As a teenager, I was in love with quite a few things: cute actors, pizza, kittens, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.
Both the series were the pride of my bookshelf, and the authors, my heroes. So now that I sit on my laptop half a decade later, it proved to be a great task for me to actually get down to compare the two. Both were entertaining, educating stories and have undoubtedly impacted a great number of children across the globe. Both explored important themes and taught us lessons in bravery, friendship, love and sacrifice.
But which story is better than the other? It can be unfair to compare, but I asked you, the fans of both series, to tell me what YOU thought about them individually, and comparatively, and got a wide variety of responses.
In almost every poll that I conducted, Harry Potter emerged as victor by an overwhelming majority (a staggering 85%). However, I noticed a trend, which was later pointed out by a few fans, confirming my theory.
Harry Potter was undoubtedly a clear winner, but there was more to the story than what met the eye.
- Target Audience, World Building and Setting
Both Harry Potter and Percy Jackson heavily reflect the culture of their respective country, not only because their authors belong to those countries, but also because they had a set target audience before their work went international. This made their writing more relatable to the children and teens of their countries, leading to the subsequent popularity of both the books.
Harry Potter is very obviously British, so much so that Rowling made it a point to make sure that only British actors were cast in the lead roles in order to maintain the essence of the characters.
From the food to the locations, everything revolves around British culture. The only big city that is mentioned in the books is London and the main characters never seem to really leave the country.
Harry Potter derives a lot of its world-building elements from medieval European culture. The architecture, the setting, the props; they all intimately connect with European history. This somewhat medieval setting provides a fantastical element to the overall feel of the story which Percy Jackson never had.
Percy Jackson, on the other hand, is a lot more up-to-date, and extremely American in its approach. In the first book itself, the characters are sent on a quest which takes them across the United States. From Manhattan, to Vegas, and finally to LA. The characters indulge in cheeseburgers, fries, coke and pizza.
The whole point of the series is that it puts a modern spin to age-old tales, so even though the mythology it is based on is three-thousand years old, it hardly ever shows. The locations are modern, and we have mentions of the Empire State Building (which serves as Mount Olympus), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Long Island, among others. We even read about McDonald’s a couple of times during the course of the series. All in all, the Percy Jackson series is clearly aimed at the American audience, and doesn’t shy away from it.
From the world-building point of view, Rowling has a clear upper hand. Even though some names and concepts in her books are derived from popular myths, the world itself is her own brainchild. The creativity that has gone into her work definitely exceeds that which goes into Riordan’s. Percy Jackson, on the other hand, is restricted to the mythology that it is wholly based on.
In general, Rick Riordan brings the fantasy to us, while J.K Rowling takes us to it.
- Writing Style
The Harry Potter series are a lot more sophisticated when it comes to the style of writing. At its heart, every Potter book is a mystery; Rowling masterfully scatters hints throughout the book leading to a big reveal. Hence, when it comes to suspense, Rowling’s work is a lot more intense than Riordan’s. Harry Potter borders more on an epic mystery, which Percy Jackson is limited to being a Middle-Grade action adventure. The Harry Potter series also happens to have a darker tone, especially in the later books.
The first few books of the Harry Potter series can be classified as Middle-Grade fantasies. However, as the story progresses, the series encroaches onto the Young Adult category, which is interesting. It’s almost as if Rowling has written the story keeping in mind that the reader will grow with the characters as they read the books through the years. Harry Potter is a book that everyone will enjoy, from children, to a more mature audience, and happens to be a great source of nostalgia for children who grew up in the 90’s, hence the popularity.
Percy Jackson, on the other hand, targets a much younger audience. The books are shorter and fast-paced. The language is simpler, and the style uses humour as a major tool to attract young readers. Compared to Harry Potter, the Percy Jackson Series has a lot more action packed within its pages, and Riordan knows how to hook us onto his fight-scenes. Also, as a fan very aptly pointed out, in Percy Jackson, the battle lasts throughout the entire course of the quest.
The stories have strong parallels to its ancient Greek counterparts: the hero has to go through a series of challenges to reach his goal, and each channel tests his or her capabilities and pushes them to the edge.
In Harry Potter, however, most of the action is only limited to its climax, thus lacking the strong sense of urgency found in the Percy Jackson books.
The Percy Jackson books never really try to mature, while on the other hand, the Harry Potter books evolve with each instalment, growing with its characters and readers alike.
This was an extremely tough one for me to write, since on some level, I think characters of both series were extremely relatable to some extent. Riordan’s characters are funnier and more entertaining, while Rowling’s characters are deeper and undergo more development as the series progresses.
