The Lightning Thief
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Peter Bollinger
John Rocco (later edition matching the sequels)
|Series||Percy Jackson & the Olympians (bk 1)|
|Genre||Fantasy, Greek mythology, young-adult novel|
Puffin Books, Disney-Hyperion
|July 1, 2005 (hardcover)
April 1, 2006 (paperback)
|Media type||Print (hardcover), audiobook CD|
|LC Class||PZ7.R4829 Li 2005|
|Followed by||The Sea of Monsters|
The Lightning Thief is a 2005 fantasy-adventure novel based on Greek mythology, the first young adult novel written by Rick Riordan. It is the first novel in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, which charts the adventures of modern-day twelve-year-old Percy Jackson as he discovers he is a demigod, the son of a mortal woman and the Greek god Poseidon. Percy and his friends Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood go on a quest to prevent a war between the gods Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.
The Lightning Thief was published in June 2005 by Miramax Books, an imprint of Hyperion Books for Children and thus Disney Publishing (succeeded by the Disney Hyperion imprint). The book has sold over 1.2 million copies in the subsequent four years, appearing on The New York Times children's Best Seller list and being listed as one of the Young Adult Library Services Association's Best Books for Young Adults, among other awards. It was adapted into a film named Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief released in the United States on February 12, 2010. The sequel to this novel is The Sea of Monsters.
Development and publication
Development for The Lightning Thief began when author Rick Riordan made up stories for his son Haley, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. His son had been studying Greek mythology in second grade and asked that his father come up with bedtime stories based on Greek myths. Riordan had been a Greek mythology teacher in middle school for many years and was able to remember enough stories to please his son. Soon Riordan ran out of myths and his son requested that Riordan make new ones using the characters from Greek myths with a new twist. Riordan created the fictional character Percy Jackson and his travels across the United States to recover Zeus's lightning bolt. After Riordan finished telling the story his son asked that his dad write a book based on Percy's adventures, and he did.
While he gave his manuscript to his agent and editor to review, Riordan took his book to a group of middle schoolers to critique. With their help, he came up with the name of the book and invented Percy's magic sword. Riordan first sent out the manuscript for The Lightning Thief under the pseudonym Ransom Reese as he didn't want to rely on anyone in the publisher industry. The manuscript got many rejections before an agent chose it as she liked its premise. In 2004 the book was sold to Miramax Books for enough money that Riordan could quit his job to focus on writing. The book has since been released in multiple versions (including hardcover, paperback, and audio editions) and has been translated and published all over the world.
The Lightning Thief is narrated in the first person by Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old boy with dyslexia and ADHD living in New York City. During a class field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a Greco-Roman exhibit, he stands up to a bully picking on his friend Grover Underwood and "pushes" her into a nearby fountain. One of the chaperoning teachers, an algebra teacher named Mrs. Dodds, takes him away from the other students, presumably to give him his punishment. Instead, Percy is shocked when she transforms into one of the three Furies of Greek myth and attacks him. The other chaperone, a Latin teacher named Mr. Brunner, suddenly appears and throws Percy a pen that changes into a strange sword. Percy instinctively swings at the monster in front of him, and she turns to dust and disappears. When Percy returns to the rest of the students, he discovers that not only do they have no idea what happened inside the museum, they also do not remember having a teacher named Mrs. Dodds. Over the course of the school year, Percy almost convinces himself that it was all a hallucination, except that his friend Grover seems to be hiding something whenever the subject is brought up. A few days before the end of school he overhears Grover and Mr. Brunner talking about him, Mrs. Dodds, and a stolen item of great importance—which only serves to confirm his suspicions.
Percy and his mother, Sally, go on a summer trip to the beach. During a terrible storm, the two are awakened by a surprise visit from Grover—who Percy suddenly learns is actually not a human teenager, but instead a young satyr. Grover tells them they are in danger, and the three drive to a mysterious summer camp. Upon arrival, they are attacked by the Minotaur. In the ensuing fight, the Minotaur knocks out Grover and grabs Mrs. Jackson, who inexplicably dissolves into a blinding flash of gold light. Believing he has just lost his mother forever, Percy manages to break off one of the Minotaur's horns and kills the beast, then forces himself to drag the unconscious Grover over the property line and up to a farmhouse. He wakes up three days later and learns he is at a place called Camp Half-Blood. Percy then learns that he is a demigod: the son of a human and a Greek god.
