Monday, December 29, 2008

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief
© 2005 Rick Riordan
375 pages

I began this week with Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, a recommendation from a friend. The Lightening Thief is work of fantasy-fiction, set in a world where the Greek gods are real and ruling over the affairs of mortals -- and, like in the days of Heracles and Perseus, are ever-busy chasing mortal skirts and siring half-god half-mortal offspring, called (appropriately enough) half-bloods. The book is the first in a series of books for children and young adults called Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Percy Jackson -- Perseus Jackson in full -- is our hero (a term that originally applied to the mortal sons of the gods like Heracles), and when the book begins he has no idea who he is. He will soon find out, though, as he flees from Furies and Minotaurs who want to destroy him. Forced by circumstances beyond their control, the young Percy's protectors are forced to bring him to Camp Half-Blood so that he may learn who he is -- and his destiny.

Young Percy has entered an extraordinary world, but like Harry Potter as entered it at a rather inconvenient time: darkness is stirring, and an epic battle between good -- or at least, not evil -- and evil is about to begin. As Percy learns about his identity as a demigod and his new role in relation to the world, he will be caught up in this struggle, beginning with being tasked with returning Zeus' thunderbolt to him, which someone else has stolen. Percy will engage in his adventure accompanied by Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and a satyr named Grover. Once they set off, it's hard not to compare the book to Harry Potter: here we have a young protagonist who is constantly in trouble with the "real world" because of his abilities, who is whisked away to his kind's hideaway to learn about his "heritage", who is forced to take an active role in the growing battle because of who his parents were, who is aided by an intellectual girl and an endearing if somewhat clumsy sidekick.

The story was published by a company that does books for older children, although I was told it was a Young Adult book. It's a fun story to read, if not as "sophisticated" as the Harry Potter books. I enjoyed the story, but unlike the Harry Potter books, it did remind me of the books I read as a child. Beyond that, my only real trouble with the book was the idea that all of the gods were involved in accidentally impregnating mortals -- including gods like Athena, who are supposedly virginal. Athena's virginity isn't up for discussion, either: the Greeks built a temple to her and called it the Parthenon (from the Greek word for "virgin") in her honor. Interestingly, the author paints the Greek gods as being deeply involved in western civilization, so much to the point that they move Olympus and Hades every time the heart of western civilization moves. One character says that Olympus has been in Germany, France, Spain (for a time), England (for a long while), and is now in the United States. Despite this, the Pantheon maintains its Greek origins: demigods are dyslexic in all languages but ancient Greek and understand Greek automatically. The currency of choice is Drachmas.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the book is how the gods have changed as western civilization has changed. Zeus dresses in a business suit, Ares as a biker. The gods constantly comment on humans and their relationship to them. One repeated commented is that humans have a spectacular talent for interpreting what happens to them according to what they already believe. There's also a slight environmental message in the book: Grover constantly laments about the way humans are treating the wilderness, and says that these abuses will only cease when Pan (protector of wilderness) is found by the satyrs and wakened from his lengthy sleep.

All in all, a fun little story. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading other books in the series.

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