However, when it comes to diversity, Percy Jackson and its successor, Heroes of Olympus, surely does take the cake. The wide array of characters come from different communities and ethnicities, which is a fresh break from the somewhat whitewashed Harry Potter series. In Percy Jackson we have representation, and representation paves the way for more relatable characters.
However, the characters in Harry Potter are far more fleshed out and nuanced, which make them more intriguing and interesting to read about. One of the main reasons behind this is length. Percy Jackson is a much shorter series than Harry Potter, both in terms of individual books and in term of the entire set. Harry Potter spends more time on each character and the intricate relationships between them.
Since it doesn’t focus as much on action as Percy Jackson does, we have more time to create and resolve conflict, helping in character development and making them more three-dimensional. The school setting of the Harry Potter series is another advantage. Rowling has the opportunity to create drama mimicking High School and building bonds, one that Riordan doesn’t have, since most part of his story seems to be dealing with some action or another. He does, however, use danger as a tool for character development. His characters learn to trust each other in a crisis situation, where their life depends upon working together and establishing trust.
Both the authors have their own effective way of building relations, but I personally find Rowling’s method to be more effective, simply because hers spends more time on the process, so the development feels natural.
Also, in Harry Potter, the golden trio remains constant throughout the seven books, thus establishing the extent of their bonding and friendship.
In Percy Jackson, however, the only constants are Percy and Annabeth. Grover kinds of fades away into the background after the second book, after which new characters just seem to come and go. The friendships don’t feel too real, since we never really see them develop outside of a quest or a battlefield. The best example is the friendship between Piper, Reyna and Annabeth at the end of Heroes of Olympus. It’s been years, and I still didn’t figure out exactly how they became friends. What did they like about each other? What did they bond over? These things are never made clear.
- The Protagonist
This was an easy win for me.
It will always be Percy Jackson.
The guy is brave, loyal, fierce, funny, intelligent, kind, has a strong moral compass, he is everything I look for in a protagonist. I genuinely enjoyed reading the story from Percy’s point of view. His sense of humour is on point, his snarky comments make my day, and he is just so interesting as a protagonist. Every dull moment has a punch line in his head, everything that happens in the story is a direct result of his actions, he makes mistakes, he falls, he picks himself up again, brushes his knees and begins his journey again.
Uncle Rick outdid himself in terms of his dynamic protagonist. The best thing about Percy is that he has multiple layers (like an onion, as Shrek would say). Riordan has written him to be a goofball, but he also has his moments where his intelligence shines through, or his vulnerabilities are laid bare to the readers, and to some of the characters (I’m looking at you, Annabeth). Despite making him SEEM like someone no one would take seriously, Riordan somehow manages to make Percy a leader, the fiercest of the pack, all while somehow maintaining his sense of humour. That, in my opinion, is a well written character, one who keeps his punches as well as punchlines intact.
Harry on the other hand, while in no way a less powerfully written protagonist, is pretty boring in comparison to Percy. He does have his bravery and his thirst for adventure, and his humour, too, is on point. However, the thing about Rowling’s series is that every character adds something very significant to the story, so in comparison, Harry’s contribution feels average. Riordan’s work on the other hand, character-wise, seems to be solely dependent on the character arcs of Percy and Annabeth, so their presence in the story feels a lot more apparent.
Harry’s journey has more tragic elements as compared to that of Percy, which, despite making him an intriguing protagonist, tends to make him far less relatable.
Harry is no way a bad protagonist. For me, saying that is nothing short of blasphemy. However, I do find Percy a lot more likeable and relatable, simply because of the way his story progresses. After all, as I said, Percy Jackson was aimed at a younger audience, and children need a lovable protagonist, not a tragic one.
So, there you have it! The face-off between my two favourite stories as a child, and we seem to have a winner, but only with a catch. Harry Potter may have more votes from adults and teenagers, but in my poll, children seem to be more inclined to make their parents vote for Percy Jackson, although there were some noted exceptions.
I have to give one particular kid a special mention, simply because of how adorable I found her response.
One of my voters asked her 11.5-year daughter (the kid was very particular about the 5) who she would like to vote for, and here is what little Juhi had to say (basically summarizing my 2000+ word article):
“Percy Jackson has interesting chapter titles. Harry Potter has more magic. Both have drama and action. Both have interesting villains. I like both, but Harry Potter is better”
The future of fantasy seems to be in great hands.
To conclude, I believe both the tales serve as a source of entertainment and inspiration for many, including me. And like any lover of fantasy, I will always be on the lookout for similar masterfully written stories which will make me believe in magic all over again.