Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief explodes with fun, adventure, and a few angry parents that just so happen to be Greek gods. Like Zeus and Poseidon. No big deal.
Hypable’s “revisited” series looks back at older pieces of media and attempts to evaluate their meaning today. Are they better or worse than we thought when they were originally released? What have we learned from them and what has their lasting impact been?
A very short year and a half ago, I dove headfirst into a world full of crazy creatures, adventurous youngsters, and a gaggle of gods that act more like teenagers than their adolescent children most of the time. I had picked up the series on a whim after a friend of mine had told me all about them. I was a little skeptical, as the Greek god thing was an interesting spin on the whole world-building angle, but I had never really read a story in that sort of world before. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief stole me away into a world where just being alive makes you a target for anyone working against you, and that’s something that just about everyone can relate to in one way or another.
I may not have read the Percy Jackson books at the age you’re intended to read them, but I fell instantly in love with Camp Half-blood and its crazy band of campers. Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Clarisse, Beckendorf, and all the rest have a way of maneuvering themselves into your soul and then taking root against your will. It’s easy to care about Riordan’s characters because they feel real. They don’t tell their deepest darkest secrets to everyone. They don’t feel the need to go off the deep end and do something stupid to get attention, usually. You can picture Annabeth standing beside you at a football game. You can see Percy cracking jokes in the lunchroom. While they have that tactile quality, you never forget that, ultimately, these characters are concerned with staying alive and keeping the friends they love alive, too. Surviving is the name of the game when you’re a demigod.
There is something incredibly poetic in the way Riordan ties the struggles of being a demigod to those of being an adolescent about to embark on the crazy journey of high school. Percy and his friends, Annabeth and Grover, literally pack their backpacks and leave the safety of the only place they’ve ever not had to look over their shoulder for the next monster barreling their way. If that’s not a direct parallel to the panic that millions of young adults feel the world over on their first days in a new school, in high school, I don’t know what is. He goes one step further in that parallel, as he gives his characters challenges that they are completely equipped for, even if they don’t know it yet, much like teachers in high school hand over projects that are designed to help students use the talents and knowledge already at their disposal. It’s a beautiful comfort to read characters facing down actual minotaurs when the world you’re living in has you conquering fears of inadequacy, stage fright, or failure.
This book, and the series as a whole, have the ability to continue to quell those fears in middle school and high school kids for many decades to come. By intentionally leaving out a lot of things that can date a novel quickly, including specific technology and pop culture references, Riordan created a story that can be just as comforting to students 20 years from now as it is today. They may pick up the books because of the Greek gods and the adventure, but they’ll stay with them to be reminded that even when you feel like those telekhines are breathing down your neck, you are not powerless to stop them.
A little more than 9 years ago, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was born into the world. The series began with Percy discovering his parental lineage and being rushed to Half-blood Hill before the minotaur could rip him to pieces. He met a few friendly faces that he didn’t know at the time would become family. Similarly, these novels have joined the family of great, timeless works from authors like J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman. Riordan’s Percy Jackson series claimed their rightful place beside the YA juggernauts of the past because no matter what age level they’re written for, or how elegant the prose reads, these stories lend a helping hand to readers everywhere. Whether it’s strength to face down a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, comfort after a crippling loss, or a hand to hold when life has you cowering scared in the corner, there is always a character to turn to when you just need to know you’re not alone.
All in all, while Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief may not be the best book in the series, it began the adventure. It kicked off the story in a way that no Riordan reader could ever forget. This is the book where Percy first held Riptide in his hands. Where Annabeth first called him Seaweed brain. Where Clarisse first told Percy she hated him. Most importantly to the series, this is the book where Percy first stepped foot in Camp Half-blood and learned what it means to be a demigod. He learned to fight with a sword, to use a drachma to send an Iris message, and to channel all the strength that the water could give him. For those reasons and many more, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief will be a precious and beloved book for many generations to come.
Rick Riordan wrote this series with middle school aged kids in mind, and the work reflects that in many ways, but even adults that have long since put the intensity of their teenage years behind them can enjoy reading these incredible stories. Hopefully they can serve to remind older readers of their own youthful escapades and bring a smile in remembrance of just how it feels to face down life as a teenager.
Today marks the release of the fifth and final book in the Heroes of Olympus series, Blood of Olympus. Today is the day when we all discover how Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Piper, Jason, Nico, Frank, and Hazel’s stories end.