Today is World Book Day. In fact, today is the 15th World Book day, an annual celebration of authors, illustrators, books and above all, reading. The idea behind it is to encourage children to get into reading by providing them with book tokens to spend on – you guessed it – books. It doesn’t just have to end with the books, as reading can be a gateway into all sorts of things, museums for example…
Now, the relationship between museums and literary culture is a close one. Museums and their objects have often provided the inspiration for an author, one immediately thinks of Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn but the examples are numerous. Nowadays, the relationship has become more inter-twined, with museums springing up that are dedicated to authors’ lives (think of the Dickens Museum and the Bronte Parsonage Museum), and there are even museums dedicated entirely to stories.
Usually when a museum features a story, the plot usually involves objects coming to life (because museums bring history to life, right guys?). There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s been done to death. I blame Ben Stiller.
All this magic can rob the artefacts of their, erm… magic.
“It blew my mind that this stuff had survived for two thousand, three thousand years,” exclaims Rick Riordan’s most famous protagonist, Percy Jackson.
The first time we meet him in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Theif he’s on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC “to look at ancient Greek and Roman stuff,” a subject that normal-as-far-as-we-know Percy finds “kind of interesting.” His teacher, Mr. Brunner, does all the right things to get the kids interacting and relating to the artefacts by showing them a funeral stele of a girl about their age.
The result? Well, I don’t want to give anything away, but Percy starts to see the world as it really is.
“I guess it started the night our Dad blew up the British Museum…”
Wow, what a tagline. What a brave move to make. What a way to introduce a new series. Just, wow.
Riordan’s other protagonist, Carter Kane, one of the stars of new seriesThe Kane Chronicles, despite being the son of an Egyptologist, is reluctant to say he likes visiting museums “I’ve been to more museums than I like to admit – it makes me sound like a total geek.” Like with Percy, the encounter in the museum is a turning point for the characters, again I won’t give anything away, but the tag-line says a lot…
In this new series, artefacts play more of a role than they do in Percy Jackson, so much so Riordan has a curator explain why artefacts like the Rosetta Stone are so important. Throughout the story, museums and artefacts are a recurring theme. By having this theme, Riordan really manages to show that although civilisations rise and fall, they have made an indelible mark on the world. These civilisations aren’t dead, they are still alive.
And nothing as to come alive at night-time…