Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Themes
The three main themes in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief are hidden qualities, loyalty and friendship, and cleverness.
- Hidden qualities: Percy, who is often underestimated and even labeled a delinquent, turns out to possess the abilities of a demigod and the qualities of a hero.
- Loyalty and friendship: Annabeth goes from seeing Percy as a rival to considering him a friend, ultimately choosing to remain loyal to her friends rather than to others’ expectations.
- Cleverness: Percy and his friends must be not only brave but also clever and wise in order to defeat their enemies.
Last Updated on August 5, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 873
Percy Jackson has been diagnosed with both ADHD and dyslexia, and when he goes missing, his stepfather reports to the media that Percy is a delinquent. At first, it seems like Percy is a hopeless student, failing all of his classes and accidentally destroying school buses when he goes on field trips. Even though Percy struggles to succeed in his classes, he is hardly worthless. In fact, what no one realizes is that Percy is in fact a hero.
When Percy begins to discover his abilities as a demigod at Half-Blood Hill, he is again underestimated. In particular, Annabeth struggles to believe in Percy’s abilities to save the world from the coming war between Zeus and Poseidon. Yet over time, it turns out that Percy contains hidden qualities that no one has fully appreciated. He not only recovers the lightning bolt, but also discovers that Kronos is plotting against the Olympians.
Percy’s mother also has hidden worth. On paper, Percy’s mother is a high school drop-out. However, she dropped out of school to care for her ailing uncle. Percy’s mother now lives with an abusive husband, Gabe Ugliano. Readers later learn that Gabe’s “smell” is so strongly human that he repels monsters from Percy. Percy’s mother has endured a great deal to protect her son, and although she may not seem very successful, Poseidon describes her as a “queen among women.” By the end of the novel, Percy’s mother turns Gabe into a statue using Medusa’s head, sells the statue for a small fortune, and enrolls in a university so that she can become a writer.
Finally, Grover also follows a similar character arc. Although he failed to save Thalia, it turns out that he did so in order to save both Luke and Annabeth. While some of Grover’s peers doubt his courage, he stands by Percy’s side in fights against the Furies as well as against Medusa. In fact, Grover accompanies Percy all the way to the underworld. While Grover may seem like a mere comic-relief character, he possesses hidden qualities of bravery and loyalty.
By employing a wide variety of characters that possess hidden qualities, Riordan is speaking directly to young adult readers. The main quest in The Lightning Thief is created to inspire children to believe in themselves and to develop their potential, regardless of labels. Indeed, when Percy is about to meet Hades, Poseidon’s servants advise that he believe in himself, for Hades’s strategy is often to make people doubt who they are and what they can do.
Loyalty and Friendship
Among the hidden qualities that Riordan most strongly values in The Lightning Thief are loyalty and friendship. When Annabeth first learns that Percy is the son of Poseidon, she is inclined to consider him a competitor. After all, Poseidon and Athena are traditional rivals. For much of the novel, Percy and Annabeth are, therefore, rivals. She even calls him "seaweed-brain."
However, over time, Annabeth begins to trust Percy and his instincts. Further, she learns to value her friendship with Percy over what she feels is expected of her. While considering whether the gods will go to war, Annabeth declares that she will take whatever side Percy takes. This is significant because up to this point, she would have taken whatever side Athena took. Instead of staying loyal to what she thinks is expected of her, Annabeth chooses to stay loyal to her friends.
In contrast to Annabeth, all characters that reject loyalty and friendship are cast as villains. Percy’s first enemy in the novel is Bobofitt, a girl who bullies Percy and Grover. Although...
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he is used as a pawn, Ares is also cast as a villain for choosing to betray the Olympians. More concerning is the treachery of Luke. When it is revealed that Luke has allied himself with Kronos, Percy is shocked. By taking this course, Luke has betrayed his friends and his father, Hermes. He has turned his back on everything around him. When Luke leaves, he is portrayed as a malicious outcast capable of preying upon helpless mortals with his new sword, Backbiter.
Annabeth points out that the strength and aggression of Ares must sometimes bow down to wisdom. Although the Ancient Greeks valued strength and bravery, they also valued cleverness, which was embodied by their greatest hero, Odysseus, the protagonist of the Odyssey. Odysseus’s patron god was Athena, and he was an unusual hero in that he overthrew his enemies through a cunning intellect. Although Percy does not meet Athena, he is accompanied by Athena’s daughter, Annabeth—and Annabeth always has a plan. Percy too begins to come up with increasingly clever solutions in order to defeat his enemies.
Care for the Environment
Grover’s character highlights the human tendency to abuse and destroy the environment. Repeatedly, Grover bemoans the garbage and litter that he and his friends encounter while on Percy’s quest across America. Further, Grover’s dream is to seek out Pan, the god of the wild. Legend has it that Pan died when humanity began to destroy the environment. Grover’s quest symbolically conveys Riordan’s call for environmentally responsible choices.