Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Literary Significance and Criticism - Essay

Rick Riordan

Literary Significance and Criticism

With The Lightning Thief, Riordan has garnered both critical and commercial success. The novel is included on numerous “best of" lists for 2005, including those of the New York Times and School Library Journal. Riordan also won the Mark Twain Award, which is given to authors who write for school children.

The Lightning Thief initially received a great deal of recognition for its plotting and pace. Indeed, much of Riordan’s acclaim has come from school library associations that praise the book because its story manages to captivate reluctant readers. Percy’s struggle to solve the mystery of the lightning thief is gripping, and little time is spent between one battle and the next.

Perhaps Riordan’s greatest success is his nearly effortless revision of Ancient Greek myths into a modern setting. Medusa sells garden gnomes, Procrustes sells water beds, and Dionysus makes cherry cola. Fortunately too, Riordan is not against having fun at his subject’s expense: when the Minotaur attacks, it is wearing bright white briefs. While The Lightning Thief is a thrilling action-adventure story, it is balanced by a great deal of humor that appeals to younger readers.

However, Riordan’s dedication to pacing and humor comes at the cost of characterization. No character in The Lightning Thief experiences very strong emotions, including Percy, a boy who was abandoned by his father and who witnesses his mother’s death. At Half-Blood Hill, none of the abandoned children endures any emotional distress at being left by their parents to be chased by mythological monsters. To his credit, however, Riordan has chosen an unusually engaging protagonist in Percy, a child diagnosed with both ADHD and dyslexia. For many children, those learning disabilities are serious impediments to academic success, but for Percy, they are symptoms of his demigod status. Riordan has stated that he was inspired to create Percy when his son was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD.

The Lightning Thief has become one of the most successful young adult books of the twenty-first century. Proclaimed by many as the “next Harry Potter” for young readers (perhaps in part because the plot structure strongly recalls J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series), The Lightning Thief was adapted into a film in 2010.