67 pages 2 hours read

Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, published in 2005, is the first installment in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a five-book fantasy series for young readers. The books draw heavily on Greek mythology and follow Percy (Perseus) Jackson and his friends on a quest to find and return Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt. The book was named School Library Journal’s Best Book of 2005, an American Library Association Notable Book (2006), and a New York Times Notable Book (2005). Percy Jackson and the Olympians spawned several spinoff series: The Heroes of Olympus, The Trials of Apollo, and the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles. The Lightning Thief was adapted into a film in 2010 and is currently in production as a television special by Disney. Before writing The Lightning Thief, Riordan taught Greek mythology at the middle-school level for several years. Percy Jackson’s adventures began as a bedtime story for Riordan’s son, who wanted new tales of Greek myth. This guide follows the 2006 First Hyperion Paperbacks edition.

Plot Summary

Narrated by the titular character, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief focuses on the trials of Percy and his fellows at Camp Half-Blood, a special camp for demigod children of the Greek gods. Percy (son of the sea god Poseidon), Annabeth Chase (daughter of goddess of wisdom Athena), and Grover (a satyr), who form the main triad of the book, must return Zeus’s (king of the gods) stolen lightning bolt to prevent war on Mount Olympus. Armed with gifts from the gods and a mystifying prophesy, the three journey across the United States to confront Hades (god of the Underworld), encountering monsters from Greek mythology along the way.

The book opens with Percy at a boarding school for troubled kids. Percy struggles with both dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which have gotten him kicked out of school after school. Yancy Academy isn’t much different, except for Grover, Percy’s only friend, and Mr. Brunner, the only teacher Percy likes.

Percy’s class takes a field trip to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibit of ancient Greek artifacts. Mr. Brunner impresses the importance of the old myths on the class, Percy in particular. During their lunch break, a bully pushes Grover around. Percy defends his friend by unknowingly manipulating a water fountain. One of the teachers calls Percy back into the museum to discuss the incident. Once they are alone, she morphs into her true form of a Fury (minion of Hades) and tries to kill Percy. With help from Mr. Brunner, Percy defeats the Fury and returns outside to find no one even remembers the other teacher.

Poor behavior later in the school year gets Percy expelled from Yancy Academy. He returns home for summer break, where his mother surprises him with a trip to the ocean for the weekend. While they are there, a terrible storm hits, and Grover arrives to warn Percy he’s in terrible danger. Percy must get to Camp Half-Blood to be safe. On the way, Grover is injured, and Percy’s mother is attacked by a monster. She disappears into golden light, leaving no body, Percy can only wonder what happened to her.

At camp, Percy learns about his demigod nature and that, as a son of Poseidon, he is a forbidden child. When he is accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt on behalf of Poseidon, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover set out to find the real thief. They battle monsters and receive help from unlikely sources along their journey, all the while bonding both as friends and as a team. When they finally reach the Underworld, they learn Hades didn’t steal the bolt and that something much more powerful and sinister pulls the strings. Kronos (titan father of the gods) regains his strength in his prison and works to turn the gods against one another. He influenced one of Percy and Annabeth’s fellow campers to steal the bolt. Back at camp, Percy relays the information to the counsellors. Danger lurks on the horizon. With the threat secured for the time being, Percy and Annabeth go home for the school year, knowing greater threats await them.

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