An action-adventure story aimed at middle school readers, Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief adapts the stories of Greek mythology for a contemporary setting. The journey taken by Percy Jackson—the novel's protagonist—is fast-paced, heroic, and ultimately more relevant than modern readers might at first expect.
After Zeus defeated his father Kronos and the Titans, he and the Olympians made their seat of power in Greece, the heart of Western civilization. Over the last two thousand years, that seat of power has moved from Greece to America. Now, Olympus is found on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building, while the gate to the underworld is located in Los Angeles. Unable to act directly against each other, the gods squabble indirectly by influencing human affairs.
The monsters of Greek mythology still exist as well. Although the Minotaur and Medusa were destroyed by Theseus and Perseus, respectively, they eventually returned to pursue and kill other warriors. Heroes—demigods, or “half-bloods”—that can fight these monsters continue to be born and receive heroic quests. Hercules’s trainer, the centaur Chiron, still trains demigods in a private camp found at Half-Blood Hill. Among his counselors is Mr. D, or Dionysus. At Mr. D’s command is a host of satyrs, creatures that are half-man and half-goat. Chiron and the satyrs not only train half-bloods to be heroes, but search for and try to protect them when they are young. Monsters, however, are attracted to the scent of half-bloods, so most demigods are killed before adolescence.
Menacing though these monsters may be, they cannot compete with the gods for troublemaking. It is revealed in the novel that World War II was actually fought between the children of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades—the gods of the sky, sea, and underworld,...
(The entire section is 1240 words.)
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Chapters 1-4 Summary
Percy Jackson has had a difficult life. He has been diagnosed with attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, and he has been expelled from several schools—once for firing a cannon during a field trip. Percy and his best friend, Grover, are on their way to another field trip when Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief begins. When Percy gets into trouble on the trip, his teacher, Mrs. Dodds, takes him aside. When they are alone, Mrs. Dodds turns into a gigantic, leathery creature and attacks him. Percy’s wheelchair-bound Latin teacher, Mr. Brunner, tosses a pen to him. In Percy’s hands, the pen turns into a sword, and he defeats his monstrous teacher. However, when Percy returns to class, no one else claims to have any memory of Mrs. Dodds; their teacher is Mrs. Kerr, whom Percy now meets. Percy is expelled from this school. As he leaves, Mr. Brunner claims that it will be for the best.
Before he can return home from upstate New York, Percy sees three monsters holding a ball of string. They cut the string in half. When Percy mentions this, Grover rushes him onto the bus. Along the way, he claims that he is meant to protect Percy, which is ironic because Percy usually considers himself Grover’s defender. Nevertheless, Grover makes Percy promise to stick by him. However, when Grover stops to use the washroom, Percy sets off on his own.
Percy is unhappy with his home life. He is devoted to his mother, but he has never met his father. Percy hates his step-father—the cigar-smoking, poker-playing Gabe Ugliano. Gabe even takes Percy’s cash so he can gamble with it. When his mother comes home, she tells Percy that they are going to go stay in a cabin on the beach in Montauk. At first, the trip is delightful, but things start to go wrong quickly. Grover, who is actually a satyr, finds Percy and his mother. Another monster is about to attack. Percy’s mother collects the boys and they drive away. She is taking Percy to a safe place.
Their trip is interrupted when they are attacked by the Minotaur. Grover is knocked unconscious during the attack. They are now alone in the outdoors with this monster. It cannot see or hear very well, but once it catches a person’s scent, it will charge. There is a flash of light and Percy’s mother disappears. In retaliation, Percy attacks the Minotaur, clambers onto its shoulders, and manages to tear off one of its horns. Percy uses the horn to the...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Chapters 5-7 Summary
When Percy wakes up, he is unsure of his whereabouts, but he sees that his wounds are being cared for. When he is free to walk about, he learns that he is in a summer camp. Mr. Brunner is there as well. The camp director is Mr. D, who enjoys playing pinochle. They explain to Percy that the Greek gods are real. Mr. D is in fact Dionysus, the god of wine. The mythical monsters are real as well; unless Percy wants to continue facing them, he will have to stay in the camp.
