Greek Mythology and the Lightning Thief

This article was published in the San Antonio Express-News prior to the first book signing for the Lightning Thief. We had a sell-out crowd! Sorry to those folks who came and didn’t get a book. Hopefully you got a chance to pre-order a signed copy.

Greek mythology gets mortal twist in ‘The Lightning Thief’

Web Posted: 06/09/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Steve BennettExpress-News Book Editor

In his first book for young adults, mystery ace Rick Riordan, creator of the award-winning Tres Navarre detective series, delves into the question: What if the gods — you know, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades and that gang — were still pulling strings on earth? And, what if their offspring with us mere mortals — “half-bloods” — were alive and well and living among us?
Riordan will read from and sign copies of “The Lightning Thief,” book one of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians trilogy for young adults, today from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Twig Book Shop in Alamo Heights.

Percy is short for Perseus, and yes, Percy is half god, half mortal. His father is one of the Big Three mentioned above, but Percy doesn’t discover his true identity until he’s 12 years old and strange things start happening to him. Up until then, he thinks he is just a normal kid suffering from dyslexia, ADHD, weary of bullies and being kicked out of yet another school for getting into fairly innocent trouble.

On a summer vacation to the Long Island sea shore, Percy, his mom and his friend Grover (who’s not what he seems to be) are attacked by a Minotaur, the mythical half-man, half-bull creature who smells like “rotting meat.” Percy and Grover barely escape the attack; Percy’s mom doesn’t.

Percy finds himself in a protected war-training camp for those like him, and once again, is caught in a web of mistaken circumstances. It seems one of Zeus’ lightning bolts, one he fought the Titans with, has been pilfered, and the Big Guy is pointing the finger at Percy.
Percy must discover and recover the bolt within 10 days, by the summer solstice, or risk serious bodily discomfort and all-out war among the gods. Think Hades has a finger in this mess? You betcha.

Percy sets off cross-country from New York with the satyr Grover and a daughter of Athena on a quest chock full of goose-pimpling adventures.

Riordan, a former middle school teacher, imaginatively mixes it up, infusing Greek myth in a contemporary setting. It’s easy to believe Percy battling Medusa, the snake-headed lady, and Ares, the biker-cum-god of war, and Cerberus, the three-headed mutt who guards hell’s gates. Along the way, he must come to terms with a father he has never known, and an Oracle that has warned him of betrayal by a friend.

“Greek myth is a subject that really catches kids on fire,” Riordan says, although he hasn’t quite yet put his finger on the reason. “I guess because it’s still so relevant in our lives. The neat thing for me is to figure out how to do that, to combine the myth with the modern.”

Percy was born a couple years back when Riordan’s son, a second-grader then, requested another bedtime myth. Riordan, who schooled sixth-graders in Greek mythology, had run out of them, so he invented this “half-blood” kid, part god, part human, and spun a fantastic tale. Riordan’s son gave the epic tale a thumbs-up and told his father, “You know, dad, you should write that down.” Dad did.

Publishing houses’ mouths watered and a bidding war ensued.

With the subsequent advance and three-book deal, Riordan was able to quit his teaching job at St. Mary’s Hall and devote himself full-time to writing the Percy series as well as his detective series set in San Antonio, which has won Riordan the big three of mystery awards, the Edgar, the Anthony and the Shamus. “Mission Road,” the latest Tres Navarre odyssey, will be out next month. Riordan has a reading at the Twig from that book July 12.

“Half-blood” is a term that has some resonance this summer, but Riordan was well into the publishing process with Percy before J.K. Rowling announced the title of her latest Harry Potter book, due July 16.

“It’s just one of those bizarre coincidences,” Riordan says. “I don’t know what she means by ‘half-blood,’ but I have the feeling it’s not the same as what I mean. When she released the title of her book, I thought, ‘Oh, this is interesting.’ I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what she’s referring to.”

Rick Riordan