold humans depicted him in, he felt, detracted from his “naturally amazing looks” (p.261), and on the celebrations in different cities that all demanded his presence at the same time, making him feel like he was about to split into pieces. Riordan, thus, imaginatively projects the perspective of a god on how he views human beliefs.




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