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 remember Mrs. Dodds, and Percy is left wondering if the attack was an illusion.
(The entire section is 1240 words.)