Study Guide

The Red Pyramid Analysis

By Rick Riordan

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The Red Pyramid refers to Set's giant pyramid constructed by demons in Phoenix, Arizona. The thing is basically a massive time bomb: at sunrise on Set's birthday, it'll explode, taking a good chunk of North America along with it. Better yet, Set plans on entombing Osiris—and later, the other gods, if he can get his hands on them—inside the pyramid, so that their energy will fuel an even bigger explosion.

    The title takes on additional significance when we realize that Apophis, the primal force of chaos, was manipulating Set into wrangling enough destruction to release it from its prison. Set digs destruction and all, but he wants to be king, which means he has to have someone to rule over. There's not much for a king to do if all he's got is a gigantic wasteland.

    By the time they get to the climactic battle that ends the book, Sadie and Carter have figured out that Set's a bad guy—but not the biggest or baddest bad guy in the book. That distinction goes to Apophis, who masterminded the whole red pyramid thing. It makes sense, then, that the book's plot and title both emphasize layers of deception caused by chaos. Chaos is the real enemy here.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Sadie and Carter stay in Brooklyn with Amos after the red pyramid is destroyed. Mostly they're trying to fix up the mansion, but they're also trying to fix Amos, who was pretty broken after Set got through with him. The kids have a rendezvous with their parents in the Land of the Dead, and they see Horus crowned as king of the gods.

    But wait—there's more. Bast returns from the Duat to take care of the kids, so there's much rejoicing. Then Sadie has a vision about a school where there might be other descendants of the pharaohs, who may also be in danger. So the kids and Bast go on a road trip to store the amulet of Osiris in the school in order to clue in the newcomers to the danger they're in—and to the power they can access.

    Carter and Sadie also finish recording the narrative of their adventures, and they're arranging to have it published so it can fall into the right hands (which might, in fact, be your hands). The kids are super aware that there's more that's going to happen: they'll see their parents in the underworld again, which means that Sadie will get to see Anubis again (insert kissy noises here). Carter, of course, plans to look for Zia (more kissy noises). Most of all, they're preparing for chaos to rise. It's going to be quite a fight.

    As Carter sums it up: "Most of all, chaos is rising. Apophis is gaining strength. Which means we have to gain strength too—gods and men, united like in olden times. It's the only way the world won't be destroyed" (41.209). Cheery, right? But it's heartening to hear Carter sounding so determined, because in the beginning of the book, he was kind of wishy-washy about the whole "spend time with your family" thing.

    What's the significance of this particular ending? We're so glad you asked. Remember at the beginning of the book, when Sadie and Carter could hardly stand each other's company? They were annoyed by one another, and they felt like almost total strangers. Yeah, that changed over the course of the book, to the point where they not only work as a team—"the Kane family has a lot of work to do," as Carter says (41.210)—but also want to work together to reopen the path of the gods.

  • Setting

    The Contemporary Real World (Assuming Ancient Egyptian Myths and Magic Are Real)

    Who said the Egyptian gods were confined to ancient Egypt? In The Red Pyramid, the gods and their way of life have survived into the modern day—but most modern mortals are too ignorant about the supernatural to know it.

    Date, Date, Who's Got a Date?

    The precise year of the novel isn't so important, as long as you can get a general feel for what's going on. We imagine the novel's set in the early twenty-first century, for a few reasons. First, when Inspector Williams questions Sadie after her father blew up the British Museum, the inspector accuses Julius Kane of either being a terrorist or being in league with terrorists: "There are extremist groups in Egypt that object to Egyptian artifacts being kept in other countries' museums. These people might have approached your father" (3.56). Terrorism, of course, became a greater concern in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

    On top of that, when Bast and the kids are trying to reach Phoenix as part of their save-the-world Great American Road trip, they "borrow" an RV. It's described as "a FEMA leftover from Hurricane Katrina" (29.3). So we know that the novel is set in 2005 or later, since Katrina occurred in August 2005.

    Geography:

    Magical and Mundane

    The geographical locations are more fixed than the exact date, since Sadie and Carter travel a lot and describe each place they visit, from London to the Cairo Airport. They see large swaths of the United States, since they need to travel to Phoenix to stop Set's red pyramid time bomb there. They run into a bunch of mortal landmarks—Graceland, the Rio Grande, and New Orleans—but they also see a ton of magical sites, too.

    Of the many magician headquarters, or Nomes (there are three hundred and sixty in all), we only get close-up glimpses of two: the First Nome (in Egypt) and the Twenty-first Nome (in Brooklyn, New York). The First Nome of course is quite large and filled with magicians, though we get the impression that there used to be more.

    The First Nome runs under much of modern Cairo, and it's not unique in that regard: a lot of magical spaces overlap with the mundane world (sort of like they do in Harry Potter). As Zia explains it, the magicians closed off the tunnels under the Sphinx and other monuments because archaeologists were getting too curious; they were on the verge of learning how much the magicians were hiding from them.

