The Lightnings Thief By Rick Riordan English Literature Essay

By Clarence Grimes

Subject: English


My question is "How does the writer use literary techniques to appeal to a young male audience in The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan?" While I was reading the text, I was taken in to it far more than I’ve ever been in a book. Although it was directed more towards a young male audience, it was still written expertly. I therefore wanted to delve deeper into exactly what the writer did, and how the writer created such suspense and entertainment. First, I did some background study on Greek mythology, and The Lightning Thief itself. Then I read through the book again, making careful note of all the relevant techniques I could find, and how they relate to the target audience. I started noticing littler things, like the very idea of the main character, Percy Jackson, and noted down how this was relevant as well. In this essay, I comment and analyze on the techniques that he uses, and why they show an understanding of the target audience, young males. After doing all of this, I now see that he uses symbolism, sound effects, and several other techniques, notably the characterization of Percy Jackson, in such a way that it could be said that they are all combined, or polymerized. I was, and am still, very impressed.

Abstract word count: 217

Contents Page

Title Page………………………………………………………………………………1


Contents Page………………………………………………………………………….3

Text Body…………………………………………………………………………..4-13

Works Cited Page…………………………………………………………………….14

Riordan uses many techniques effectively to convey senses and emotions to the audience, and to bring them into the story, such as symbolism, sound effects, characterization, drama, and foreshadowing. The characterization is definitely the most prominent aspect out of these, especially with the main character, Percy Jackson. This is probably why this was such a successful novel, and such a fun read. But why did he choose to write it the way he did? Most definitely due to his target audience. So, how does the writer use literary techniques to appeal to a young male audience in The Lightning Thief? He does this by conveying the themes of power through words, adding a sense of fun, relating the setting to his audience, and most of all, characterization. Especially the main character.

Percy Jackson is a delinquent twelve year old in a normal world, until he finds out that everything about Greek mythology is very real, and he’s a strong part of it all. He meets gods that are obsessed with power, which obviously introduces the theme of power; the most prominent and important theme in the book. It is written as a first person narrative, from the perspective of Percy Jackson, the protagonist of the novel, who notices everything. The author uses this astute perception to describe the details of the environment to the reader, bringing them in to the story. We quickly find out he is sarcastic, ironic, funny, and has a very relatable personality to the audience that the novel was directed at; young adults.

"Some writers will say that they don’t have any audience in mind when they

write. They write solely for themselves, or for posterity, or because they are driven internally to tell the story. That’s all fine and legitimate. But as a teacher, I always drove home one thing to my writing students: You must have a sense of audience."(Ledwith) It’s easy to see here that Riordan has this sense of audience that he’s talking about. Not only is he conscious about who he’s writing to, but it’s apparent in the actual book that he knows how to communicate to his chosen audience. "Who are you writing for? You can’t expect a business inquiry to be written the same as a letter to your friend. Nor should you expect a college physics textbook to be written the same way as a fairy tale book for elementary students. Audience, for this writer, is critically important. I would submit that it’s important to any writer. It’s a fundamental element of good communication. You should always be mindful and considerate of your audience."(Ledwith) Says Rick Riordan in an interview for the New York Ties. This proves that Riordan was paying attention to his target audience whilst he wrote this book. When asked how he does this, he responded:

"I do this primarily by knowing my audience -- writing for them and to them. What does that mean? Writing with a strong plot, for one thing. Writing about characters that kids can relate to. Writing with humor and suspense to keep the pages turning. Writing as clearly as I can, so the sentence structure flows well when read aloud, and the prose becomes a smooth-running vehicle to deliver the story. And, like myths, my stories repeat familiar patterns – the hero’s quest, in particular."(Ledwith)

On the theme of power, each god has their own symbol of power; Poseidon’s trident, Zeus’s lightning bolt, Hades’ helmet, Ares’ shield, etc. There are lots of these symbols. They each symbolize the power of the gods. Riordan makes the audience apparent in the intro of the book, where the main character is introduced as a young

male, and the writing style is quick paced and fun, plunging straight into the story. This makes who the author intends to be the target audience, young males. Young males typically have difficulty with authority in our culture. This authority and power

is something that the gods abuse, at least from the perception of Percy Jackson. Because the book is written from Percy Jackson’s point of view, it allows the reader to relate to the perception of the book, so the writing keeps their interest, and keeps them wanting to read. It’s a simplistic way to write, which suits this audience.

Percy mentions gods' names very casually, which is strongly discouraged by the other characters. Mr. D tells him, "Young man, names are powerful things. You don't just go around using them for no reason".(Riordan79) After constantly being corrected and warned not to say certain gods' names out loud, Percy cries, "Look, is there anything we can say without it thundering?"(Riordan129) This outburst of sarcasm provides humor for the reader. This appeals not only to the target audience, but almost all audiences, as humor is just about universally enjoyed in a read. Normally if the target audience would be in this situation, they would want to say something similar to this, but in reality, they wouldn’t for fear of getting in trouble. The build up to this line makes the reader hope that Percy would say something like this, but not really expect it. When he finally does say this, it typically would make the reader love the character, and expect more sarcasm from him. It’s an easy thing to relate to for a young male. Percy Jackson tends to speak out more than just this time, especially when it comes to names.