Percy settles into camp life and meets several other demigods, including: Luke Castellan, a son of Hermes; Annabeth Chase, a daughter of Athena; and Clarisse La Rue, a daughter of Ares. Several strange incidents begin to reveal his powers as a demigod. After Percy is attacked by a monster which shouldn't have gotten through the camp's borders, Percy is publicly claimed by his father, the god Poseidon.
A few days later, Mr. Brunner (who is really Chiron the centaur) summons Percy to the Big House and tells him how the three eldest male gods (Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades) swore an oath not to have children more than 70 years ago; Percy represents a violation of that oath merely by being alive. This, coupled with the fact that King Zeus's master lightning bolt has recently been stolen, has bred much suspicion between the gods, and Percy is tasked with locating that bolt before an all-out war may break out. Percy chooses Annabeth and Grover to accompany him on a quest to the realm of Hades, the most likely culprit.
After traveling across the country to Los Angeles and defeating several mythological monsters (including Medusa and the Chimera) the three find Hades, who reveals that his Helm of Darkness (his symbol of power) has been stolen too. Hades accuses Percy of stealing his helm and threatens to kill Percy and his mother (who has actually been a hostage in his realm the whole time) and release all the dead back into the real world unless it is returned. Percy and his friends manage to escape back to L.A. and there discover that the god Ares has been manipulating them and possesses all the missing items. Percy challenges Ares to a duel, wins, and gives Hade's Helm to the reformed Fury he knows as Mrs. Dodds; Hades then realizes that Percy was not the thief and returns Mrs. Jackson to their apartment in New York.
Percy takes the master bolt back to Zeus, who rewards the young hero by not killing him as he should because of Poseidon's broken oath. Percy returns to camp a hero and enjoys the rest of his summer there. On the last day of camp, however, he goes into the woods to hang out with Luke Castellan, who then turns on him. Luke reveals himself to be the real thief of the Helm and master bolt, working on the orders of Kronos, the Lord of the Titans. Kronos also manipulated power-hungry Ares into taking part in the scheme. Percy can not believe that Luke, an all-around nice guy, would do such a thing, and so Luke explains his belief that the gods are irresponsible and poor leaders who must be usurped. He offers Percy the chance to join him, and when the other demigod does not, Luke tries to kill Percy with a poisonous scorpion. Percy manages to kill it, but is badly poisoned and nearly dies. When he has recovered, Percy is given the choice of whether to return home for the school year or stay at camp year round. After much thought Percy decides to spend the school year with his mother, as it is the first time he won't have to go to boarding school, even though it will be more dangerous for him.
The prophecy given by the Oracle before Percy's quest reads:
You shall go west, and face the god who has turned.
You shall find what was stolen, and see it safely returned.
You shall be betrayed by one who calls you a friend.
And you shall fail to save what matters most, in the end.
- At first, it is assumed that Percy had to travel west from New York to L.A. to confront Hades, though it is later revealed that he really had to meet Ares, in Denver.
- Percy locates both Zeus's master bolt, which was always known to be missing, and also Hades's Helm.
- Luke betrays Percy immediately after treating him like a friend.
- Percy, forced to leave his mother behind in the Underworld, knows his quest is not complete, and also does not help his mother to rid herself of her abusive husband Gabe Ugliano. Sally is saved in the first case by Hades's choice to free her after he receives his Helm, and in the second, by her own choice to stand up to "Smelly Gabe".
