Kit Rodriguez, Percy Jackson, and the Blue Food

by Diane Duane
Blue macarons

Blue macarons

I’ve got a question, and I’m throwing it open to the general readership because answering it at the moment is beyond my competence.

The Young Wizards series often gets compared to other YA series, past and present — sometimes with good reason and sometimes not. The most frequent comparison is to Harry Potter, as some of you will guess, though it always makes me laugh when this happens, as it’s hard to imagine two series that are less alike except for the fact that they both contain young wizards.

Anyway, something new and different has come up for consideration lately. In the YW books, there’s a running joke that’s been going on for a while about blue food. Kit Rodriguez has something of a pig-out on it at the Crossings while on the way to his and Nita Callahan’s excursus / “exchange student” holiday on Alaalu in book 7 of the series, Wizard’s Holiday. In subsequent books the issue resurfaces a number of times, often as a joke, sometimes just in the form of another wizard teasing Kit about this repeatedly-indulged tendency.

Recently, though, somebody brought it to my attention that Percy Jackson in Rick Riordan’s books also has a blue-food thing going on. Apparently the reasons behind this haven’t been dealt with in canon, though it is apparently stated there that Percy’s mom will make blue cake, or other desserts, for him on occasion*.

Now I’m assuming it’s some kind of obscure parallel development. (I know that George Carlin had a riff he did on blue food: whether I internalized that and it then popped out to be played with, I have no idea. And even less idea in Riordan’s case.)

That said: Wizard’s Holiday was published in 2003. I have no idea when this trope started turning up in the Percy Jackson books. Does anybody who’s a fan of the Riordan books know when the blue-food thing first appears? I’d be glad to satisfy my curiosity about this.

Thanks in advance!

*Disclosure, if needed: To date I haven’t read any of Rick Riordan’s books. It’s not that I have anything against them: it’s just that this hasn’t been a priority. I have  seen the films, though, and enjoyed them.

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Robotech_Master December 8, 2015 - 9:54 pm

You know, blue food also featured prominently in the last chapter of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. I wonder whether that was an inspiration behind any of the other instances of blue food popping up…

Diane Duane December 8, 2015 - 10:13 pm

Wow, I’ll take your word for it. It’s been ages since I read the book, and I honestly don’t remember that at all…

Isgebind December 9, 2015 - 1:43 am

Had a friend with a handy copy of the first PJ book check for me; he said it starts in book one, The Lightning Thief, in an argument between s mother and stepfather that there’s no such thing as blue food and the mother makes it to prove him wrong. Pages 37-38 in the paperback. Going by Wikipedia’s citation, the first book came out July 1, 2005.

Hope that helps.

Benjamin Williams December 9, 2015 - 6:22 am

As a fan of both series, I’d say it’s firmly in “odd coincidence” territory. While the surface parallels are there – two teenage boys with a fondness for blue food, both main characters in a fantasy series – the meaning attached is a bit different. It’s portrayed in the Percy Jackson books as a sentimental point of connection between Percy and his mother, as well as a small way of defying the limits the world seems to set for him. Whereas with Kit it seems more like a goofy guilty pleasure than anything.

I’d guess that part of the reason for the coincidence is that blue is just the easy color to pick for quirky unnatural food. Most other colors have a large enough body of common food in that color that they don’t seem unusual enough.

Skye December 9, 2015 - 2:24 pm

Re: the comparison of the YW series to the HP series:
As a reader advisor in my professional life and a huge fan of the YW series in my personal one, I frequently recommend the YW series to fans of the HP series, while noting the fact that wizardry in the YW series seems more science-based than magic-based.
That being said, the first Percy Jackson book came out in 2005, 2 years after WH, but IIRC, there was a blue-food thing from the very first book. I think his mom would make him blue cakes for his birthday and whatnot. It was more of a comfort thing I think rather than just finding it absolutely delicious like Kit does.

jnharton December 17, 2015 - 3:31 am

I think it’s important to point out that it’s not really science-based, per se, For instance, there are no chemicals being mixed to make things happen. The distinction is confusing at best, though. It’s just part of the universe and so it’s results are observable and detectable, particularly when no attempt is being made to disguise it and the apparent things happening are is in direct contradiction to normal day-to-day experience. Things like solid air for instance… or pulling metal out of a star. Additionally the chronological period the characters are in features a lot of scientific/modern knowledge and so things are presented in a more scientific way from the perspective of Earth based humanoids. I think it implies in few places throughout the books that had the story been several centuries earlier the wizards would seem much more mystical in terms of how they go things done.

Harry Potter on the other hand there is more mystery to magic and you just get taught how to use a wand to channel some mysterious innate ability rather than presented what amounts to a divine gift at some level. There’s no contract in HP regarding your use of ‘magic’ and it’s far from being a Universe Construction Kit so to speak.

Arguably there’s something vaguely like the arcane/divine D&D split going on there.

Dr. Whom December 26, 2015 - 6:05 am

I’ve been reading fantasy lit for sixty years or so, a language lover nearly as long, and a linguist my whole career. And one thing that’s always struck me favorably about this series is that magic is a kind of technology. Its toolkit is the Speech. The language used – the style and register of small-s speech that wizards use, the technical talk as presented in English – involves many real but rare Greco-Latinate words, or neologisms coined, like a great deal of technical jargon, from Greek and Latin roots. Consider the names for the languages of different animal families: Ailurin from Greek ailuros ‘cat’, Sciurin from Latin sciurus ‘squirrel’, and the rest similarly. Can you imagine reading something like this in Tolkien or Howard or any other fantasy author?:

The spell flashed into life before her, hanging in the air in a set of nested circles about a foot wide. … She reached out to start redrafting the spell, pulling parts of the spell diagram into other configurations. One big circle, three chord lines, a small external power-control circle at the tangent point. Three inclusions. Power envelope… radius of effect… expansion room for the intention statements… But that module there, that’ll work. Plug that in here – and that one … (from _Interim Errantry_)

John Nemesh January 12, 2016 - 4:30 pm

The biggest difference I have noted is that in HP, Wizardry is available only to those with the right bloodlines. You INHERIT your “gift”. While there is a school, it seems to focus on simple faux latin incantations…the power of the spell is up to the innate qualities of the individual. “Exceptional” wizards are those who come from the right families.

YW on the other hand, has Wizardry available to EVERYONE, provided they have the right aptitude, are willing to take the Oath, and survive their ordeal. Power is inversely proportional to the age of the wizard (except for the odd “hormonal surge”), but magic’s effectiveness is most often tied to the knowledge of the wizard and how creative they are in applying it.

YW always resonated more with me, because, apart reading it years in advance of HP, I always felt like the magic WAS real, that it was available to people like myself, and that the “secret” of magic was just having the right knowledge. It’s brand of magic seemed more immediate, more believable, and more likely that Rowling’s.

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