Just What I Needed: More Gods and Goddesses (The Lightning Thief)

Well, I didn’t really need them, as I lost my great fondness for Greek G&Gs when I left middle school (too human in all the wrong ways, I guess), but my seven-year-old was intrigued. Her brother bought her The Lightning Thief for Christmas and we added it to her growing stack of “stuff to read.” But when the movie trailers appeared, she moved it to the top of her list.

My daughter does this consistently, BTW. Show her a movie trailer and she immediately asks if we can by the book. She is greatly disappointed in movies that do NOT have a book attached.

So, we read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan the moment we’d finished Peter and the Secret of Rundoon. The book was exciting, the characters were great (I ADORED Grover, the klutzy but earnest satyr) and my seven-year-old loved it to pieces. BUT … I found myself rolling my eyes a lot as I was caught up short by the holes in the fabric of the story and Riordan’s manipulation of his characters.

Specifically, Mr. Riordan makes it clear that these kids are smart. They’re smart enough to figure out that there’s a spy in the demigod summer camp, for example. Our Hero, Percy Jackson, spends the length of the book wondering who that spy is and mulling over a couple of lines in an oracle on the subject. But when he’s whacked over the head with the spy’s identity, he fails to tumble. Moreover, when he and his companions have completed their mission and returned to camp, the question of the spy’s identity and role in their near failure are completely forgotten. Time drags by and no one so much as mentions the spy or is the least concerned that they might still be after Percy. Even Chiron (the Obi Wan Kenobi of the piece) seems to have forgotten all about the spy until they strike again. Since I’d figured it out long, long before (because of the numerous unsubtle hints), this was more than a little frustrating. What bothered me most, though, was the way the manipulation extended to the reader. Riordan literally and literarily forces the reader to look away from the focus of their attention by simply putting the matter (a darned big, important matter) out of ALL his character’s heads.

The nature and powers of gods and other supernaturals were also so vague and inconsistent that it bothered me throughout. Sometimes characters knew things in detail that they had no reason to know and other times things took place right out in front of mortals and gods alike that the gods seemed to take no notice of, despite the fact that Percy’s movements were supposedly of dire interest to them. I was continually wondering, “Well, if they know this how can they possibly NOT know that?” The characters seemed to know what the writer needed them to know, and not know what he needed them NOT to know regardless of the situation (I hate it when that happens). It made me doubt that Riordan had a clear picture of the powers and nature of his supernatural characters.

Possible spoiler! He also did something at the end that I found disappointing emotionally. Percy’s mom, who is married to this nasty piece of work for reasons that eventually become clear, has every reason and opportunity to leave the buffoon. Riordan makes a big point of the idea that though Percy could take care of this for his mom through supernatural means, she shows courage by wanting to do it herself. “Cool!” I thought. “She’s gonna give this dimwit what-for (verbally) and leave him.” But no. She offs him (off-stage at that), employing the same supernatural device that Percy was going to use on the guy, thus sidestepping the issue of personal courage entirely. What’s up with that? And, yeah, he was bad news, but was it really a death penalty offense? I mean, in some ways the kid’s real dad did worse.

Without divulging too much, there’s also a logistical problem in Riordan’s solution with regard to Percy’s step-father. Mom does him in using a device that would have had the same deadly effect on everyone in the room. We know he was playing poker when he, er, folded, and poker is not a solitary pursuit. But there’s no mention of what happened to the other guys at the poker table.

I’ll no doubt buy more of the books for my daughter, ’cause like I said, they’re fun to read with lot of cliff-hangers, and I love the kid characters. I’ve also heard from several readers that the series improves with regard to Puppet Master Syndrome. I hope those readers are right and Mr. Riordan has come up with plots that don’t require so much manipulation of the characters and the reader.

If I were to rate this read, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5.

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Just What I Needed: More Gods and Goddesses (The Lightning Thief) — 2 Comments

  1. The main problem that I had with this otherwise delightful series (aside from those mentioned in the post above) was the author’s treatment of the Greek gods and goddesses throughout. I wouldn’t have minded so much if he at least had written truer to their classical profiles and personalities…aside from the whole, “my mom hates your dad” dynamic. There’s just so much potential there that I found it kind of disappointing, to a certain degree.

    However, that part of me that is closest to Me (the inside me) that is so absolutely into books and stories and things told That Other Me to go take a hike while my son and I raced through the series…and That Other Me totally, thoroughly enjoyed it! And enjoyed my son’s enjoyment even more. (And now the big lug is pestering me for books about Greek mythology. I think I’ll start him out on Homer…)

    But I concur. About middling is right where I’d put this series.