    Carter at one point asks Zia about the Three-hundred-and-sixtieth Nome. Maybe he means it as a joke, but Zia answers seriously, telling him that it's Antarctica: "A punishment assignment. Nothing there but a couple of cold magicians and some magic penguins" (13.84).

    Magic penguins and magicians suspected of being terrorists: that about sums it up. It's like our world—but weirder and full of more supernatural stuff.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    Base Camp (4)

    Since it's narrated by a twelve-year-old and a fourteen-year-old, the language in The Red Pyramid isn't too hard to understand. The concepts, however, can get a bit mind-bendy. Get used to the ideas that mortals can host ancient gods, that the realm of spirits and the dead can overlap with our world, and that an ancient and powerful cat goddess can get distracted by a wrecking ball. There are some crazy plot twists, too, which you might see coming if you keep your wits about you while reading.

  • Colors

    You might have guessed from the fact that Egyptian tombs are so lavishly decorated that they have a thing for visual art, and that includes colors. And because pretty much everything in ancient Egypt is symbolic, colors have symbolism attached to them, too.

    We at Shmoop kind of like the color red, but don't tell the ancient Egyptians that, because for them, red was bad. The fact that Set's evil red pyramid is, well, red might be a clue. Bast explains the symbolic system to Sadie and Carter: "As usual, modern folk have it backward. Black is the color of good soil, like the soil of the Nile. You can grow food in black soil. Therefore black is good. Red is the color of desert sand. Nothing grows in the desert. Therefore red is evil" (18.116).

    In that light, it is kind of strange that Desjardins has a house in Paris with a red door, since red is "the color of chaos and destruction" (18.114). This information is one of the things that lead Sadie and Carter to suspect that Desjardins might be Set's mortal host. The take-home point is that colors aren't just for interior decorating; they might convey important information about character and alignment.

    There are also some personal associations with colors. Amos, snappy dresser that he is, usually has color-coordinated outfits. On Christmas morning, this is how he looks: "His tailored suit was made of blue wool, he wore a matching fedora, and his hair was freshly braided with dark blue lapis lazuli, one of the stones Egyptians often used for jewelry. Even his glasses matched. The round lenses were tinted blue" (6.69).

    We also get a clue that magical styles have some color associations. When Sadie destroys the library door in the Brooklyn mansion, the hieroglyph that appears during the spell is golden. But as Carter points out, "Dad and Amos both used blue. Why?" (7.45). We're never told exactly why, but it probably has something to do with which god you might be hosting, what your personal magical specialty is, and so on.

    Hey, we never said that all the color associations made perfect sense—just that they were symbolic.

  • Clothing

    Clothes make the man, they say—and the woman, and the god. Both Julius and Amos Kane are sharp dressers according to mortal standards, as though they're saying, "Yeah, we're secretly magicians, what of it?" Other magicians, like Zia and Desjardins, tend to wear robes, which demonstrate their dedication to the House of Life and their training.

    Sadie's punk rock style emphasizes her rebellious streak. Even when she's introduced to the magician wardrobe (plant materials only, so they don't interfere with magic), she still somehow manages to rock her combat boots.

    Carter is, well, Carter. He says: "Sadie likes to tell me that I don't have a style. She complains that I dress like I'm an old man—button-down shirt, slacks, dress shoes" (6.47). And for most of the book, Carter doesn't seem too bothered by the fact that he doesn't fit in with other teenagers.

    By the end of the book, however, Carter chooses something new from the magic wardrobe in the Brooklyn house: "some Reeboks, blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a hoodie" (41.153). He feels self-conscious at first, but Sadie tells him that he almost looks like a regular teenager (which is apparently a good thing). So in this case, Carter's clothing choices reflect his development during the story: he goes from being a mini-version of his dad to being his own person.

  • Names

    In Egyptian magic, names grant power. Here's how Thoth explains it: "Everything in Creation has a secret name… Even gods. To know a being's secret name is to have power over that creature" (23.148). So names are a big deal.

    When the kids are on their way to the Land of the Dead, Sadie faces Shezmu (the demon with perfume samples) and has to figure out his secret name in order to pass without becoming a snack. Sadie's quick-thinking skills help her trick Shezmu into revealing his secret name, which means they get to… pass into the Land of the Dead without actually dying. Yay?

    Maybe Sadie's good at figuring out secret names for a reason, though. According to Thoth, Isis tricked Ra into revealing his secret name, and thus forced him to pass the throne to Osiris. This made Set jealous and kicked off the whole Set-became-a-bad-guy thing. Not so good.

    However, when Sadie rises from the red pyramid to change the course of the battle with Set, she realizes that she's come into her own as the blood of the pharaohs, and also as "Isis, goddess of magic, holder of the secret names" (40.4). Maybe Sadie's talent for secret names has something to do with the fact that she's hosting Isis, who's already a whiz at them. As much as Sadie hates the thought that Isis might be controlling her—well, there's something to it.

    And, of course, the quest to find Set's secret name in order to defeat him is one of the major plot points of the book. So to recap: names are important, secret names triply so. Better be careful to whom you reveal your name if you're going to be hanging out with Egyptian magicians and gods.

