Study Guide

The Red Pyramid Language and Communication

By Rick Riordan

Language and Communication

"The Egyptian word shesh means scribe or writer, but it can also mean magician. This is because magic, at its most basic, turns words into reality. You will create a scroll. Using your own magic, you will send power into the words on paper. When spoken, the words will unleash the magic." (16.50)

Thanks, Zia, for Magic 101. Words = magic. Got it. The Red Pyramid also makes us think about how "magical" even everyday words can be. Words can be powerful: you give commands, you can tell the truth, you can tell lies, and there are consequences to each of these things. Even in the "real" world, words can be magic.

The last couple of days I'd seen a lot of crazy things, but the Hall of Ages took the prize… Balls of fire floated around like helium basketballs, changing color whenever they bumped into one another. Millions of tiny hieroglyphic symbols also drifted through the air, randomly combining into words and then breaking apart. (14.1-2)

The fact that language becomes visible in the Hall of Ages is awe-inspiring and a little freaky. Then again, it's like the epicenter of Egyptian magic, which is language-based, so it kind of makes sense. Another thing we might think about is how hieroglyphs are different from other writing systems. Is there something special about this kind of writing? Or does all writing have a kind of magic?

"Dr. Kane!… Your last paper on Imhotep—brilliant! I don't know how you translated those spells!" (2.4)

The curator at the British Museum is clearly not a magician, nor does he have much imagination. Why do you think he is so surprised that Julius Kane was able to translate Egyptian spells? Does it take a special kind of talent? Or a special kind of imagination?

Thoth checked his sleeves. I realized the stains on his coat were smeared words, printed in every language. The stains moved and changed, forming hieroglyphs, English letters, Demotic symbols. (23.123)

Trust a god of knowledge and magic to be so deeply involved with language that it clings to him. It also makes sense because Thoth invented writing. It's like the gift that keeps on giving. By the way, "Demotic symbols" refers to modern Greek.

Dad looked at Anubis. "What did I tell you about her? Fiercer than Ammit, I said." "You didn't need to tell me." Anubis's face was grave. "I've learned to fear that sharp tongue." (41.58-59)

Written language and hieroglyphs are pretty important in this book, but let's not forget the importance of the spoken word. When Sadie speaks, for instance, her sharp tongue inspires fear even among gods. You go, girl!

"The written language of Egypt had been completely forgotten. Then an Englishman named Thomas Young proved that the Rosetta Stone's three languages all conveyed the same message. A Frenchman named Champollion took up the word and cracked the code of hieroglyphics." (2.31)

Julius Kane, in this brief lecture to a bored Sadie, summarizes why the Rosetta Stone is so important: by placing the same message in three languages side by side, it provided a key to decipher hieroglyphics. That, and it's a powerful enough relic that magicians can use it to release gods from the Duat.

"No matter what our specialty, each magician's greatest hope is to become a speaker of the Divine Words—to know the language of creation so well that we can fashion reality simply by speaking it, not even using a scroll." (16.74)

So there's more to the language = magic equation than meets the eye. Most magicians are tied to the written word in some form or another, but learning to go the direct route by simply speaking your attentions is apparently the Holy Grail.

"A boat," I said—then realized I'd translated aloud, which I wasn't supposed to be able to do. (4.89)

When Sadie suddenly begins translating hieroglyphics left and right, it's a little jarring for her—and for everyone else. She'd never spent any time around ancient Egyptian stuff before the debacle at the British Museum, so why does this mysterious ability crop up now?

"You were fighting Apophis." All around the parlor, the servant fires dimmed. One dropped a plate and fluttered nervously. "Don't say the Serpent's name," Bast warned. "Especially as we head into the night. Night is his realm." (26.58)

According to Bast, names hold power, too. This is yet another way that language is super powerful in Egyptian magical thinking. Do you think names have any power over people's personalities? Do you think your name fits you? Does it make you who you are?

Desjardins was so stunned, he momentarily forgot how to speak English. (40.145)

Desjardins is French. We get it. It sure is convenient that he speaks English, though (at least most of the time). Same goes for Zia being native Egyptian but also speaking flawless English. If hieroglyphs are the language of magic, maybe English is the language of magicians' communication? But why English and not Arabic? Maybe we'll just blame globalization for this one. Or maybe it was just easier for Riordan to write it this way.