Saturday, September 23, 2017

Riordan Retrospective: The Lightning Thief

I've been wanting to review Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series on this blog for quite a while now.  It's one of my absolute favorite book series, and I want to share it with all of you.  However, because of my great love for the series I just can't give it a normal review.  Therefore, I've decided to do a retrospective of Percy Jackson, it's sequel series and its spin-off series.  Think of these less as proper reviews, and more me taking looking back, and sharing my thoughts about one of my favorite series.  Keep in mind, there's no set schedule for these retrospectives.  Then again, keeping a schedule in general isn't exactly one of my strong points.

So, with all of that out of the way, we're going back to the one that started it all.  We're taking a look at The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Olympians book 1.

Percy Jackson is a down on his luck sixth grader.  He tries his best to be a good kid, but for one reason or another, he always gets kicked out of school at the end of the year.  On a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art his math teacher Mrs. Dodds turns into a monster and tries to kill him.  Thankfully, Percy is saved by using a magic pen/sword, given to him by his supercool Latin teacher Mr. Brunner.  Before long, Percy learns that his best friend Grover Underwood is a satyr, Mr. Brunner is the mythical centaur Chiron, and Percy himself is a demigod.  The Greek gods are real and they're currently living in America.

Chiron and Grover take Percy to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods.  A few misadventures later, Percy discovers that his father is Poseidon and that his mother is being held prisoner in the underworld.  Worse still, Zeus' master lightning bolt has gone missing, and Poseidon is the prime suspect.  Percy and Grover, along with a daughter of Athena named Annabeth Chase, must travel across America on a quest to save Percy's mom and stop the impending Olympian civil war.

As I'm sure you can guess by the name of this blog, I am a lover of audiobooks, and I'm forever grateful to for helping provide me with audiobooks.  When I first start my great adventure with Audible, there were two series that really stick out in mind.  The first is Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax series.  The other, of course, is Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

No matter what else happens, I hope that I never lose sight of the fact that it all started with an email.  Back in 2009 I got an email from Barnes and Noble informing me the release of The Last Olympian, the final book in the Percy Jackson series.  At the time, I was on a bit of a Greek Mythology kick, having recently finished Mythology from the Ologies Series.  Intrigued by the title and the cover image, I decided to research Percy Jackson series.  Impress with what I found, and with a spare Audible credit to share, I decided to give the first book a try.

I finished The Lightning Thief with lightning speed.  No matter how much I listened to it, I could never get enough.  It completely revolutionized my view of fantasy books.  Prior to encountering Percy Jackson, I had this image that fantasy could only take place in a far-off magical land, or England.  Then again, from my point of view, England might as well have been a far-off fantasy land.  Now, however, it was like "Hey, that could actually happen!"

Well, I wasn't under any delusions that Greek Mythology was real, or that I might turn out to be a demigod.  What I mean is, the book spoke to my American sensibilities, and I was better able to relate to it than, say, Harry Potter.  One of the most charming things about the Percy Jackson series is the way it seamlessly blends Greek Mythology and modern American culture and geography.  On of my biggest complains about Harry Potter is that Harry has a very bland and forgettable personality, compared with the more colorful side characters.  That's not case with Percy; he's like a young streetwise Hercules who can fight the rising odds.  I adore the snappy dialogue and Percy's observations of the world.  Even in the face of impending doom, he finds ways to wisecrack.

Another aspect that helped was how the demigods have dyslexia.  The in-universe explanation is that their brains' are wired to read Ancient Greek.  Similarly, they all have ADHD, because that's useful when you're in the middle of a battle.

I don't know if I've ever brought this up, but I myself am somewhat dyslexic.  I have what is known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or PDD for short.  It is an autism spectrum disorder that combines aspects of Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Asperger's, Anxiety, Autism and serval other such disorders without being full-blown cases of any of them...its a bit complicated.

Growing up, one series I always enjoyed was Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver's Hank Zipzer book series.  It's about a dyslexic boy, named Hank Zipzer, and all the misadventure he gets into at school and with his friends and family.  It's a great series, and I always related to Hank's struggles with his dyslexia.  As such, I did appreciate how Percy and his fellow demigods were dyslexic as well.

