This article contains spoilers for episodes 1 & 2 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Sally Jackson has always been an important character in the Percy Jackson books. As the mother of a demigod, she’s had to give up a lot in order to keep Percy safe. And yet it’s very clear that she wouldn’t have it any other way. She loves Percy with her whole heart, and has raised him to be compassionate, caring, and brave.
But while the books do a great job of showing us just how important Sally is to Percy’s journey, the Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians takes their bond as mother and son even further. Even though Percy may get some cool powers and divine connections from his dad Poseidon (played by Toby Stephens in the series), the show makes it abundantly clear that Percy is who he is because of Sally.
In an interview with Den of Geek, series co-creator Jon Steinberg said that emphasizing Sally’s maternal bond with Percy was a “conscious decision early on” as he worked on adapting the first novel with Rick and Becky Riordan. It was something that the Riordans were “really attached to early” and “felt strongly about,” according to Steinberg, because “as difficult as it is to be a kid who doesn’t understand where they fit and who struggles, making friends or struggles with school. It’s just as hard to be a parent of that kid and, I don’t know that you’re necessarily telling the full story unless you fully engage with both parts of that.”
They wanted to emphasize that while Sally loves Percy a lot, she does struggle with doing it all alone and being the best mom she can be in their unique situation. According to Steinberg, he and the Riordans wanted to use Percy and Sally’s bond to create a show that both kids and parents could connect with, especially those who have similarly struggled to fit into neurotypical society.
From the moment we meet Sally in the TV series (played by Virginia Kull), she exudes strength and compassion, but also conveys a sadness that she tries to hide from Percy (Walker Scobell). It’s clear that she worries about him as he grows older. She wants to prepare him for the world of gods and monsters that he was born into, but also wants to protect his innocence and keep the weight of his destiny off his shoulders for as long as possible.
In The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson series and the basis for the first season of the show, Percy doesn’t learn much about the world of demigods and monsters until he stumbles through the boundary of Camp Half-Blood after losing his mother to the Minotaur. In the show, however, Sally tries to tell Percy the truth about his father and the weird things he’s been seeing in their Montauk cabin. He doesn’t believe her at first, and thinks that she’s treating him like a child by telling him stories to explain the strange things that have been happening. But Sally holds strong and tries to get through to him. It’s one of their last moments together before Percy loses her to the Minotaur and realizes that she was telling him the truth.
In another change from the books, Percy makes an offering to the gods and tries to talk to his mother rather than his father. After arriving at Camp Half-Blood, Percy learns about the power of offering cherished possessions, in this case food, to the gods. The smell is supposed to get their attention all the way on Mount Olympus. In the book, Percy does what the rest of the campers do and offers some of his dinner to try and reach his father, who he doesn’t know the identity of at this point.
The series instead shows Percy lighting a small fire in a tin can in the woods after everyone has gone to bed for the evening. He adds some of the blue candy his mom gave him into the fire, blue food is an inside joke between them, and tells her about his time at camp so far. Sure, his dad probably still heard him, but by making this offering to his mother rather than his father, this scene deepens their bond, even in Sally’s absence.
At this point, Percy believes that Sally is dead. Even though he’s now learned that his father is a god and could potentially help him through this hard and confusing time, he chooses to try and reach out to his mom for strength instead. From Percy’s perspective, his father has never really made an effort to get to know him or claim him as his own, while his mom has done the opposite.
These changes from the books may not seem major, but they, along with other scenes later on in the series, emphasize just how big Sally’s role is in the hero that Percy becomes. Sally is the unsung hero of Percy Jackson and the Olympians because she put so much of herself into him. His strength, tenacity, and heart come from Sally, and it’s their bond that keeps Percy going throughout his quest. Percy is first and foremost the son of Sally Jackson, the water powers from Poseidon are just kind of a bonus.
The first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians are available to stream on Disney+ now. New episodes premiere Wednesdays, culminating in the finale on Jan. 31.
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