Study Guide

The Red Pyramid Themes

  • Rules and Order

    For a civilization that had gods with the heads of animals, the ancient Egyptians were way obsessed with order. And not like, what order should we watch these movies in? We're talking about the very order of the universe: order as opposed to chaos. It's serious business, man.

    In The Red Pyramid, Sadie and Carter learn this for themselves when they embark on their quest to understand how the rules of Egyptian magic apply to their own lives. Upholding order doesn't always mean that the consequences are fair, or that you get what you want. Nope: order means finding balance and making choices that allow the greatest good for the greatest number of people. That may not be fun on a personal level, but it sure helps save the world.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. How are order and language connected in the book?
    2. Not counting the scales in the Land of the Dead, how might you describe order as a sense of balance?
    3. How do Sadie and Carter each struggle with the sense of order that is pushed on them in their lives?
    4. Chaos is personified in Apophis the serpent, while all order or Ma'at gets is a pair of scales. Why do you think that is?

    Chew on This

    Upholding order usually means putting the greater good ahead of your personal desires.

    Order versus chaos is a more convincing opposition than good versus evil.

  • Family

    Sometimes your family drives you crazy. Other times, they lock you in a box, shatter it into fourteen pieces, and force the rest of your family members to find your body parts so you can be resurrected in the underworld.

    Welcome to the family of the ancient Egyptian gods: there's violence, dismemberment, and even a little incest thrown in on occasion.

    Even for mortal siblings like Carter and Sadie in The Red Pyramid, the notion of family is quite problematic: their mom is dead, and their dad maybe-kinda-sorta ditched them to merge with a god. Still, if family's what you make of it, Sadie and Carter aren't doing too bad in the grand scheme of things. If nothing else, they've accomplished the hardest thing—learning to tolerate each other.

    Questions About Family

    1. What traits do Carter and Sadie share as members of the same family?
    2. How do the Egyptian deities complicate the idea of family?
    3. Sharing values and goals is what makes a family. True or false, and why?
    4. How do the identities of the gods Sadie and Carter are hosting influence or match their own family relationships? Is it always a perfect match?

    Chew on This

    Having an unstable family is better than having no family at all.

    Like most siblings, Sadie and Carter are better off together than apart.

  • Sacrifice

    What would you give up to make the world a better place? Your favorite pair of jeans? Your iPod? The season finale of Dancing with the Stars? Your life?

    Many of the characters in The Red Pyramid face this question, and the answer isn't always pretty. Sometimes, if you believe enough in your cause, you have to be willing to give up everything, including your life. And because we're dealing with ancient Egyptian beliefs, we're not just talking about your life on this plane of existence, but your life in the afterlife, too. One wrong step, and you might find yourself faced with oblivion. These are the stakes of the game Sadie and Carter find themselves thrown into, whereas for normal teens the mention of "sacrifice" might bring to mind the idea of sacrificing a night of sleep to cram for a midterm.

    Totally different ballgame, folks.

    Questions About Sacrifice

    1. Were the sacrifices that Ruby and Julius Kane made inevitable? Was there another way they could have accomplished their goals?
    2. Which of the gods do you think has sacrificed the most?
    3. What sorts of sacrifices happen in the book? Sure, people give up their lives for what they believe in, but what else?
    4. What do you think Sadie and Carter would have sacrificed to have their parents back in the beginning of the novel versus at the end of the novel?

    Chew on This

    The sacrifices Julius and Ruby Kane made were worth it.

    The novel mostly depicts the sacrifices that parents make for their children.

  • The Home

    Home, sweet home. In The Red Pyramid, whether it's a flat in London or a hotel room in Cairo, Sadie and Carter have had really varied experiences of home. But what is home? A physical location, or any place where you belong? Do you have to feel comfortable taking off your boots at night, or can any rest stop fulfill the role of home in your life?

    If you think Sadie and Carter would answer the question of "what is home" differently, just imagine what the various Egyptian gods would say. Home is a prison in the Duat, anyone? No wonder the gods are so happy to return to the mortal world!

    Questions About The Home

    1. Who seems to have the easier home life at the novel's start, Sadie or Carter? Why?
    2. How do the home lives of Isis and Horus parallel the home lives of their mortal hosts, if at all?
    3. Which of the magicians' homes in the book would you want to live in? Why?
    4. Magicians and gods don't seem too bothered by national boundaries. What do they seem to base their idea of home on, if not allegiance to a country?

