The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan
Where It All Goes Down
From New York to Los Angeles, CA, and all the stops along the way
Are you ready to travel around America, following Percy on his quest? This story takes place everywhere: in the sky, in the sea, underground, and all across America. It takes place in the present, and so you'll probably recognize a lot of the places that Percy visits, both from the world you live in and the Ancient Greek stories you may have heard about.
New York: Yancy Academy, Sally's Apartment in Queens, and Montauk Beach
Percy is from Queens, NY. His mom lives in a little apartment with Percy's stepdad, Smelly Gabe. Percy always seems to feel homesick for this apartment. This desire to go home tells us a lot about how much he loves his mom, because going home also means confronting the worst stepdad in the world. Here is a good description of what it's usually like at home:
Smelly Gabe was in the living room, playing poker with his buddies. The television blared ESPN. Chips and beer were strewn all over the carpet. (3.14)
Gabe uses Percy's room as his "study," littering his magazine and dirty clothes everywhere.
Percy and his mom have being going to Montauk Beach since Percy was a baby, and this beach is also the place where Sally fell in love with Poseidon. When they visit, all of their fears seem to melt away, and Sally seems to get younger and more carefree. They tell stories and forget the real world for the weekend. Percy later realizes that when he was little, he used to see the faces of smiling women in the beach waves – these were Nereids, keeping watch over him. Here, Percy describes their rental cabin at Montauk:
Our rental cabin was on the south shore, way out at the tip of Long Island. It was a little pastel box with faded curtains, half sunken into the dunes. There was always sand in the sheets and spiders in the cabinets, and most of the time the sea was too cold to swim in. (3.83)
Now, doesn't that kind of sound like cabin #3 at Camp Half-Blood?
Yancy Academy is "a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York" (1.8), and it is a boarding school. There, Percy is surrounded by kids very different from him: they're kids from very affluent families, but whose parents don't necessarily care much about them. When Percy discovers at the end of his sixth-grade year that he will not be invited back, he tells us that he will miss, "the view of the woods out my dorm window, the Hudson River in the distance, the smell of pine trees" (2.15).
Camp Half-Blood isn't your normal camp where the campers learn skills like swimming, canoeing, and arts and crafts. It's a camp for young demi-gods and demi-goddesses (a.k.a. the children born of Olympian gods and their human boyfriends/girlfriends). There, half-bloods train in the art of killing monsters and of surviving in the mortal and immortal worlds. Dionysus – a.k.a. Mr. D – is the camp director, and Chiron, a famous hero trainer, helps out. Percy tells us that, "in all there were maybe a hundred campers, a few dozen satyrs, and a dozen assorted wood nymphs and naiads" (6.109). Check out Percy's map of Camp Half-Blood as you read his description of it:
The landscape was dotted with buildings that looked like ancient Greek architecture—an open-air pavilion, and amphitheater, a circular arena—except that they all looked brand new, their white marble columns sparkling in the sun. In a nearby sandpit, a dozen high school-age kids and satyrs played volleyball. Canoes glided across a small lake. Kids in bright orange T-shirts like Grover's were chasing each other around a cluster of cabins nestled in the woods. Some shot targets at an archery range. Others rode horses down a wooded trail, and, unless I was hallucinating, some of their horses had wings (5.57)
Here, the weather is always nice, and it never rains. That is, unless Zeus decides to make it rain.
Here are the cabins at Camp Half-Blood (check out our "Characters" section to learn more about who these gods are and what they are like). Imagine them in a U-shape with Zeus and Hera's cabins at the head. Percy describes them as "without doubt the most bizarre collection of buildings I'd ever seen" (6.50). We found a map of the cabins for you too if it helps.
Cabin #1: Zeus
Cabin #2: Hera
Cabin #3: Poseidon
Cabin #4: Demeter
Cabin #5: Ares
Cabin #6: Athena
Cabin #7: Hermes
Cabin #8: Artemis
Cabin #9: Hephaestus
Cabin #10: Aphrodite
Cabin #11: Hermes
Cabin #12: Dionysus
Camp Half-Blood's boundaries are enchanted so as to protect the campers from any monsters or outside forces. However, we learn that anyone within the camp can summon a monster. This is how a hellhound from the Underworld is able to penetrate the camp boundaries. Thalia's tree on Half-Blood Hill is an enchanted pine tree infused with the spirit of a demi-goddess named Thalia (Zeus's daughter) who died battling the Furies on that hill a few summers before. The pine tree provides huge magical enchantments that help keep Camp Half-Blood even more safe and secure.
