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, respectively. After the war ended, these three most powerful gods swore that they would never again have children with mortals. Since then, Zeus has slipped up once. Although Zeus was not punished, his daughter Thalia was killed by Hades’s forces. Today, Zeus and Poseidon are in conflict. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen. Zeus accuses Poseidon of the theft and gives him until the summer solstice to return the master bolt. If the lightning bolt cannot be found, a cataclysmic war will be waged between the gods of the sea and the sky.
As the novel opens, Percy Jackson is twelve years old. He has never met his father, he hates his abusive stepfather, and he adores his mother. Diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, Percy has trouble behaving in school, especially on field trips. Percy now attends Yancy School for Troubled Kids in upstate New York. The only class that catches his interest is Mr. Brunner’s Greek mythology course, and his one friend is Grover. When Mrs. Dodds, his pre-algebra teacher, turns into a winged monster and attacks him, Percy is only just able to escape with his life. Afterward, no one can...
(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 defeat the monster before dragging Grover into the woods.
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.
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 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....
(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...
(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...
(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...
(The entire section is 558 words.)