I think I also ought to tell you a bit about how it is that Percy Jackson came to be.  The series first began life as a series of bedtimes stories Rick Riordan told his son Haley, who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia.  At the time, Haley was really into Greek Mythology, but Rick had run out of myths to tell him.  To solve this, Rick created a story about a modern day demigod named Percy Jackson going on adventures across America.  At the same time Rick, then a middle school English and Social Studies teacher, was looking for a way to get his students excited about reading.  At Haley's encouragement, he wrote the stories into a cohesive book.  He then shared it with his student, many of whom would loan their names to various minor characters, and got feedback on it.

After polishing it up, Riordan sent it to some publishers, and was rejected multiple times before the manuscript was finally accepted.  Before long, it was snatched up by Disney-Hyperion.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

I should take a moment to talk about how absolutely top-notch the mythological research is.  I suppose it is to be expected.  Prior to writing the Percy Jackson series, Riordan helped edit several books about mythology.  You get well-known monsters such as the Minotaur and Medusa, but you also get lesser known characters like Procrustes.  It was also a smart move to make Percy a son of Poseidon.  Most other people might have made him a son of Zeus, but that would be way too obvious.  Plus, all things considered, Poseidon is probably a lot more sympathetic as a father than Zeus.

One aspect in particular I really enjoyed was the reveal about the villain.  It's set up to make it look like Hades is the one who stole the masterbolt, but it wasn't him.  He's got his hands full with all the dead in the underworld as it is; the last thing he needs is a war.  Instead, the true villain is Ares, the god of war.  Hades might have been a bit creepy, but he certainly wasn't evil.  Ares makes much more sense as a villain, and even then, there's someone else manipulating thing behind the scene.

Let's take a moment to talk about the audiobook and the cover art.  I can't imagine anyone other than Jesse Bernstein narrating the original trilogy.  Until Christ McCarrell stared as Percy in the musical adaptation of The Lightning Thief, Jesse was, in many way, the voice of Percy to me.  He just does such a spectacular job narrating the books.

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but we all do it anyway.  After all, a book cover can be the first thing that hooks someone's interest about a book.  The first cover, and I mean the very first cover, from before Disney-Hyperion picked up The Lightning Thief, is pretty decent.  Grey background, various monsters from the book, lighting bolt outline.  Not exactly a showstopper, but it gets the job done, and I have a soft spot for it.  Then we have the second cover.  It shows Percy, clutching a Minotaur horn, in the sea standing before the Manhattan skyline while lighting strikes the top of the Empire State Building.  I admit, it's probably nostalgia at work, but I still think it's pretty awesome.  It's kind of mysterious, and it seems like something awesome is about to happen, and the spine is colored sea-green.

So that brings us to the current cover of The Lightning Thief.  Speaking objectively, it does a much better job of giving and idea of what the book is about.  Percy is standing on a statue of Poseidon, submerged in water, next to the New York skyline.  At first, I wasn't sure about it and the other new covers, but I warmed up to them as time went on.  It helps that they're the banner over on the Percy Jackson sub-reddit.  So yeah, I do think the new covers are a step in the right direction, but the old covers have their charms as well.

I realize I haven't really been talking much about the plot.  The Lightning Thief, owning to its status as the first book, has received the most adaptions.  So I figured it might be a bit redundant to talk about it here.  Trust me, when I review the movie "adaption" I'll be talking a lot about the plot.  Speaking of adaptions, besides the terrible movie adaption, The Lightning Thief has been adapted into an excellent musical, a pretty decent graphic novel and even a coloring book.

What can I say?  The Lightning Thief is a great start to a great series.  If you haven't read it already, I strongly recommend that you do.  I think that should do it for now.  Join me next time when we take a look back at The Sea of Monsters.  I will see you then. 


  1. Very nice. I can't wait for the next part

    1. Thank you kindly. I should have it out soon-ish