Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

by Rick Riordan

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How do Percy's experiences align with "The Hero's Journey" in The Lightning Thief?

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Percy's journey reflects the archetypal hero's journey in many ways. It starts out with a young, naive innocent who believes they are simply ordinary prior to being chosen by some supernatural event. Percy has no knowledge of his abilities until his teacher reveals himself to be a mythical Fury, who attacks him.

Percy, who is the child of a single parent, loses his mother along the journey—and being abandoned or orphaned is a common component of the journey. Percy learns soon that his father is one of the Gods of Olympus, and that he must learn to use his powers as a demigod.

He goes to the camp of half-bloods, other demigods, and has to learn to control and use his powers—under the tutelage of a wise mentor. Unfortunately, when he is tasked with setting out on his true journey to accomplish his goal, his mentor is unable to accompany him.

The Hero's Journey typically culminates with the hero coming into their own right at the pivotal or climactic moment - just prior to or during the major battle. Percy also undergoes an Ordeal, a major challenge that helps awaken his powers and strengthens his resolve, as he travels through Hades with his friends. His reluctant acceptance of destiny and coming into true acceptance of his powers are hallmarks of the Hero's Journey.

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Percy begins his journey much like any hero: unaware. Currently his normal world seems full of bad things including his ADHD and dyslexia. His mother is the only normal and consistent thing in his life that he values. All he wants is to do good by her, but he keeps coming up short. This is the "Ordinary World" in the Hero's Journey.

Suddenly his "normal" world is shaken to its core when things out of the ordinary start happening. His "teacher" attacks him, displaying her true nature as a Fury. This act launches him into his destiny and his true identity as a demigod. This is the "Call to Adventure" in the Hero's Journey.

His mother dies along his road to survival. When it is revealed that his father is a god of Olympus, he has to learn how to fight and use what he thought were disabilities to his advantage. His world has just turned completely upside-down. This is called the "Refusal to the Call" in the Hero's Journey.

Mr. Brunner, who was disguised as a teacher, is revealed to be Chiron, a seasoned mentor to various other heroes. He trains and guides Percy along the way. Chiron tells him he has a greater life ahead of him and will do great things that he has yet to even realize. This is called the "Meeting with the Mentor" in the Hero's Journey. 

Percy is claimed by his father, Poseidon. He now has a quest to venture on to procure the lightning bolt belonging to Zeus, something Percy is rumored to have stolen. He takes along with him Annabeth, daughter of Athena, and Grover, a satyr. This is called "Crossing the Threshold" in the Hero's Journey.

Along the quest, the three of them come against Medusa and various monsters. Luke Castellan, a friend of the three, guides them along the way with things he knows here and there. They find themselves going to the realm of Hades, who is more than likely the lightning bolt thief. This is called "Tests, Allies and Enemies" in the Hero's Journey. 

Annabeth, Grover and Percy come across the Chimera guarding Hades. Hades claims Percy stole his Helm of Darkness. He threatens Percy and wants his Helm returned. This is called "The Ordeal" in the Hero's Journey. 

The three manage to escape to LA and it is revealed there that Ares was the mastermind behind the whole thing. Percy challenges Ares to a duel and wins back all the things stolen. Hades receives his Helm and returns Percy's mother (who did not die, but was kidnapped) to NY. Percy and his friends bring the Lightning Bolt back to Zeus, who does not kill him, and he gets back to the camp victorious. He and his friends enjoy the rest of their summer in camp. This is a combination of "The Reward and the Road Back" in the Hero's Journey.

Percy hangs out with Luke, who suddenly turns on him. It is revealed that all along Luke was the thief of both the Lightning Bolt and the Helm of Darkness. He has been working under the orders of Kronos, lord of the Titans. Kronos also manipulated Ares to follow his orders. Luke explains his belief that the gods are poor leaders and it is time for a new reign. When Percy does not agree to join him, Luke tries to kill him. Percy manages to kill the poisonous scorpion Luke sics on him, but it pricks him before it dies. As Percy recovers, he is offered a chance to stay at the camp or go home to be with his mother. He chooses his mother, although he knows the feud with Luke is far from done. This finalizes the Hero's Journey..."The Resurrection and the Return with the Elixir."