    Chew on This

    Sadie and Carter are so temperamental that they have to want to share a home; they're not at home together just because they're siblings.

    Home is where the heart is, but only if you're a mortal.

  • Religion

    Don't let all the cool magic powers in The Red Pyramid make you forget that the basis for the very idea of magic and magicians comes from the ancient Egyptian religion. Religion in this sense is basically a set of guidelines for how to live, how to die, and how to interact with the natural (and supernatural) forces that surround you. The fact that ancient Egyptian religion is polytheistic—it has a lot of gods—and is not based on a single sacred text—like the Bible or the Quran—means that it can be more open to interpretation than some modern religions you might already be familiar with. Add to this mix the author's creative spin on religion, and you're in for a wild ride.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Sadie and Carter obviously enter the story with different levels of knowledge about ancient Egyptian religion. Who has it better?
    2. Why are most magicians so opposed to worshiping gods?
    3. What do the myths about the gods reveal about ancient Egyptian culture?
    4. How did the book's take on Egyptian religion change or challenge what you already knew—or thought you knew—about the religion?

    Chew on This

    Religion and magic are two sides of the same coin in The Red Pyramid.

    Egyptian religion is like a choose-your-own-adventure book, except it's a choose-your-own-god-to-worship adventure.

  • Revenge

    Dude, what is up with ancient Egyptian gods and revenge?

    In The Red Pyramid, it's like they get stuck in these cycles of "you hit me, so I'll hit you back"—but, like, for centuries at a time. Very mature of them, wouldn't you agree? Maybe everyone just needs to take a chill pill or do a guided meditation or something like that in order to let go of all these grudges that have been accumulating for millennia. It seems to us that if they keep going with this "eye for an eye" retribution agenda, they'll run out of eyes to poke out. And Horus is already down one.

    Questions About Revenge

    1. Who do you think has the most extreme desire for revenge in the book? Why?
    2. How does "an eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind" apply to the characters' actions in the book?
    3. Does the idea of revenge seem more closely tied to order or chaos? Why?
    4. How do Sadie and Carter respond to the gods' notions of vengeance?

    Chew on This

    The main stories of Egyptian mythology are all motivated by vengeance.

    Revenge is actually an expression of power: once you get power, you exercise it over those who prevented you from having power earlier.

  • Memory and the Past

    When we're talking about ancient Egypt, we're talking about the way distant past. It's not as distant as you might think, though, since it's still alive and kicking in the form of magicians, gods, and demons.

    This is a pain in the butt for Carter and Sadie in The Red Pyramid, since they'd thought everything their dad did as an archaeologist was firmly stuck in the past and not relevant to the present or future. Boy, have they got a lot to learn.

    At the same time, the memory of the past is important to the book. As Sadie and Carter uncover pieces of their family's history and sync up with the memories of the gods they host, they become more powerful and able to fulfill their destiny—which, as you might have guessed by now, also has to do with the past. Basically, it is always past o'clock in this book.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. How do Carter and Sadie have differing relationships with the past? How do their relationships with the past change over the course of the book?
    2. Imagine being immortal. How would that change your perception of time and memory?
    3. How do Sadie and Carter draw strength from their memories?
    4. Imagine that you're a historian for the House of Life. What would your job entail? How would the House's changing stance on issues like the gods complicate your job?

    Chew on This

    Clinging too closely to the past has more negative than positive effects.

    If you rob someone of memories, you rob that person of his or her identity.

  • Language and Communication

    Hieroglyphs, man. So awesome.

    Since the Egyptians are as famous for their writing system as they are for their pyramids, it makes sense that language would figure prominently in The Red Pyramid. And then we find out that language is magic. How cool is that? Words have power, yo, and not just for linguists, but for anyone who can master the Divine Words that compose reality. Sign us up.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Why is Sadie able to pick up on hieroglyphs sooner than Carter is?
    2. Which magician would you say uses language most effectively? Why?
    3. Why is the Rosetta Stone so important to both linguists and magicians?
    4. Besides English, which languages are featured prominently in the book? When is translation an issue?

    Chew on This

    Anything a magician can verbalize will manifest.

    The legacy of ancient Egypt is most apparent in its language.