The Lightning Thief (Percy & The Olympians #1), by Rick Riordan, illutrated by John Rocco
It’s hard to see why this book got enough hype in order to have a failed movie series based on it. This is not a terrible book, it has some charm, but this book does not quite have the epic scope and amazing worldbuilding that makes for either compelling writing or compelling film. The author is clearly in a lower tier when it comes to teen fantasy, trying to draw on the power of Greek mythology without having much of worth to offer himself. This is a derivative work, nowhere near as compelling a universe of magic users and outsiders in a special camp/school as would be the case in, say, Harry Potter, and definitely a second tier work of the order of the Maze Runner series in terms of appeal. Perhaps that is good enough to earn it a movie, but not enough cultural heft to make it appealing to a larger audience or to make fidelity to the source material all that important. Moreover, there are some real important problems with the moral worldview of the author as expressed in this book that are worth exploring in greater detail as well.
This particular version of the novel is 200 or so large pages with some illustrations. We begin with a look at Percy Jackson, a teenager who struggles to control his temper and one who has found himself with problems staying in schools. Over the course of the novel he finds himself drawing the attention of some very unsavory sort of beings, like harpies and a minotaur who attacks him and his mother and his fawn friend/former classmate when they are trying to get to a safe place, a camp run by a grumpy Dionysus who is currently being exiled from Olympus due to some indiscretions with a wood-nymph. Percy makes some friends/frenemies and is sent on a quest across the United States where he meets up with Ares and seeks to thwart the plan of the Titan Kronos to return from the dead, even as he seeks to impress his dear old dad–Poseidon. The plot goes just about as well as you would expect, with the usual moments of action and the last minute twist and the somewhat misleading chapter titles that show Percy as a hero of a particularly contemporary kind that panders to the rebelliousness and ambitions of the book’s target audience.
And it is precisely that rebelliousness that makes this such a problematic novel. This is not a novel that seeks to elevate the morality or worldview of its readers, but rather one that panders to it. One can even sense that the writer himself has chosen a polytheistic world full of quarreling gods and demigods precisely so that there is no unified moral center with an all-powerful Lord and Master who can enforce His will upon rebellious humanity and to provide space so that a clever but ignorant and foolishly confident teenager can act in ways that have cosmic significance without requiring the sort of moral reformation that would be involved if the author had a biblical worldview. In fact, this book (and the author’s entire body of work from what I can see) demonstrates that the longing for a polytheistic world and the hostility to God’s laws and ways are often deeply intertwined, for if gods are beings much like ourselves, flawed and imperfect, then we can silence the demands that we reform and correct ourselves. If this book is not good and if its worldview is decidedly defective, it is at least the sort of book which reveals much about the moral rebelliousness of its author and others like him, which is at least some purpose, if not the purpose the author probably wishes.