Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Lightning Thief

Many months ago I remember seeing a trailer for Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and I thought it looked interesting. Of course, it was just a teaser sort of trailer that really didn't give the viewer much of an idea what the movie would be about. However, just having the word "Olympians" in the title made it intriguing for me.

For as far back as I can remember, I've found the stories of Greek mythology to be fascinating. It could stem from the first time I saw the original Clash of the Titans. I'm honestly not sure where it began. I just always thought the stories were exciting. At some point in high school, we were required to read Edith Hamilton's "Mythology." Of all the required reading that I refused to appreciate at the time, that book may have been the only one I genuinely devoured.

And now, Rick Riordan has introduced the world to a series of new myths. I realize he's not the first to do so, as ancient Greek legends can be found intertwined with a great deal of the culture throughout Western Civilization. This is actually a springboard for Riordan in the first book of the Percy Jackson series, The Lightning Thief, a story that introduces us to the idea that the immortal Greek gods of ancient myth never went away, and that they continued to lend a hand to civilization and influence culture throughout the centuries.

I mentioned seeing the trailer for the movie because that's what got me to pick up the book. It may be a mistake, but I'm generally the type of person who likes to see the movie after reading the source material. I'm sure that just leads me to be disappointed once I pay the price of admission, but it's how I tend to operate. So I got the book. And it sat on my coffee table for several weeks. The film has since left theaters and I now have to wait for the DVD to truly be disappointed.

With the book, there is no disappointment. Riordan does a great job of updating ancient Greek stories to mesh with a modern world. You know how the gods would mingle among the mortals and randomly sire illegitimate children that would become the heroes of many stories? Turns out they still do that. Of course you have your classic names: Hercules, Perseus, George. That's George Washington, by the way, son of Athena. Add to the list another Perseus, or Percy for short.

Percy Jackson was just a typical problem kid with ADHD. He had been expelled from six schools in as many years. He adored his mother and hated his oaf of a step-father. He never knew his real father, who disappeared across the sea not long after his birth. And that was all the 12-year-old Percy really knew about his life. He seemed to have gotten a raw deal. Add to it the fact that suddenly he was being attacked by his algebra teacher on a field trip, who seemed to turn into some kind of leathery monster.

Turns out Percy Jackson was anything but an ordinary problem child. Percy was a demigod (half god/half human). With the help of his protector, Grover (a satyr in disguise), he makes his way to Camp Half-Blood where he's taught how to be a proper hero and discovers for himself that he is a son of Poseidon, the sea god. He forms an unsteady friendship with Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and Luke, a son of Hermes. Soon after he is claimed by his true father, he is sent on a quest, with the aid of Grover and Annabeth, to stop a war among the gods over the theft of Zeus' master lightning bolt.

It's not an easy thing to do as Percy soon realizes. They meet several of the great monsters of myth: Medusa, Cerberus, the Furies. They even tussle with Ares, the god of war. Percy performs his quest and uncovers more than a few secrets along the way. All in all, it's a good read with plenty of action to keep the pages turning.

I won't sit here and say that it's another Harry Potter to keep kids coming back to books, though I think that's what the people at 20th Century Fox would like it to be. But it does contain a lot of the same sorts of pulls that J.K. Rowling's book series had. You've got a group of young kids risking their lives for the greater good. You've got some magic and intrigue. And in the background you have a dark puppet master pulling strings who remains hidden from the view of the reader.

I think it's great that young readers have these kinds of books to keep them interested in something other than television and video games. Not that I'm knocking TV or Playstation, they're fine in moderation. I just don't remember having stories like this to read when I was in that "young reader" age group. Maybe I wasn't paying attention when I was that age. Those of you out there who are my age, did we have books like this 15 or 20 years ago? I look at the young adult section at the bookstore and come across the Harry Potters, the Twilights, and the numerous clones of these phenomena. What did we have back in the day?

Anyway, The Lightning Thief was a good read and I look forward to the next book in the series, The Sea of Monsters. Apparently Percy goes looking for the golden fleece. Didn't Jason and the Argonauts already find that?

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