Throughout Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Percy is troubled by frightening dreams. In what ways do those dreams increase the tension in the story? Is their menace completely resolved by the end of the story.
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In Rick Riordan’s novel Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, dreams are a vital form of escape for Percy. Percy comes from a broken home, his real father an unknown figure and his stepfather, Gabe Ugliano, a pathetic and physically abusive figure, his surname representative of the ugliness of his physical appearance and of his soul. On top of the dysfunctional home-life to which 12-year-old Percy subjected, he is exiled to a boarding school and he suffers from learning disabilities that have impeded his ability to learn on par with his classmates (“I have dyslexia and attention deficit disorder and I had never made above a C- in my life”). While he has a couple of friends, notably, Grover and, to a lesser extent, Annabeth, his, for all intents and purposes, a loner. His escape from reality and the impotence that renders him incapable of shaping his environment, at least for the positive, and the only realm in which he can exact any form of justice, is by retreating to the world of gods and goddesses, specifically, to the figures from ancient Greek mythology. Those escapes from reality take place in his imagination. “Had I imagined the whole thing?” he asks himself early in the story following his slaying of the horrifying creature representing his hostile math teacher, Mrs. Dodds. To compensate for the absence of a loving, present father, Percy imagines he is the son of Poseidon, the mythical and exceptionally powerful god of the seas, a figure who torments the great Odysseus throughout Homer’s The Odyssey.
Percy’s imagination propels his story through a series of minor and not-so-minor adventures as Riordan’s novel reaches its conclusion. His stepfather, Gabe, emerges as an increasingly venal character, and Percy’s inability to confront this particular demon and protect his mother results in yet another descent into the deepest reaches of his imagination. “Whatever else you do, know that you are mine. You are a true son of the Sea God,” he imagines his “father” Poseidon telling him. In the following passage, Percy, discussing with his mother Gabe’s physical abuse of her, contemplates the powers he imagines at his disposal, and whether he has the right and responsibility to protect his mother from this evil presence:
“That's what a Greek hero would do in the stories, I thought. That's what Gabe deserves.
“But a hero's story always ended in tragedy. Poseidon had told me that.
“I remembered the Underworld. I thought about Gabe's spirit drifting forever in the Fields of Asphodel, or condemned to some hideous torture behind the barbed wire of the Fields of Punishment-an eternal poker game, sitting up to his waist in boiling oil listening to opera music. Did I have the right to send someone there? Even Gabe?”
As The Lightning Thief approaches its conclusion, Percy’s mother, Sally, succeeds in finding the courage to extricate herself from the miserable existence she has endured with Gabe, with the latter’s fate left to the reader’s imagination. Percy’s story, however, ends inconclusively. This is not surprising, given the fact that The Lightning Thief is but one in a series of novels featuring Percy.
Percy’s dreams and imaginings increase the tension in the story as an integral component of conventional story-telling. The novel’s inconclusive ending, however, robs the sequences of the kind of resolution that one normally anticipates. Percy’s successful destruction of the pit scorpion at the end represents a triumph of adversity, but the boy understands that it constitutes only more obstacle on the road down which he is traveling.
Riordan's Lightning Thief had shown dreams to foreshadow the following events, giving Percy hints about the next big task. The dreams increase the tension by confusing him so he doesn't know what has to be done. The menace is never completely gone as they need balance in the story. When there's a protagonist, there always has to be an antagonist.
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