Monday, April 01, 2013

Rick Riordan, My New Hero

My daughters have been listening to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. (It's our first foray into books on CD and it has been an unqualified success.) Their love of the books and fascination with the gods and goddesses pushed me to read the books. In the fourth book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy, Annabeth (a daughter of Athena), Tyson (a cyclops), and Grover (a satyr) come across the Sphinx. I was enjoying the books up to this point, but this made me absolutely adore Rick Riordan.

I don't believe reading this will spoil any part of any of the books. If you haven't read the series, I highly, highly recommend it. The relevant quotes from the scene follow (breaks are where I left out text to focus on just the critical pieces). Enjoy!

I slipped on a pile of wood scraps, but when I shined a light on them I realized they were pencils - hundreds of them, all broken in half.

Then I saw the monster. She stood on a glittery dais on the opposite side of the room. She had the body of a huge lion and the head of a woman. She would've been pretty, but her hair was tied back in a tight bun and she wore too much makeup, so she kind of reminded me of my third-grade choir teacher. She had a blue ribbon badge pinned to her chest that took me a moment to read: THIS MONSTER HAS BEEN RATED EXEMPLARY!

"Fabulous prizes!" the Sphinx said. "Pass the test, and you get to advance! Fail, and I get to eat you! Who will be our contestant?"

"Are you ready for your test?"
"Yes," she said. "Ask your riddle."
"Twenty riddles, actually!" the Sphinx said gleefully.
"What? But back in the old days -"
"Oh, we've raised our standards! To pass, you must show proficiency in all twenty. Isn't that great?"

A drumroll sounded from above. The Sphinx's eyes glittered with excitement. "What . . . is the capital of Bulgaria?"
Annabeth frowned. For a terrible moment, I thought she was stumped.
"Sofia," she said, "but -"
"Correct!" More canned applause. The Sphinx smiled so wide her fangs showed. "Please be sure to mark your answer clearly on your test sheet with a number 2 pencil."
"What?" Annabeth looked mystified. Then a test booklet appeared on the podium in front of her, along with a sharpened pencil.
"Make sure you bubble each answer clearly and stay inside the circle," the Sphinx said. "If you have to erase, erase completely or the machine will not be able to read your answers."

"Now," said the Sphinx, "next question -"
"Wait a second," Annabeth protested. "What about 'What walks on four legs in the morning'?"
"I beg your pardon?" the Sphinx said, clearly annoyed now.
"The riddle about man. He walks on four legs in the morning, like a baby, two legs in the afternoon, like an adult, and three legs in the evening, as an old man with a cane. That's the riddle you used to ask."
"Exactly why we changed the test!" the Sphinx exclaimed. "You already knew the answer. Now second question, what is the square root of sixteen?"
"Four," Annabeth said, "but -"
"Correct! Which U.S. president signed the Emancipation Proclamation?"
"Abraham Lincoln, but -"
"Correct! Riddle number four. How much -"
"Hold up!" Annabeth shouted.

"These aren't riddles," Annabeth said.
"What do you mean?" the Sphinx snapped. "Of course they are. The test material is specially designed -"
"It's just a bunch of dumb, random facts," Annabeth insisted. "Riddles are supposed to make you think."
"Think?" The Sphinx frowned. "How am I supposed to test whether you can think? That's ridiculous! Now, how much force is required-"
"Stop!" Annabeth insisted. "This is a stupid test."

"Why then, my dear," the monster said calmly. "If you won't pass, you fail. And since we can't allow any children to be held back, you'll be EATEN!"

I raised my sword, but before I could strike, Tyson ripped the monster's grading machine out of the floor and threw it at the Sphinx's head, ruining her hair bun. It landed in pieces all around her.
"My grading machine!" she cried. "I can't be exemplary without my test scores!"

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