Greek mythology has influenced many classic and popular works, and Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief provides teachers an opportunity to introduce the original elements in a novel way. Following on the heels of series like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, The Lightning Thief features a very different hero —Percy Jackson, a teenage boy with dyslexia and ADHD —coming to terms with his newly discovered identity as a demigod, a child of god and mortal. Teachers can easily ignite class discussion comparing this exciting series to its predecessors, as well as the original Greek gods to Rick Riordan's contemporary counterparts.

At the same time that the series dives into the fantastic, it incorporates many familiar elements that are nevertheless thought-provoking. Although both of Percy's parents are still alive, their taboo union, separation, and resulting dysfunctional family dynamic should resonate with teenage readers struggling between family and personal identity. As Percy and his friends travel through America to defuse an impending war between the gods, teachers can also provoke discussion on the novel's conflict between tradition via the gods and the change that Percy represents, and connect the novel geographically to other class material. Finally, Percy's neurodiversity, his classmates' initial response, and its eventual connection to his demigod status, can impart lessons in representation, confidence and self-esteem.

Summary

The Lightning Thief charts the experiences of teenager Percy Jackson, as his school life is interrupted by mythical assassins and he is taken to a demigod camp for safety. From there, Percy struggles to adapt to his changed circumstances and his new identity as a son of Poseidon. He embarks across America to the realm of Hades with friends Grover Underwood, a satyr, and Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena, to find Zeus's stolen lightning bolt in order to prevent a war between the gods. Along the way, they run afoul of mythical beasts attracted to demigods by scent, receive help from various gods with their own interests, and discover the traitor in their midst. At the same time, Percy must come to terms with his illicit origins, his father's distance, and his mother's relationship with her abusive husband.

Objectives for Teaching
The Lightning Thief

  • Discuss the influence of Greek myth on historical and contemporary writing.
  • Recall how family dynamics contribute to individual character motivations.
  • Identify the challenge to tradition that Percy embodies, on both a narrative and symbolic level.
  • Provide details that separate Percy from the traditional hero.
  • Offer examples of factors that contribute to isolation and/or violence.
  • Elucidate the role of prophecy and the reliance of the gods on mortal action.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Dreams
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Tone
  • Voice

Themes and Motifs

  • Identity — Identity is tested and changed throughout the course of the novel as characters respond to outside pressures, either fulfilling familial expectations or reacting in innovative or defiant ways. Negative self-esteem or self-deprecation interferes with identity formation, with characters learning to love themselves before overcoming external obstacles.
  • Isolation — Isolation is shown as a consequence of difference of power and causes negative feelings that can impede action and healthy living. In addition to feelings of helplessness and sadness experienced by the protagonist, isolation can also contribute to bitterness, anger, and resulting violence.
  • Tradition —  Tradition is initially shown as stability, though it is later complicated by the latent issues caused by tradition rising to the surface to create the new conflict. In contrast, change as represented by the youth in the novel is viewed as a potentially cataclysmic force, but is used in both preservative and destructive ways.

Related Works

Theme of Identity

 

Theme of Isolation

 

Theme of Tradition

Key Facts

  • Length: 377 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 740
  • Publication Date: 2005
  • Recommended Grade Band: 7 – 8

Awards

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Hampshire Book Award
  • A New York Times Notable Book (2005)

Movies

A film version title Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was released in 2010, starring Logan Lerman, Rosario Dawson, and Pierce Brosnan. The movie made several creative changes and omissions from the book and received mixed reviews.

Your students will love:

  • The friendships portrayed in the novel
  • Percy's narration of fantasy elements

Students may have problems with:

  • Confusion because of a lack of knowledge of mythological stories
  • Portrayal of abusive relationship between Percy's mother and stepfather

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