I’ve just finished reading ‘The Lightning Thief’ by Rick Riordian. It’s the first of ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series. And in a long while, it’s the most exhilarating read I’ve had.
It’s fantasy fiction – about a young boy, around twelve or thirteen years old, who’s sent to a special school in New York. The school’s meant for kids suffering from dyslexia and attention-deficit disorders. But there’s more to Percy than meets the eye. He is not simply the product of a dysfunctional home with a loving mother and an alcoholic step-father. He is, in truth, the…
son of Poseidon, the Greek sea-god.
Owing to this lineage, many things befall this ‘half-blood’ – causing him to move beyond mortal parameters to other dimensions. In such alterative realities, he encounters other gods such as Ares, Medusa, Hermes, Hades, Zeus, Tartarus, etc. There’s also a brief encounter with the big daddy of them all, Kronos. And then there’s his quest – to reclaim Zeus’ thunderbolt from some unknown forces to stop a war of the gods.
It started off as a regular, light read for adolescents, but somewhere along the way, it totally gripped me. There are portions in the book where the author has described the Underworld (or ‘hell’ as we understand it) that is actually chilling. Here, people are either punished for their sins in a straightforward fashion like boiling in oil and listening to opera or running through cacti fields naked. Or else, they wait endlessly, in crowds of millions, in dark silence for a judgment that will not come. There are times when descriptions of Hades and his attendant Furies has actually caused me to put away the book at night. I mean, sure, that could be because I scare easy, but I think the writing was very compelling too.
Towards the end of the book, Percy finally meets Poseidon – the God who sired him in a lapse of judgment. Poseidon, along with his brothers, had taken an oath to not mate with mortals or have kids. Poseidon broke his promise. So, as soon as Percy was born, he had to leave the mother and son and head back to Olympus or the heavens and try to placate his brothers who threatened to rip the world apart. (That, by the way, is a favourite pastime of the Gods, it seems. “Hmm, now what can we possibly do to make things a little more difficult? Destroy the world? Now, there’s an idea!” )
Growing up Percy hated his father – for abandoning his mother and him. In fact, in the early part of his quest, his mother is destroyed, and Percy is shattered. Only later does he understand why that was necessary in the larger scheme of things. When he meets Poseidon, he is suddenly faced with the man whose love he never had, and whose approval he is still seeking. He feels little pricks of shame when Poseidon tells Zeus that he made a mistake by mating with a mortal to give birth to Percy. Finally he finds a quiet redemption when his father finally claims him as his own.
Sometimes, I wonder what it must feel to be a forsaken child. To know that your parent/s didn’t want you. In Percy’s case, although his father is a God, he is still close to his mother – an ordinary woman in an ordinary world trying to shape her life the best she can. A mother, whose haphazard world still has Percy in the centre of it.
But circumstances aside, there is such a thing as destiny that leads heroes and commoners alike. Percy, during his quest, realizes this – though it takes skill to become a god; it takes guts to remain human.