WIHWT: Red Rising

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Red Rising by Pierce Brown

This Wish I Had Written That (WIHWT) post is about my own connections to reading. In 2009, I participated in my first Puget Sound Writing Project, via the National Writing Project. One of the requirements (or labor of love in my case) is a full-blow lesson, complete with all the lesson-y trimmings. I created, from scratch, an original lesson I titled Voices from the Grave, in order to serve the wonky 8th grade curriculum in my district: social studies does World History/Ancient Civilizations, and since I taught an 8th grade Humanities at the time, wanted to serve multiple standards. I had never heard the term ‘role playing’ but that is essentially what the unit is: you draw a character from Ancient Rome, be it a Proctor, Legate, even Obstetrix and Emperors. There were slaves, legionnaires, gladiators, eques–all types and manners of rank, privilege, jobs, and avocations. There is even a mosaic artist. The purpose of the unit is multi-layered: by immersing oneself in an ancient world, and seeing life through the eyes of the past, we can deeply learn about culture, politics, and society as well as learn content (academic and content language/knowledge). Some of the best work I’ve ever read was from a struggling student who became a legionnaire: down to his hob-nailed boots and a description of his death. He became this foot soldier, and I know he will never forget the transference of skills and knowledge: soldiers move nations, for the generals and the emperors.

I switch from Humanities to ELA, and the the Box of Destiny was born: become a Greek god/goddess, and present in original voice “your” story. This novel is replete with Greek/Roman influences, and its plot structure hangs on a hierarchal, archetypal mythic proportions. To see an 8th grade girl transform herself into Athena or misunderstood Medusa is truly sublime.

Good stuff.

“Matched me with a little girl. I tried to kill her softly … but she wouldn’t die.” Pollux grunts something and claps me on the shoulder. He tries a sour chuckle. “We’ve got it raw, but at least we’re not Reds, you register?”

Brown, Pierce (2014-01-28). Red Rising (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 1) (p. 371). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Now: combine all of that, a hefty nod to Hunger Games, and a flawed hero, and you have one of the best monomythic tales: Red Rising. I just finished it, and began its sequel, Golden Sun. The potential for rich conversations about class, wealth, power, human nature, politics, love and war. And how legends are created, and destroyed. Just looking at through the lens of lies and control would be enough.

He ignores me. “They heard her song and they call her Persephone already.” I flinch and look over at him. No. That is not her name. She is not their symbol. She doesn’t belong to these brigands with trumped-up names. “Her name is Eo,” I sneer. “And she belongs to Lykos.” “She belongs to her people now, Darrow. And they remember the old tales of a goddess stolen from her family by the god of death. Yet even when she was stolen, death could not forever keep her. She was the Maiden, the goddess of spring destined to return after each winter. Beauty incarnate can touch life even from the grave; that’s how they think of your wife.”

Brown, Pierce (2014-01-28). Red Rising (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 1) (p. 64). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Questions of trust: from our most personal relationships to our relationships with government and institutions. After reading this novel, I wish I was teaching 8th grade (it does have some implied references to some grittier concepts). I would pair it with Voices from the Grave, and add the element of power and control. And a lot more questions.

Back to the mines.