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How do Percy Jackson's experiences in chapter eight of The Lightning Thief align with hero's journey archetype?

In chapter 8 of The Lighting Thief, Percy experiences one particular stage of the Hero's Journey. While none of the things he faces in this chapter are as great as the challenges he will face later, the trials nonetheless do represent minor variations on stage 6: tests, allies, and enemies.

In stage 6, the hero encounters new allies and obstacles that they must align with and overcome, respectively. This is also the stage where the hero learns the rules of the special world that he has entered. For Percy, this consists of his daily training at Camp Half-Blood, in which he finds tests (trying to keep up with wood nymphs in racing), allies (Annabeth teaches him Ancient Greek, Chiron attempts to teach him archery) and enemies (Clarisse destroys him in wrestling). He also expresses his frustration with the other challenges that he encounters:

I knew the senior campers and counselors were watching me, trying to decide who my dad was, but they weren't having an easy time of it. I wasn't as strong as the Ares kids, or as good at archery as the Apollo kids. I didn't have Hephaestus's skill with metalwork or— gods forbid—Dionysus's way with vine plants. Luke told me I might be a child of Hermes, a kind of jack-of-all-trades, master of none. But I got the feeling he was just trying to make me feel better. He really didn't know what to make of me either.

Luke ends up serving a dual purpose, as in this moment he appears to be an ally. He teaches Percy how to sword fight and appears to be one of Percy's biggest cheerleaders. However, he eventually reveals his true self, and becomes Percy's greatest enemy.

During the game of capture the flag, another trial in which Percy is out of his element, he begins to move further through the journey in the special world, and he finds out more information about the hero within. When he finds himself alone against Clarisse and her cabin mates, he is initially overcome by their numbers. However, when he falls into a stream, things begin to change:

He pushed me into the creek and I landed with a splash. They all laughed. I figured as soon as they were through being amused, I would die. But then something happened. The water seemed to wake up my senses, as if I'd just had a bag of my mom's double-espresso jelly beans.

Clarisse and her cabinmates came into the creek to get me, but I stood to meet them. I knew what to do. I swung the flat of my sword against the first guy's head and knocked his helmet clean off. I hit him so hard I could see his eyes vibrating as he crumpled into the water.

Ugly Number Two and Ugly Number Three came at me. I slammed one in the face with my shield and used my sword to shear off the other guy's horsehair plume. Both of them backed up quick. Ugly Number Four didn't look really anxious to attack, but Clarisse kept coming, the point of her spear crackling with energy. As soon as she thrust, I caught the shaft between the edge of my shield and my sword, and I snapped it like a twig.

Through this outcome of this test, Percy gains more insight into who he is and where he comes from. The water revitalizes him, but his true understanding doesn't occur until the very end of the chapter, after he is nearly killed by the hellhound. Percy is badly wounded, and comes close to dying, until Annabeth, having seen how water helped him recover from Clarisse's attack, orders him to get back in the stream:

I stepped back into the creek, the whole camp gathering around me. Instantly, I felt better. I could feel the cuts on my chest closing up. Some of the campers gasped. "Look, I—I don't know why," I said, trying to apologize. "I'm sorry. . . ." But they weren't watching my wounds heal. They were staring at something above my head. "Percy," Annabeth said, pointing. "Turn . . ."

By the time I looked up, the sign was already fading, but I could still make out the hologram of green light, spinning and gleaming. A three-tipped spear: a trident.

. . .

"Poseidon," said Chiron. "Earthshaker, Stormbringer, Father of Horses. Hail, Perseus Jackson, Son of the Sea God."

In a way, this final scene also works as an incomplete example of stage 8: ordeal, as Percy comes close to dying and realizes something about his heritage in the process. It does not function as a true example of ordeal because Percy's salvation comes about by accident. He does not use any knowledge gained to save himself. If anything, it was Annabeth's observations and knowledge that save him. Overall, the trials of the chapter all fall into the confines of stage 6, as Percy's more realized shift to hero is yet to come.



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