The Lightning Thief received mostly positive reviews. Common Sense Media said, "There are two levels of fun in The Lightning Thief. One is the fast-paced quest of a young hero and his friends to save the world..." and added, "Another level of fun here – laughing at the wicked ways the author has updated the gods and monsters for the 21st century". However, it did criticize some aspects of the book describing the prose as "choppy and attitude-filled" and complaining that "[t]he characters aren't emotionally involving". Its overall rating was 4 stars out of 5. Numerous other reviews were more positive. The New York Times praised The Lightning Thief as "perfectly paced, with electrifying moments chasing each other like heartbeats". School Library Journal said in its starred review that the book was "[a]n adventure-quest with a hip edge" and that "[r]eaders will be eager to follow the young protagonist's next move". Kirkus reviews said, "The sardonic tone of the narrator's voice lends a refreshing air of realism to this riotously paced quest tale of heroism that questions the realities of our world, family, friendship and loyalty." Eoin Colfer, author of Artemis Fowl called it "A fantastic blend of myth and modern". Finally, Publishers Weekly also praised the book, regarding it as "swift and humorous" and added that the book would "leave many readers eager for the next installment."
On April 8, 2007, The Lightning Thief was ranked ninth on The New York Times Best Seller list for children's books. The Lightning Thief was the winner of the School Library Journal Best Book of 2005 as well one of the books in the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books List, 2005. It was also in the VOYA Top Shelf Fiction List and was the winner of the Red House Children's Book Award Winner (UK), 2006; Askews Torchlight Award (UK), 2006; and the Mark Twain Award (Missouri Association of School Librarians), 2008. It was an American Library Association Notable Book, 2006 and a New York Times Notable Book (2005). It received the Young Reader's Choice Award in 2008 and the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award in 2009. Scholastic Parent & Child magazine also included the novel within its 100 "Greatest Books for Kids." When asked about the various awards, Rick Riordan said: "The ultimate compliment for a children's writer is when the kids like it."
In June 2004, 20th Century Fox acquired the feature film rights to the book. In April 2007 director Chris Columbus was hired to helm the project. Logan Lerman is Percy Jackson and Brandon T. Jackson is Grover Underwood, the satyr. Alexandra Daddario plays Annabeth while Jake Abel was cast as Luke Castellan. Pierce Brosnan plays Chiron. The film is titled Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and was released in the United States on February 12, 2010. The film received mixed reviews from critics upon release but was a commercial success by grossing $226 million at the worldwide box office. A sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters was released in 2013, directed by Thor Freudenthal.
Kirkus magazine said, "the narrator’s voice lends a refreshing air of realism to this riotously paced quest tale of heroism that questions the realities of our world, family, friendship and loyalty". AudioFile Magazine praised the audiobook, "adults and children alike will be spellbound as they listen to this deeply imaginative tale unfold." School Library Journal both praised and criticized the audio book saying "Although some of Jesse Bernstein's accents fail (the monster from Georgia, for instance, has no Southern trace in her voice), he does a fine job of keeping the main character's tones and accents distinguishable".
A one-hour musical aimed at young audiences was planned to hit the road on a nationwide tour in September 2014 following a stint in New York City in 2014.
The Lightning Thief is followed by The Sea of Monsters in which Percy and Annabeth rescue Grover who has been imprisoned by Polyphemus, the Cyclopes, and recover the Golden Fleece to save the camp. They are accompanied by Percy's half brother, Tyson and Clarisse in this mission.
Like The Lightning Thief, it won several prizes and received generally positive reviews as well. It sold over 100,000 copies in paperback. It was followed by The Titan's Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian as well as an entire new sequel-series, The Heroes of Olympus, and later, the Trials of Apollo.
Foreign language editions
The Lightning Thief was published in Chinese, Italian, Turkish, Danish, Croatian, Czech, Finnish, French, Dutch, German, Hebrew, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Indonesian, Serbian, Norwegian, Spanish and Catalan. The French, German, and Spanish editions were published in 2006. The other translations of the book were published in 2008. The Icelandic publisher Odinseye released another edition in 2012. The novel is also on sale in Taiwan, published by Yuan Liou Publishing. In Czech it is called 'Percy Jackson Zlodej blesku'.
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- Rick Riordan Myth Master at publisher Penguin Books (UK)
- Percy Jackson & the Olympians at publisher Disney-Hyperion Books (US)
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