The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson is perhaps the best chapter-titler known to man. He is our narrator and the hero of The Lightning Thief. To get a taste of his personality and his sense of humor, just glance at this book's table of contents. Chapter titles like "A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers," and "We Get Advice from a Poodle" really help paint a clear portrait of this twelve-year-old boy and his demi-god sense of humor.
Percy, The Normal Kid?
Percy has never been "normal" in his life. What the heck does "normal" mean anyway? Well, it probably doesn't refer to somebody who has attended six different schools in six years. That's right – Percy has knack for getting kicked out of school. It's not his fault, though. You see, trouble seems to find him wherever he goes. He's a trouble magnet, no matter how hard he tries to keep cool and make himself invisible. Take, for example, his school trip to the New York museum:
I was trying to listen to what [Mr. Brunner] had to say, because it was kind of interesting, but everybody around me was talking, and every time I told them to shut up, the other teacher chaperone, Mrs. Dodds, would give me the evil eye. (1.31)
Sheesh. He gets in trouble for trying to pay attention.
Percy is used to being the outsider, the loner, and the dummy. He describes himself as "a troubled kid" (1.9). The fact that he has attended six schools over the past six years tells us that he must be really good at adapting to new places, but that he probably doesn't have many friends. During his sixth-grade year, Percy attends Yancy Academy, a nice boarding school for students with learning disabilities. Most of his classmates come from families that do not need to scramble for money like Percy's family does. While his classmates talk about what fun adventures they have lined up for the summer break (like travelling to Switzerland, taking a cruise to the Caribbean, etc.), Percy doesn't tell them that he will spend his summer working various jobs and figuring out where he will be able to go to school in the fall. Later on, when presented with a free stay at a Vegas casino, Percy says,
I couldn't remember the last time I had so much fun. I came from a relatively poor family. Our idea of a splurge was eating out at Burger King and renting a video. (16.200)
Percy comes from a very humble background, allowing him to be grateful for simple pleasures in life.
Growing up, Percy never knew his dad. His mother (who we'll talk about in a minute) eventually married a seriously heinous dude name Gabe Ugliano, or Smelly Gabe. They live in an apartment in Queens, NY, and Gabe likes to make Percy's life and Percy's mom's life a living hell. As a result, Percy's life perspective can be a bit negative at times:
I could start at any point in my short and miserable life to prove it. (1.11)
See? When he begins telling us his story, he's a bit on the grumpy side, giving us the sense that he is angry at someone or something. He talks about the lies parents tell their children and counsels us to believe these lies:
Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life. (1.2)
This bit of advice tells us that Percy distrusts adults, but that he also feels that staying ignorant of certain truth is way better than pursuing this truth. He's disgruntled.
As if life weren't rough enough, Percy is dyslexic and has attention deficit disorder. This makes learning in a mortal classroom a billion times harder for him. He describes what it's like not being able to focus well in the classroom:
I have moments like that a lot, when my brain falls asleep or something, and the next thing I know I've missed something, as if a puzzle piece fell out of the universe and left me staring at the blank place behind it. The school counselor told me this was part of the ADHD, my brain misinterpreting things. (1.106)
Studying for final exams is a complete nightmare for him. All the words in his textbooks go "swimming off the page, circling [his] head, the letters doing one-eighties as if they were riding skateboards" (2.18). Fortunately, his favorite teacher, Mr. Brunner is a really good teacher (Latin and Ancient Greek culture) and thinks that Percy is the bee's knees. He sets very high expectations for Percy, saying, "I expect only the best from you, Percy Jackson" (1.66). Mr. Brunner is the only teacher who really believes in Percy's abilities, and Percy tries hard to do well in his class.
Percy, The Half-Blood
"Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood." (1.1)
Tell us how you really feel, Percy. Tee-hee. Percy doesn't waste time letting us know that being the son of a Greek god wasn't something he always dreamed about. He struggles to understand what being a half-blood even means, which we can understand. Life is already tough for him as he tries to survive academically and socially in school. Now, life gets even more complex and surreal. And on top of that, he suddenly inherits a whole heap of responsibility: he must help prevent one of the biggest wars of all time. No fun. Normal twelve-year-olds get to do things like watch TV and eat spaghetti.
