The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

~~Moved from GR~~

 

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)

 

 

by  Rick Riordan 

 

What would you get if Harry Potter and that Disney animated Hercules movie had a lovechild?

Percy Jackson, that's what.

 

     + = 


There's apparently a movie, just to complete the cycle.

The start of our story is a familiar one: Percy Jackson is a troubled tween with a tendency to cause peculiar things to happen around him. He's never known his father--his mother tells him he vanished on a long sea voyage, and she remarried an obnoxious lout that Percy detests. When he returns home after being expelled from his fifth or sixth school, Percy discovers that the weirdness isn't in his imagination: as one might guess from the title, the Greek gods are all too real, and the not-so-mythical monsters are showing far too much interest in poor Percy. He escapes to a magical summer camp run by a short, chubby, and generally apoplectic fellow where child demigods are trained into heroes.

So ya wanna be a hero, kid, well, whoop-de-doo

There's a hero-training summer camp for god-kids just like you...

This summer camp--Camp Halfblood--splits the children into various personality-defining houses cabins, is surrounded by a sometimes monster-infested forbidden forest, and has dangerous games in which the children from different cabins are pitted against one another. While at summer camp, Percy is mentored by a wise professor and joins forces with an ever-hungry comic-relief sidekick and an extremely intelligent and scholarly female friend. But don't dismiss this as another Harry Potter ripoff: Percy is barely getting used to school life when things really start getting interesting: Zeus's most magical lightning bolt has gone missing, and Percy is a prime suspect. To clear his name, he starts out on a quest to recover the bolt himself. His quest swiftly transforms into a roadtrip across America, and Percy discovers that the magic of Olympus is all around him: people from all walks of life, from store owners to beatneck bikers, turn out to be gods and mythical monsters, all determined to stop Percy in his tracks.

I will beat the odds

I can go the distance

I will face the world

Fearless, proud and strong

I will please the gods

I can go the distance

Till I find my hero's welcome

Right where I belong!

Percy Jackson is a very entertaining read, with the added benefit that kids will definitely learn some Greek mythology along the way. I enjoyed Riordan's transpositions of the various Greek myths into the present day. If the entrance to Hades' realm was somewhere in America, where would it be? What sort of form would present-day lotus eaters take on in our video-game and entertainment-addicted society? What school subject would a fury teach? Although I think Riordan could have stretched the metaphors a little more--personally, I would have made Procrustes a politician or welfare-distributor rather than a waterbed salesman--I was constantly entertained by the mythical characters who popped up in their American disguises. If you end up in Riordan's world, though, here's one takeaway message: be very, very afraid of little old ladies.

[Seriously, I think every little old lady they ran across was a monster: gorgons, Echidna, the fates, the furies... ]

(show spoiler)





The basic plot Greek myths themselves, are rather Disneyized; the images and characterizations from the old animate Hercules movie get you pretty close to Riordan's reinterpretation. The story also sticks with the Disneyized version of Hades and his realm; personally, I don't get what people have against him. The only time he ever comes across as evil was that whole Persephone fiasco, and Zeus, with his whole swan, bull, eagle, and beam of light nonsense, has done a lot worse.


You'll also guess the Big Bad and his accomplices rather quickly. This is one way in which the story definitely falls short of the Harry Potter books: even though it is more obviously intended to be a mystery, the solution is dead obvious far before Percy catches on. It's also a very light read and doesn't tackle any significant themes, so it is probably geared for young readers even more than the Potter series. Riordan's assumption that "Western civilization" somehow was equivalent to "civilization," and repeated assertions that America is the current heart of "Western civilization," was gratingly arrogant and obnoxious. Way to reinforce all the stereotypes about Americans, Mr. Riordan.

[I also disliked the ending. There's a big song and dance about what a good person the mother is, and how terrible it would be to kill a mortal, then guess what happens? With apparently no regrets? Pick one way or the other: either it's ok to kill mortals with absolutely no regrets, or it's not. ]

(show spoiler)

However, on the positive side, Percy makes for an engaging narrator and his sidekicks are entertaining characters. Personally, I think Grover is a much nicer and more likeable character than Ron Weasley.

I have to admit, I missed the singing narration by the muses, but otherwise, I thought that Percy Jackson was a light, well-done, imaginative, and entertaining story. If you loved the Harry Potter books and are looking for something to fill the gap, brush up on your Greek mythology and take a look at Percy and his adventures. About 3.5 stars and two thumbs up.

 

Here was a kid with his act down pat

From zero to hero in no time flat

Zero to hero just like that!