The world of Young Adult fiction exploded in the late 1990s and 2000s, birthing several heroes who remain popular to this day. Harry Potter was the undeniable king of the castle, but protagonists like Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen also found loyal fandoms. Just months before Twilight burst onto the scene in 2005, another hero emerged amongst the wizards, vampires, and child warriors of the age: Percy Jackson.
Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, created by author Rick Riordan, is the star of the popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. A character created to mirror the struggles of Riordan’s own son, Percy suffers from dyslexia. Later, after arriving at a special camp, he learns that he’s the son of the Greek god Poseidon and that his dyslexia is a side effect of being a demigod, the child of a god and a mortal. Because of that, his brain is naturally hardwired to read ancient Greek instead of English.
The power and resurgence of Percy Jackson
It’s a powerful statement to young readers who suffer from any learning disability or developmental challenge: That they don’t have to be defined by any challenges or obstacles that they face. That they are special and can do great things. And that the thing that they view as their weakness or downfall may actually turn out to be their greatest asset.
As many YA fiction fans retreat from Harry Potter and its controversial author, Percy Jackson has benefitted from renewed interest. The series’ first book, The Lightning Thief, will soon see its second live-action adaptation, this time as a series on Disney+. Anticipation for the series has inspired new readers to dive into Percy’s first adventure and experience its magic before the show’s debut.
Introduction to Percy
After a harrowing encounter with the mythical Minotaur, Percy arrives at Camp Half Blood. Upon his arrival, he learns that his father, M.I.A. for his entire life, is Poseidon—the Greek god of the sea. He also learns of his own involvement in a dangerous plot that pits Poseidon against Zeus, the King of the Gods. Such a conflict could lead to a war amongst the gods of Mount Olympus and destroy the world. Percy then sets out on a quest with his friend and protector, Grover, and fellow demigod Annabeth, to prevent the war before it’s too late.
The coming-of-age story explores the themes of friendship and self-discovery. Throughout the book, Percy learns to accept his identity and embrace his power and parentage. He learns to rely on his friends and to trust in himself; important lessons for any young reader.
The book also touches on themes of identity, family, and loyalty. Percy learns about his mother's unconditional love and that family can come in many forms. He also learns that loyalty is essential in times of trouble.
Characters and themes
Percy’s journey of self-discovery is one of The Lightning Thief’s main themes. His courage and loyalty are amongst his greatest strengths, but he is also hot-headed and reckless. Percy's strong moral compass and willingness to put himself in danger to protect his friends, make him a hero worth rooting for.
Annabeth Chase is one of the first people Percy meets after arriving at Camp Half Blood. A daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, Annabeth is intelligent and resourceful. Her bravery, determination, and quick thinking prove invaluable on their quest. She's also not afraid to stand up for herself or others, and is a loyal and inspiring role model for young readers.
The book’s final main character, Grover Underwood, is Percy's best friend and a guardian of sorts. Grover keeps his satyr identity a secret until their arrival at Camp Half Blood. He is a kind and loyal companion but also suffers from low self-esteem due to past mistakes. Grover is a representation of hope and innocence and reminds readers to stay the course despite setbacks.
Percy Jackson and the Bad Adaptation
After the books’ success, The Lightning Thief saw a slew of adaptations, including a big-budget film from 20th Century Fox. Released in 2010, the movie infamously makes drastic changes to the source material. It raises the ages of the three main characters, casting Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, and Brandon T. Jackson in the main roles. The filmmakers remove large sections of the book and replace them with new scenes. They also change Grover’s personality and fuse elements of another character into Annabeth's characterization.
To say critics and fans weren’t kind would be an understatement. Fans of the book railed against the film, calling it “unfaithful” and “one of the worst” book-to-film adaptations ever made. Author Rick Riordan also blasted the film and its sequel in 2020, saying that it felt like watching his “life’s work going through a meat grinder.”
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Disney+ adaptation
Riordan’s frustration with the callous way others handled his work seems to now be a thing of the past. In May 2020, he announced that development on a Percy Jackson streaming series had commenced at Disney+. To many fans' delight, Riordan will serve as series executive producer and co-writer of the pilot episode. His close involvement should ensure that this adaptation adheres more closely to the book.
The series’ first season will adapt the events of The Lightning Thief across eight episodes. The Adam Project star Walker Scobell will fill the (winged) shoes of the water-manipulating titular hero. Actors Leah Sava Jeffries and Aryan Simhadri will portray Annabeth and Grover. They join an all-star cast that includes Lin-Manuel Miranda, Megan Mullally, Timothy Omundson, and Adam Copeland. Lance Reddick and Toby Stephens will play Zeus and Poseidon.
Excitement for the show reached a fever pitch in September 2022, when Disney+ released a brief trailer for the series. The 52-second teaser shows Percy walking amongst the cabins at Camp Half Blood. Scobell narrates the teaser, his lines ripped nearly word-for-word from the book. The teaser has racked up over 5 million views since its debut, underlying the passion and excitement for the upcoming series.
Fans have more reason to be excited, as production on the first season wrapped on February 2, 2023. Riordan estimates that the series will debut sometime in 2024, and teased that he believes more seasons will follow.
The demigod's bright future
As excitement surrounding the world’s most famous demigod grows, the future of Poseidon’s progeny is the brightest it's ever been. With five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, plus the interconnected universe it shares with Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, and The Trials of Apollo, this burgeoning franchise has the potential to be as big as, if not bigger than, Harry Potter. As long as Riordan remains at the helm and imbues his adaptations with the love, care, and magic that bolstered his books, the sky truly is the limit.
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