  • The Ankh

    Drawn like a cross with a loop at the top, the ankh is an ancient Egyptian symbol for life. Even Sadie, with little knowledge of Egyptian stuff at the novel's start, knows an ankh when she sees one. Sadie has kept a picture of her mother holding her as a baby "because of the symbol on Mum's T-shirt: one of those life symbols—an ankh. My dead mother wearing the symbol for life. Nothing could've been sadder" (3.30-31).

    The ankh also appears in the name of the Per Ankh, the House of Life, a.k.a. the Secret Egyptian Magicians' Club. The hieroglyph shows a rectangle surrounding an ankh, basically depicting a house… of life. Because of Sadie's mysterious ability to suddenly read hieroglyphs, she takes one glance at the symbol as it appears in the Brooklyn mansion and figures it out:

    "It's a house," she insisted. "And the bottom picture is the ankh, the symbol for life. Per Ankh—the House of Life."

    "Very good, Sadie." Amos looked impressed. (5.59-60)

    It makes sense for the symbol of life to be so persistent in this book, since the episode that set events into motion for the Kane kids was when their father tried to release Osiris—a god of life and death. It all comes full circle, yo.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator): Carter and Sadie

    The narration in this book is a double-whammy of first-person intensity. On the one hand, Carter narrates half the chapters in his matter-of-fact, descriptive tone. On the other hand, Sadie brings the action she narrates to life with her British slang and general disdain for the objective truth.

    For instance, when Carter's telling us about the Eye of Horus amulet his dad gave him, he says: "In fact my dad says the modern pharmacist's symbol, Rx, is a simplified version of the Eye of Horus, because medicine is supposed to protect you" (1.104). How very matter-of-fact and informative. Thank you, Carter.

    In contrast, Sadie has this to say about her amulet: "I fiddled with the necklace Dad had given me. I'd never been sure what the symbol meant. Carter's was obviously an eye, but mine looked a bit like an angel, or perhaps a killer alien robot" (3.17). Sadie's voice is a lot more colorful. It's also—and there's no nice way to say this—less knowledgeable than Carter's voice. Sadie is far from stupid, but she's got way more street smarts than book smarts.

    The difference between the two narrative styles keeps us on our toes, but it also helps demonstrate the differences in the characters' personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. The siblings make a good—if unlikely—team, in part because they complement each other so well. Except when it comes to stubbornness: we're pretty sure they're evenly matched there.

    • Allusions

      Literary and Mythological References

      • Osiris (2.66, 15.18, and throughout)
      • Set (2.75, 6.15, 7.216, 15.30, 23.150, 37.3, and throughout)
      • Thoth (5.61, 23.98, and throughout)
      • Nut (7.198, 20.21)
      • Geb (7.198, 31.48)
      • Ra (7.200, 23.142, and throughout)
      • Bast (8.100, 24.154, 30.140, and throughout)
      • Serqet (10.58, 12.3)
      • Ma'at (14.87, 28.98, and throughout)
      • Isis (15.19, 18.45, 23.142, 39.91, and throughout)
      • Anubis (15.21, 28.64, 41.34, and throughout)
      • Horus (15.27, 18.47, 26.88, and throughout)
      • The Three Musketeers (17.89)
      • Nephthys (20.77, 25.59, 30.46, and throughout)
      • Apophis (24.145, 40.60, and throughout)
      • The Book of the Dead (27.14)
      • Ammit the Devourer (28.92)
      • Sobek (30.100-104)
      • Sekhmet (32.157, 33.18-20)
      • Hathor (33. 72)

      Historical References

      • Imhotep, builder of the first pyramid (2.4-6)
      • The Rosetta Stone (2.25 and throughout)
      • Napoleon (2.28, 14.37)
      • Champollion (2.31, 18.193-197)
      • King Ptolemy V (2.33)
      • Narmer, the king who united Egypt (8.26, 14.14)
      • King Tut (13.118-110, 15.103)
      • Howard Carter (13.110)
      • Khufu, the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid (14.17-19)
      • Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh (14.25, 35.22)
      • Ramesses the Great (14.25, 16.143, 25.6)
      • Moses (14.28)
      • Nectanebo II (14.33)
      • Cleopatra (14.36, 15.80, 15.103, 28.24)
      • Alexander the Great (17.89)
      • Hurricane Katrina (29.3)
      • Nefertiti (35.22)

      Pop Culture References

      • James Bond (1.55)
      • L.A. Lakers (5.74, 21.113)
      • Doritos (5.75)
      • Twix (5.96)
      • Skittles (5.96)
      • Cheerios (7.13)
      • Mickey Mouse (13.69)
      • Wolverine (18.192)
      • Clive Cussler (18.211)
      • Friskies cat food (19.83)
      • Jell-O (22.40)
      • Santa Claus (23.31)
      • Michael Jackson (24.9)
      • Elvis Presley (24.11)
      • Bruce Wayne (23.147)