Apparently the Percy Jackson series has a cult following akin to that of Harry Potter, which was largely unbeknownst to me until my friend pointed it out. Though I can see why Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief may be appealing to young audiences, it’s amazing to me how it is so popular when the books have such little merit.
The Lightning Thief is the first book of the Percy Jackson series written by Rick Riordan. It follows Percy Jackson, son of the Greek God Poseidon, as he journeys to the Underworld to recover Zeus’s lightning bolt to prevent a war among the Olympian Gods.
I understand why The Lightning Thief is appealing. I understand perfectly. Percy’s characterization appeals to young teenagers who have felt, in one point or another in their life, out of place, isolated, alienated, awkward or on the fringe of teenage normality. Percy’s poor performance at school is easily explained by the genetics on his father/Greek God’s side, his inability to pay attention is because of his instinct to stay alive – essentially, every flaw that has plagued Percy’s life is explained by the fact that he is a superior human being. And as a young teenager, or else as a person in a confusing stage in your life, I can certainly see why that is appealing.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying teenagers are petty for finding this sort of novel empowering; in fact, I get it. Even for me, it appeals for my want to become something greater than what I am now, or being part of something that is larger than life. But the problem is that beyond this – and the integration of Greek mythology into the novel – the merits of this book are sparse.
Bearing in mind that the target audience is for children to teenagers, the narrative is simplistic, and I am unsure if that is due to the limitations of the author or because Percy is a young adult with a teenage voice. But then again, even simple writing can be sophisticated, and The Lightning Thief lacks that sort of sophistication and refinery, or insight in the overarching ideas of the novel.
The primary failing of this novel, however, is the execution of the plot. If you detach the plot itself from how it was executed, then the story is decent. It’s a children’s book that has potential, especially because it is eventful and can be interesting. But the events of the novel felt disjointed and spliced together, like a compilation of ‘mini adventures of the Lightning Thief’ amalgamated into one book. Understandably the eventfulness of the book is to probably keep readers entertained, but when the events do not contribute to the story or are not completely meaningful in building towards the book’s climax, then it feels very underwhelming and pointless in the end. For me, it felt like Riordan chose including an assortment of cool mythological creatures for the sake of ‘coolness’ over coherent storytelling. Essentially, The Lightning Thief is poorly written.
Furthermore – and many readers have already pointed this out – Percy may have ‘challenges’ but they aren’t challenging, or else do not feel so. His successes are predictable and thus feel largely undeserved. The challenges that Percy faces are ‘challenges’ in terms of what a quest should have, but ultimately the quest taught him nothing about himself or did not challenge his development as a character – which is what a quest should ideally do for someone.
Also, a massive gripe that I have with this book was that it had many eurocentric and Americentric undertones. The Western world is the greatest force in the world? The Olympian Gods are centred in America because it is the most powerful force? I won’t even delve into the problems that sort of ideology has caused; these are the ideologies that uphold systems of oppression, justify imperialism and American supremacy. For that sort of ideology to seep into a children’s book — this sort of rhetoric has no place in children’s books. Kids may not understand the impact that sort of thinking may impact the world, but it will impact how they perceive it. (Not to mention Chiron was extremely preachy about it too.)
To sum it up: The Lightning Thief is average. It’s easy to read because of its simplistic narrative and characterization, but it makes no attempts to gauge or emotionally or mentally challenge its readers. It is escapism material with very little merits, though it has enough for it to be entertaining. Maybe The Lightning Thief is one of those books that you give to kids that don’t like reading to ease them into the idea that reading can be fun. Personally, The Lightning Thief had potential but it’s lack of boldness, problematic undertones and poor plot execution left much to be desired.
Book Name: Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief
Book Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1
Author: Rick Riordan
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books