Stops Along the Way: Auntie Em's Garden Gnome Emporium, the Woods, St. Louis Gateway Arch, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles
The Lightning Thief takes us on a wild tour of America. We spend the night in the New Jersey woods, we encounter a scary roadside curio-shop, we watch the Midwestern landscape roll by from an Amtrak train window, we visit the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, we hang out in Denver, we get sucked into a Las Vegas casino, and we wander around the streets of Los Angeles in search of an entrance to the Underworld. In short, we get a pretty detailed, but unusual tour of the United States. But why do the gods live in America, anyway? Well, let's let Chiron take it away:
"Percy, of course they are now in your United States. Look at your symbol, the eagle of Zeus. Look at the statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center, the Greek facades of your government buildings in Washington. I defy you to find any American city where the Olympians are not prominently displayed in multiple places. Like it or not—and believe me, plenty of people weren't very fond of Rome, either—America is now the heart of the flame. It is the great power of the West. And so Olympus is here. And we are here." (5.191)
The spirit of Western Civilization lies in the waterparks, casinos, monuments, and architecture of the United States.
Let's start with the facts. The Underworld is a vast world underground ruled by Hades, where the dead go to, well, hang out for eternity. The Underworld entrance is located in Los Angeles (West Hollywood), and it is divided into three fields: the Elysian Fields (prime real estate), the Asphodel Fields (neither good, nor bad; just so-so), and the Fields of Punishment (torture central). Percy describes the Underworld as being like one giant concert with no light and no beach ball floating around – just spirits milling about for miles on end. The dead are kind of transparent when you look at them directly, and they aren't very cheery. There's a stalactite ceiling far above.
To get to the fields, Percy and his friends have to bribe Charon to ferry them across the River Styx:
We were standing in a wooden barge. Charon was poling us across a dark, oily river, swirling with bones, dead fish, and other, stranger things—plastic dolls, crushed carnations, soggy diplomas and guilt edges. (18.84)
Charon explains that the river is "polluted" with human "hopes, dreams, wishes that never come true" (18.84).
The shoreline of the Underworld features a black sand beach and a huge wall stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction. Percy tells us, "the entrance to the Underworld looked like a cross between airport security and the Jersey Turnpike" (18.97). There are metal detectors, security cameras, and tollbooths everywhere. The dead have two options: the "ATTENDENT ON DUTY" line and the "EZ DEATH" line. For those who'd like a chance to make it to Elysium (prime real estate), they need to pass through the long ATTENDENT ON DUTY line, so that they can be evaluated by three judges (judges are spirits like Shakespeare, King Minos, and Thomas Jefferson). For those who wouldn't like to be judged (for fear of being sent to the Fields of Punishment for bad deeds they might have done), they can simply take the EZ DEATH line and spend eternity in the Asphodel Fields (not bad and not good, just so-so). Cerberus guards this part of the Underworld – he's a giant, three-headed Rottweiler who is able to sniff out the living among the dead.
So far, the Underworld sounds perfectly gloomy. Which, we guess, must be the point. Once past the security check-point, Percy and his friends can see spirits being tortured in horrible ways over in the Fields of Punishment to the left. To the right, the Elysian Fields glow like a beautiful gated community, with a lake and luxurious houses. And stretched out for miles in front of them is the concert-like scene of the Asphodel Fields – spirits drifting about aimlessly over dead, trampled grass, as far as the eye can see.
Hades's palace looks like Zeus's palace, only with black stone walls and bronze floors – perhaps Hades is making a statement about how the Underworld can be just as cool as Mount Olympus. His house is big, to put it mildly. His gates are engraved with images of famine, trench warfare, nuclear bomb devastation, and more. His front yard features a garden of jewels, Medusa's statues (people Medusa has turned to stone), and Persephone's dangerous pomegranate orchard (dangerous because, if you take a bite of her pomegranate, you are stuck in the Underworld forevermore).
Overall, we're impressed by the sheer size of the Underworld. It truly is a world of its own. The fact that Hades is having problems with overcrowding tells us a lot about the way in which the human population is growing, and perhaps it also tells us a bit about the state of things in the world above.
Found on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building, one accesses Mount Olympus by elevator. When up top, one must walk across a very narrow bridge hanging thousands of feet above the Manhattan streets. On the other end of the bridge is a huge mountain of clouds that features a beautiful Ancient Greek community:
Clinging to the mountainside were dozens of multileveled palaces – a city of mansions—all with white colored porticos, gilded terraces, and bronze barriers glowing with a thousand fires. (21.30)
Mount Olympus is the home of the gods, so it's only right that it look like the ritziest and most decadent place you can imagine. Gorgeous minor gods hang out here and there, merchants sell beautiful replicas of Ancient Greek treasures in the streets, the muses give a concert in the park, and naiads flirt with passers-by. Just a normal day in Olympus. Everyone is calm, peaceful and beautiful.
Once inside Zeus's palace on Mount Olympus, Percy makes his way to the room where the Olympians' thrones are located:
Room really isn't the right word. The place made Grand Central Station look like a broom closet. Massive columns rose to a domed ceiling, which was gilded with moving constellations. (21.37)
Each throne personifies its ruler. For example, Poseidon's throne looks like a deep-sea fisherman's chair, while Zeus's throne is very sleek and minimalist, solid platinum. The gods live well and luxuriously on Mount Olympus.