Thursday, December 1, 2011

DO MINOTAURS USE CELL PHONES? The Good, Bad, and Funny Writing Lessons I Learned from Reading Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

By Chad Morris

(WARNING: This post does contain spoilers if you are part of the 17% of the world’s population who has yet to read the book. They aren’t huge spoilers, but they’re there.)

Many of us read the Lightning Thief forever ago, but I think it has some valuable lessons other than the obvious “you might not want to take pit stops in Medusa’s home,” and “don’t go to Hades.”

A GOOD PREMISE GOES A LONG WAY.  Frankly, I think the premise of putting Greek myths in a modern context is brilliant. Riordan creates decent characters and his plot is fine, but at the end of the day, I think it is the premise that really makes the book a success. Demigods on earth, monsters, minotaurs, a pen that becomes a sword, a satyr who covers his legs and uses crutches, a centaur hiding his bottom half in a magical wheel chair (that must be some magic), Mt. Olympus at the Empire State Building. . . it is all entrancingly fun. It is easy to get caught up in. Oh, and of course the gate to hell is in L.A.

YOU’VE GOT TO LIVE WITH YOUR PREMISE. Though the premise is genius, it comes with a little baggage. In this case, the implications of Greek gods having illegitimate kids on earth I find a little dicey for a younger kids. Not bad, just a little uncomfortable at times. I’m sure it’s fine for teens, but I haven’t read it to my kids yet for that reason. I think it is good practice to consider if a premise may limit your audience. If it does, make sure you calculate the risk ahead of time. It obviously worked for Riordan.

DELAYED REVELATION IS GOOD, JUST DON’T DELAY IT TOO LONG. The book gradually lays out clues as to who Percy’s father is. However, in my opinion, it takes too long for Percy, the experienced teachers, and crowds of other demigods to figure it out. It gets a little taxing. I realize that Percy’s father had to “claim him,” but to me, it drags on a bit. Let’s see, Percy’s shows undeniable control over the water several times . . . .whose son could he be? It seems like the equivalent of asking, “Whose son is the kid with the quiver full of lightning bolts? If only we had a clue. And whose kid seems to have dominion over the dead? This is just too hard to figure out.”  

BE CAREFUL ABOUT HAPPENSTANCE PLOT POINTS. While the majority of the adventure flows beautifully, a few events happen by chance . . . and I just don’t buy it. It makes sense when monsters attack Percy, searching for the lightning bolt. But when he just happens to stumble into the home of one of the most infamous villains in history while he journeys all the way across the United states, it just doesn’t work for me. Really, what are the chances? And then he does it again. Either he also inherited superhuman bad luck, or it is just too much.

AND THE FUNNY? There is one line in the Lightning Thief that made me laugh for days. It explains that Percy can’t use a cell phone because monsters can track it. I just couldn’t help but picture a Minotaur hacking into cell phone records trying to work the keyboard with his hooves, banshees with blackberries, and Cyclops with blue teeth (You know what I meant).

Even with the few criticisms, Riordan is very successful and for good reason. The good outweighs the bad. That’s one final lesson. Maybe we can delay revelation a bit too long, or use happenstance occasionally, if it is all swallowed up in something that works well as a whole. 


  1. These are all really good points, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book in spite of the things you mentioned.

    Hey, why not cell phone hacking Minotaurs?

  2. Awesome Post. I can't say I've read Percy, but was given a copy of Lost Hero for my birthday. Hilarious and good read.

  3. I read Percy to my tween boys a few years ago. We did have a lengthy talk about illegitimate children. I completely agree that the premise carries that series.

  4. I have to agree about the happenstance events! That bothers me, not only in this book but in other books. I think sometimes writers get around with using fate or destiny as a deux ex machina, but I never buy it!

  5. Good post, Chad. Look forward to more of the same.

    I would like to see more stories about Greek gods in modern day settings. In fact, I think I'd like to write some of them. The conflict between new and old could really be fun.

  6. Saw the movie. I love the image of a Minoataur hacking into a cell phone :) Thanks for the review!

  7. I haven't read Percy, but I have been hearing about the guy for years! Maaan I need to get him on my TBR list!

  8. More readers should read things literally, as you do. One of the things Riordan taps into, though, is the zeitgeist--those who can track us by cell phone are monsters of some kind, and many families are fragmented to the extent that sometimes the custodial parent doesn't tell a kid about part of his family.

    My favorite literal thing is the blue food.


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