Truth be told, I didn’t know what to really expect when I picked up the Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan. I’m a big mythology fan and I loved spending hours learning more about the history and tales of old mythological sources. This in mind, it felt like Riordan’s books would be a perfect match for me. But I’ve experienced stories that reference mythology but don’t do it the correct justice it deserves. There are always some creative liberties taken with the old stories that, while I don’t mind, still feel a bit risky as the writer might lose the very core of the mythological character. Despite a few changes, Riordan manages to tell an engaging story while remaining true to the gods and heroes of Greek mythology.
Percy Jackson is the protagonist and makes for a fun and engaging hero. Like his namesake Perseus, his journey is filled with perils and frequently has the gods intervening either to help or hinder him. But while his namesake is Perseus, his story feels very akin to Odysseus considering how far he travels across America. While it may not be intentional, it did make me smile comparing Percy’s journey and his characterization to that of old greek heroes. Percy has a fun and engaging, albeit rather simple story to follow. His conflicted feelings towards his father, his personal goals and his anger towards the gods all come off as organic and not rushed considering his situation. There’s also a nice touch of hubris that Percy has during his quest. It feels very much like the heroes of Greek mythology and really considering all the referential material throughout the book, it’s hard not to draw comparisons.
The supporting cast of characters are also fairly endearing. Grover and Annabeth have a lot more complexity to their stories than I initially thought. Grover’s devotion to Pan put a smile on my face as his nature loving actions and commentary felt very appropriate. It’s hard not to fall in love with his silly antics. Annabeth’s backstory and conflict, while I don’t necessarily agree with its origin, does make sense for what the story needed as well as making her a more realized character. She serves as a kind of foil to Percy’s hot headed and impatient actions and it’s fun to see them discuss the Greek pantheon and their involvement.
It’s impossible to talk about the setting in Percy Jackson without mentioning the Greek gods and the references to Greek mythology. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit conflicted about this topic. On the one hand there are several references to the myths that are surprising and wonderful to see. I was taken off guard by the subtle reference to Dionysus’ ability to drive people insane. References like the old quote of Pan dying and other less known myths I was surprised to see. Despite how much Greek culture is in our media such as Disney’s Hercules and Wonder Woman, there’s still plenty of obscure references here that lead me to believe that Riordan had indeed done his research when building his world.
Which also is why I felt conflicted about the worldbuilding and referential material in Percy Jackson and The Olympians – The Lightning Thief. While it is clear that Riordan spent a lot of time researching the referential material there are a few missteps that, while not breaking the story, still felt misplaced. It’s mostly small things though like Nemesis being referenced as a god as opposed to a goddess. I can also understand the need to change much of the referential material to be friendlier to all audiences rather than being 100% true to the source material. The greek gods were mostly terrible to mortals and it’s still implied here which I can appreciate.
The only really character breaking moment to the original source material involves my favorite of the pantheon, Athena. I don’t know how I feel about it truth be told. I can understand why it had to be done and it really does make for a more interesting story with potential future conflict, but it still feels wrong. However I think this is more the history/mythology lover in me criticising the story for something that, honestly, serves to improve the story as opposed to detracting from it.
Percy Jackson and The Olympians – The Lightning Thief is not a complicated a story in any sense. It’s very straight forward and moves at a pretty quick pace. The twists are fairly predictable but still feel like they’re well done. Everything is built up from the beginning so that it the plot turns aren’t completely out of nowhere. Despite the speed the narrative takes it still slows down to introduce, develop and explain the characters, situations and what’s happening. It makes for a fun read as the story is never bogged down with an unnecessary exposition dump which could be expected from a story based on mythology. It feels very akin to reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the sense that while it’s an easy and simple story to follow, it’s a fun and engaging introduction to the series.
Considering that Percy Jackson and The Olympians – The Lightning Thief is targeted towards a younger audience, it makes sense that the word choice would be as straight forward as it is. It’s a very easy book to read and dive into. Each chapter flows easily from one to the other and the chapter titles, while a bit silly, offer a fun hint as to what’s to be expected. I didn’t quite appreciate how some of the chapter titles served as a spoiler to what’s to come, but for the most part it never detracts from the story as a whole.
What Writers can learn from this Book
One of the most difficult tasks a writer can do is to create a story based on referential material while still being faithful to the original stories. An author can take old stories and gods as reference and have a bit more creative freedom, but to use the original gods and their names as characters in a story is difficult to be sure. But Riordan does a great job of using the gods of Greek mythology as characters in his story. The characterization of Ares and Zeus were especially accurate considering their old myths. Some, while not perfectly accurate, did serve their purpose in the story while still being moderately accurate to the source material.