Mr. Brunner reveals that he is actually Chiron, a centaur who trains heroes. He takes Percy to his new home: a bunk in Cabin 11. There he meets Luke, an impressive and confident young man with a scar on his face. Luke welcomes Percy. He explains that Cabin 11’s patron, Hermes, welcomes travelers. Until they learn who Percy’s father is, he will stay in Cabin 11. Percy is led away and introduced to the camp by Annabeth, who is the daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom and battle. She explains to Percy that he does not look very impressive, but there is talk that Percy may be the “one.”
Percy is still struggling to believe that the Greek myths are real. The gods now live in New York because it is the heart of Western Civilization. Annabeth explains that Percy is a demigod, or “half-blood,” and that until he gets older, he will train here at Camp Half-Blood. Annabeth has been at Camp Half-Blood longer than anyone else has, and she is eager to return to the real world and to prove herself. Unfortunately, she will only be allowed to do this if she is granted a quest.
It seems that Percy has found a new school in which to study. However, he knows that there is always someone in a new school that will bully the new kid. At Camp Half-Blood, that bully is Clarisse, a daughter of Ares. Clarisse drags Percy into the girls’ bathroom. However, when they get there, something strange happens. Percy feels an unexpected “tug” in his stomach. Before he knows what is happening, the toilets empty their contents on Clarisse, who is forced to endure the onslaught of water and sewage. As Percy walks away, Annabeth explains that she wants Percy on her team for the coming game of Capture of the Flag.
(The entire section is 402 words.)
Chapters 8-10 Summary
Percy begins to learn more about his world now that he knows the Greek gods are real. Grover explains that many of the great conflicts that have happened in the West have been due to the half-blood progeny of the gods. After World War II, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades swore on the River Styx that they would not have children with mortals again because of this. So far, Zeus has slipped once, and his daughter Thalia died because of it. But the other Olympians have made no commitment and have not stopped having children, which is why Camp Half-Blood exists and why Keepers like Grover do their best to protect the half-blood children. Grover, who is charged with protecting Percy, has yet to succeed or fail in his task.
This week, the campers will play Capture the Flag, and Annabeth has teamed up with Cabin 11 against Clarisse and her allies. During his hero training, Percy has demonstrated some skill in swordsmanship and canoeing, but he is otherwise a mediocre addition to the team. Before the games begin, Annabeth tasks Percy with border patrol next to a lake before she and Luke set off in search of the flag. Clarisse and Ares’s other children gang up on Percy and begin attacking him ruthlessly. However, when Percy is backed into the lake, he feels a new sense of strength and awareness and defeats all of his attackers. Annabeth, who was wearing a Yankees cap to become invisible, reveals herself. Percy realizes that he was used as bait to distract Clarisse so Annabeth’s team could win the game. Annabeth explains that Athena “always, always has a plan.”
As Percy stands in the water before Chiron and the campers, a hellhound appears and attacks Percy. Chiron’s speedy archery saves Percy’s life. A glowing trident appears above Percy’s head. Percy is the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea. This complicates things: Poseidon is not supposed to have a son, and Zeus’s “master bolt” has recently been stolen. It is a weapon with the power to level mountains, and now that it has been revealed that Poseidon has a son, Zeus will consider Percy the most likely suspect for the theft. If Poseidon and Zeus go to war, the consequences could be catastrophic. Chiron proposes that Percy consult the Oracle and take on a quest. The Oracle delivers this prophecy:
You will go west, and face the god who has turned.
You shall find what was stolen, and see it safely returned.
You shall be...
(The entire section is 650 words.)
Chapters 11-13 Summary
Percy, Grover, and Annabeth have just escaped the Furies, and now they are traveling across America through the woods. Their walking is interrupted when they come across the Garden Gnome Emporium, which has many startling lifelike status. It also smells deliciously of hamburgers. The hungry heroes enter the emporium and meet Auntie Em, who offers to take care of them even though they have no money. As they settle down to eat, Grover warns that something smells like monsters, but Annabeth and Percy are too hungry to care. Before they leave, they learn that Auntie Em is really Medusa, and by Percy’s swordsmanship and Annabeth’s quick planning they manage to slay the monster. Percy mails Medusa’s head to the Olympians.
