The Lightning Thief


Rick Riordan

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The Lightning Thief Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Rick Riordan

Riordan was born in San Antonio, Texas. Growing up, he was an avid writer of short stories. Despite this, he attended college first for music and then to be an English and history teacher. Following graduation, Riordan taught middle school English and history for more than a decade before writing and publishing Big Red Tequila, an adult crime novel and the first in his Tres Navarre series. Though the Tres Navarre series has been successful and has won awards, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series made Riordan a household name. The Lightning Thief began as a bedtime story for Riordan’s son, who had just been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. With his son’s encouragement, Riordan took the next year to write The Lightning Thief, and when it was accepted by a publisher, Riordan agreed to write the next four in the series. To keep up with his deadlines for both series, Riordan quit teaching, though he hopes that through his books, he can do more to inspire kids to read—particularly about mythology—than he could as a teacher. He and his wife live in Boston.
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Historical Context of The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief centers on fictionalized versions of the gods that were central to Ancient Greek religion and myth. Some elements of the polytheistic Greek religion have roots going back to the Bronze Age, but worship of the 12 gods that are now known as the Olympians (including Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, and Ares) solidified in the Archaic period, with the establishment of the Greek city-states like Athens and Sparta. During this time, the Greeks began to build stone temples for the gods. In 146 B.C.E., when the Roman Republic conquered Greece, the Romans adopted the Greek gods and gave them new names, as well as adopted Greek architectural styles. Despite the rise of Christianity and the later move to criminalize paganism in 381 C.E., the influence of Greek mythology, architecture, and culture persists today. As Chiron points out in the novel, the style of architecture used in Greek temples has influenced building practices throughout the Western world—many U.S. state capital buildings, as well as the White House and federal government buildings, are modeled after the Greek style, while even Christian churches and cathedrals exhibit Greek elements. It’s also impossible to understate the literary mark that the Greeks and their belief system left on the world. Some scholars propose that the Greek myths, along with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, are the most influential literary and cultural works of the Western world.

Other Books Related to The Lightning Thief

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of five books (as well as Riordan’s other novels and series that take place in the same world) are part of a huge body of literature concerning the Greek gods and the myths surrounding them. Very early works include the epic poems the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer, which were passed down orally for generations before being written down; the oldest manuscripts date to the 10th century B.C.E. Stories, plays, and legends concerning the Greek gods and heroes have provided inspiration for a number of classic novels, from Toni Morrison’s Beloved (which draws loosely on the tragic play Medea) to James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is based on the Odyssey. Perhaps more similar to The Lightning Thief, however, is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which imagines Norse and other ancient gods from belief systems around the world fighting for supremacy against new gods in modern America. There are also a number of young adult novels that draw from Greek myths, including the verse novel Bull by David Elliott and Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland. Many young adult novels, including The Lightning Thief, follow the classic hero’s journey format in which a young hero completes a quest of some sort to battle monsters and accomplish their goal. The legend of Percy’s namesake, Perseus, also follows this format.
Key Facts about The Lightning Thief
  • Full Title: The Lightning Thief
  • When Written: 2004
  • When Published: 2005
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
  • Setting: Modern-day New York City and other major U.S. cities
  • Climax: Percy bests Ares during their battle on the beach.
  • Antagonist: Ares and his children; Kronos; monsters
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Lightning Thief

Thanks, Mom. Riordan received his first rejection note from the Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine when he was 14 years old. His mom saved the note and unearthed it when Riordan finally got published as an adult.

Birthday Buddies. Riordan and his wife share the same birthday.