Initially, Percy doesn't believe in the Greek gods and thinks that they are just myths invented to explain stuff that goes on in the world, like the seasons. He tells Mr. D and Chiron, "they're what people believed before there was science" (5.120). Clearly, Percy is still heavily influenced by the mortal world and mortal society. He has a difficult time opening his mind up to the possibility of the existence of another way of life, of other beings. But, we don't blame him for having a tough time accepting this notion – we probably wouldn't believe it either if Zeus reached down one day and plucked us off the earth. Over the course of a few days, Percy's entire understanding of the world is turned upside-down.
As a demi-god, Percy is exceptionally brave. He has good gut instincts that help him know exactly what to do when battling a Minotaur (rip his horn off and stab the monster with it) or when dueling Ares, god of war (use the waves to discombobulate the god). Instead of being scared of confronting the god of the Underworld, Hades, Percy is angry and is full of a fiery sense of justice and revenge:
A strange fire burned in my stomach. The weirdest thing was: it wasn't fear. It was anticipation. The desire for revenge. Hades had tried to kill me three times so far, with the Fury, the Minotaur, and the hellhound. It was his fault my mother had disappeared in a flash of light. Now he was trying to frame me and my dad for a theft we hadn't committed. (9.66)
Percy is pretty fearless, making him a really good hero. Sometimes he forgets to look before he leaps, but that's why he's got his BFF Grover and his brainy partner-in-crime Annabeth to help him.
One of the coolest things about Percy is that he is never tempted to steal the master bolt or the helm of darkness for himself, even though both objects are in his possession at one point. The idea of being powerful doesn't tempt him. Even when he has the chance to barter for his mother's life, Percy does the right thing. He pursues his quest with one thing in mind, the thing that matters most to him…
The Most Important Thing To Percy
Sally Jackson. Percy's mom loves him more than anything. She sees right through to his heart and can detect his mood better than any mood ring. When he first sees her after being away at boarding school for sixth grade, he tells us, "when she looks at me, it's like she's seeing all of the good things about me, none of the bad" (3.36). She pushes him, just like Mr. Brunner pushes him, to do well in school and to be safe.
Much later, when Percy is deep in the heart of his quest, he confesses to Grover, "I don't care about the master bolt. I agreed to go to the Underworld so that I could bring back my mother" (12.47). Having special powers and being able to make blue cherry coke magically appear in a glass don't really matter to Percy. He really only cares about his mom and bringing her back to the world of the living.
Percy's full name is Perseus. Ree-rar, ree-rar, ree-rar – Ancient Greek reference alert! "Perseus" was the name of a famous hero in Ancient Greece who was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. He is known for slaying Medusa, which he accomplished using his shield so as not to look at her directly. He was aided by Athena and Hermes in this quest. It's a long story, but, basically, killing Medusa was a way of protecting his mom from the unwanted attention of a local king.
Percy is similar to Perseus in that he is a demi-god/hero, he slays Medusa, and he is devoted to his mother and would do anything for her – even venture to the Underworld and back.
If Wishes Were Horses, Percy Would Ride
OK, we know what Annabeth dreams of. We know what Grover dreams of. We even know what Luke is dreaming of these days. But what about Percy? What does Percy want out of life? Does he know yet? His world is completely rocked the summer after his sixth-grade year, and his whole sense of himself is turned on its head. We watch as he realizes what it means to have the Sea God as his dad. Percy possesses powers beyond anyone's wildest dreams – he understands water and can make the ocean do anything he wants it to. He can breathe underwater. How cool is that?
But what does Percy want with these powers? Is he happy to be a half-blood at the end of this story? Despite the confusion that Percy must feel, he does seem excited to have a dad and to make his dad proud. Perhaps Percy's dreams will eventually stem from his relationship to his dad.
What's Next for Percy?
There are four books left in the Percy Jackson series. Yessssssss. We've got a feeling that there is more than one reason why Percy decides to go home and live with his mom for his seventh-grade year. Yes, he loves Sally Jackson and living with her is always fun. But he also remembers what Annabeth said once about how living in the real world serves as a true test of a hero's abilities, because that's where all the monsters lurk. Percy seems excited by the idea of sharpening his monster-slaying skills. He also seems eager to find a way to stop Luke and to learn more about what Kronos is planning. He even tells Chiron and Annabeth, "Luke is out there right now […] I have to go after him" (22.163).