As they continue to make their way through the woods, Grover laments over the environmental degradation everywhere around them. He explains that Pan, the great god of the woods, disappeared two thousand years ago and that humans have desecrated the wild ever since. It turns out that Grover risks his life protecting heroes so he can become a Seeker. To seek Pan is not an idle quest, particularly as every satyr who has taken on the search has disappeared.
That night Percy has a dream. In retrospect, Percy thinks that the dream is a message from Hades, asking him to help him rise. However, the next morning, Annabeth suggests that their facts are not adding up. She recalls that the Furies did not seem very aggressive during their attack on the bus. In fact, they were looking for an “it” rather than a “him.” Things may not be what they seem on their quest.
Certainly the emotions of Annabeth and Percy are not what they seem. Percy claims not to care what Poseidon thinks, but Grover suggests that the reason Percy sent Medusa’s head to the gods was to make his father proud of him. Annabeth has a similarly difficult relationship with her father, who viewed her birth as a distraction from his work. Later, after he married another woman, Annabeth’s father and step-mother were cold to her because she attracted monsters. Annabeth ran away when she was seven, and she was only able to reach Camp Half-Blood because her mother guided her to join a group of heroes led by Grover. But one of those heroes died defending the others. Still, although Annabeth pretends not to care about her father, Percy notes that she wears a token in his memory on her necklace.
Grover helps the heroes leave...
(The entire section is 590 words.)
Chapters 14-16 Summary
Percy has escaped Echidna and Chimera by jumping off the Gateway Arch. When he lands in water, his wounds are healed. He also has a vision in which a woman tells him to go to Santa Monica. However, in the aftermath, it is clear even to mortals that something has happened. One reporter is suggesting that a young man matching the description of Percy Jackson—who ran away from home, ruined his step-father’s car and destroyed a bus—may be involved. Percy has become a fugitive.
Annabeth suggests that they attempt to contact Chiron by creating a rainbow with a water gun and then asking the goddess Iris to relay their message. However, they instead contact Luke. Things are not going well at Camp Half-Blood. In fact, it looks like it is going to be the Trojan War all over again. Athena has sided with Zeus, and Apollo, Artemis, and Ares have sided with Poseidon. When Percy shares his doubts that Hades is responsible for the theft, Luke agrees that Hades had to be the thief because he could have used his helm of darkness, which grants him invisibility, to steal the master bolt. Annabeth, who can turn invisible with her Yankees cap, could have stolen the bolt, but Luke says she would not do such a thing.
Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are out of money, but they still need to eat. They enter a diner but have no money. They are about to be turned away when a stranger offers to buy their meal. It is Ares, the god of war; he has shotguns on his motorcycle and fiery eyes that look like tiny nuclear explosions. Ares asks Percy to do a small job for him: to retrieve his shield from a nearby park. Although Percy dislikes Ares immediately, he agrees to help because the god offers to provide the young heroes with food and transport—and tell Percy about his mother.
Ares and his girlfriend Aphrodite, the goddess of love, were together in the Tunnel of Love ride. However, Aphrodite is married to Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, and Annabeth explains that he once trapped Ares and Aphrodite in a net so the gods could laugh at them. Percy and Annabeth see the shield and proceed to pick it up, setting off another trap. There are mechanical spiders, thin threads of metal that make a net, and cameras with a live feed to Olympus. However, Percy and Annabeth escape and they return to shield to Ares. Ares gives them a backpack filled with food and gold, points out a truck that is transporting animals to Las Vegas, and explains that...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
Chapters 17-19 Summary
Annabeth offers a taxi driver LotusCash if he will drive them to Los Angeles. The taxi driver immediately speeds the young heroes West to Santa Monica. Percy sees the Pacific and marvels at the sea. He then meets the Nereid, a spirit of the sea, that spoke to him when he jumped off the Gateway Arch. She offers him three pearls that will allow him to escape the underworld.
Percy and his friends proceed, but when they are attacked by mortal thugs, they are forced to escape into a store. The owner, Crusty, approaches and tries to sell them beds. Crusty’s beds are made with great skill, but when Grover and Annabeth lie down on them, Crusty says “ergo” and the beds turn into traps. Percy realizes this is Procrustes; he tricks the salesman into demonstrating how comfortable his bed is by lying down in one. Percy says “ergo” and traps Procrustes before slaying him. They find a book of yellow pages for the Greek gods and monsters and use it to find the underworld. They make bribe Charon to let them enter the underworld. Then they face Cerberus. Before the three-headed dog attacks, Annabeth throws a red rubber ball and begins her “obedience school.” With Cerberus subdued, they proceed into the underworld.
Before they go far, Grover’s magical shoes begin to fly him toward a distant pit. Percy recognizes it as the pit he has seen in his dreams. He can feel evil emanating from the pit; this is something even older than the gods. There is a voice chanting, and Percy thinks it sounds like magic. Before Grover is taken to his death, he manages to slip his hooves out of the shoes. Percy now leads his friends on, though he notices that his backpack suddenly feels heavier.
When Percy meets Hades, the lord of the underworld, he is struck by the god’s power. However, he manages to stay calm and asks Hades to return Zeus’s master bolt, which enrages the god. Hades explains that he is actually missing his helm of darkness, which he thinks that Percy stole. Now he demands that Percy return the helm and surrender the master bolt, which has appeared in Percy’s backpack. In return, Hades will return Percy’s mother. Percy realizes they have been tricked. There are only three pearls, so Percy decides to use the three magic pearls to escape the underworld with Annabeth and Grover—he will find another way to rescue his mother. When they return to the surface, Percy discovers that Los Angeles has been wracked by a...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapters 20-22 Summary
Hades is about to start his war. Percy is standing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and sees Ares in the distance. It seems like the god of war has orchestrated this upheaval. Percy confronts the god, who reveals that he has Hades’s helm of darkness. Percy challenges Ares to a duel, and the helm and the master bolt will go to the winner. It is a difficult fight, and it attracts the attention of the mortal police. Using the power of the ocean, Percy stabs Ares’s ankle, and this wins him both the fight and Hades’s helm. He returns the helm to the Furies, who take it to Hades. The police recognize Percy as the fugitive from New York. Percy says he was abducted and swears that the only thing he wants is to return to New York to be with his step-father.
When Percy arrives in New York, he returns the master bolt to Zeus, who rewards Percy by deciding not to kill him. When Percy suggests that Kronos has orchestrated this entire dispute, Zeus refuses to listen and declares the matter closed. He then leaves in a flash of lightning, leaving Percy alone with his father, Poseidon, in Olympus. Poseidon explains that he is proud of Percy and that Hades has released his mother in return for his helm of darkness. It is clear that he will never join Percy and his mother in New York. However, he has left something for Percy in New York.
Back in his mother’s home, Percy realizes that Gabe has hit his mother at some point. When he goes to his room, he finds the head of Medusa, which was returned to sender. He offers to use the head to free his mother from Gabe, but he realizes that his mother is independent. She can save herself. Percy returns to Camp Half-Blood and leaves the head with his mother. She turns Gabe into a statue and uses the proceeds of its sale to enroll in university. She also obtains a spot for Percy at a private school that fall.
Back at Camp Half-Blood, Percy is forced to choose what he will do in the fall: enroll at Camp Half-Blood year round or go to private school. He is unable to come to a decision. Percy goes to practice with his sword and sees Luke, who is using a sword with one celestial bronze edge and one steel edge. Its name is Backbiter and it can be used against gods, monsters, and mortals, which seems wrong to Percy. The two go into the woods and Luke attempts to kill Percy with a scorpion. Before he does so, he explains how he stole the master bolt for Kronos, lost it to Ares, and later...
(The entire section is 558 words.)