There are a few different ways that Riordan presents the theme of power that the gods have. One of these ways, is with the use of names. When a god’s name is said outloud, magical things can happen, like they are always watching you. * If just the very presence of their name, just vocalizing it, causes weird things to happen, imagine how much power they really have. This is yet another way to present the power that the gods have, that even their names are a way for them to control people. It’s similar to when a student is in school, the way that they are supposed to use "Mr." and "Mrs." And last names, rather than first names, otherwise their teachers might actually get mad – from just them calling them by their first name. It’s something that’s relatable to young males. It’s also something that students can relate to. Students wouldn’t address their teacher as ‘Rob’, students would address their teacher as ‘Mister Lee’. We never use first names, only last names. The same goes with our parents, we call them mom and dad, or mommy and daddy, or mother and father. We don’t call them by their names. Casually addressing someone by their name is a privilege that is practically forbidden to young males, with one of the only exceptions being their friends. Even the chapter names provide the reader with something to relate to, as they are a humorous way to foreshadow events to come, "My Dinner Goes Up In Smoke" (Riordan93). This is something Riordan uses to relate to young males, along with another thing that audience typically enjoys a lot of: games.

One clever way Riordan relates to his audience, is through the use of games. Pinochle, Capture-the-Flag, hacky sack, and especially the games played at the Lotus Hotel. which is a Casino that provides free food and drinks, arcades, and rooming. Often, when games are mentioned, strategy doesn’t follow far behind. Annabeth making strategy for Capture-the-Flag, pinochle being a game about strategy, and the Lotus Hotel using the strategy of exploiting the weaknesses of others. The ultimate strategy game, though is not blatantly in this book, is commonly known as chess. Percy feels like he is a pawn in the games of the gods. This is very clever of Riordan, because not only does he relate to young males with the use of games, but he also brings in the theme of power with them, in a way that any reader could understand.

Their power over him restrains him in a similar way to society’s power over young males. Also, in general, young males love games. Video games, football, baseball, arcades, etc. they just can’t stay away. Most people would find all of the talk of games in the book interesting, but especially the young male audience. Percy also enjoys these

games, and all of the companions enjoy specifically the Lotus Hotel, a place where visitors get distracted from their objectives, and don’t age. Ultimately, this is not only something young males can relate to, as video games are something they use to procrastinate and distract them from work, but it’s also something of a life lesson. Their quest becomes very difficult and rushed due to their wasted time in the hotel. Something that all students could think about when given schoolwork.

The gods follow the heart of Western Civilization. But what exactly is "Western Civilization," and why are the gods so keen on it? Chiron says, "Come now, Percy. What you call 'Western civilization.' Do you think it's just an abstract concept?… And yes, Percy, they are now in your United States."(pg 189 The Lightning Thief)
Western civilization is "a living force," a "collective consciousness." It sounds to the reader like Western civilization is a way of life, a belief system. Boys’ minds wonder off quite a bit. They often create their own realities in their minds. They often imagine different worlds, they go into "wonder land" so to speak. This idea of western civilization being a way of life, and this fire burning, growing and migrating is something that that audience would really think about and ponder over. It’s something they would relate to, because it’s different, it’s unique. It’s saying that the world we live in is actually something different from what we think it is. It’s an idea that is simply appealing. This is definitely a strong magnet for the young male audience. Perhaps the fact that the world is different than how we see it, could also be

referring to a different world entirely, possibly the one we experience in our dreams.

Percy doesn't have many peaceful nights of sleep in this story. The gods use dreams as a message for Percy. The first dream he has is the most important, as it foreshadows the events to play out. And eagle and a horse fighting on a beach. Zeus is the god of the sky, his animal is the bird, so the eagle represents Zeus. Poseidon is the god of the sea and of horses, so the horse here represents Poseidon. This dream foreshadows that there will be a battle between Zeus and Poseidon, which there is great danger of being.

In many stories, dreams are often used to create tension or foreshadowing. The way the dreams and foreshadowing are used in this book, make it obvious what’s going to happen. Obvious, but not so obvious that you don’t have to think about it. Because they’re easy enough for most people to understand, but hard enough for some audiences to have to think about it, it draws readers in. This is because people like to figure things out, it makes them feel like they’re relating to the story, and like they’re making friends with the characters. It’s perfectly designed so that the young male audience is very enticed by their ability to figure things out, and put things together. This makes them want to keep reading, and enjoy themselves more. One thing that helps the audience figure things out, is being drawn into the story, especially with use of the senses.

The five senses are very important in this story. During the burning sacrifices of food, Percy goes into great detail describing the incredible and confusing smell coming from the fire. The smell that comes from the fire is amazing, even though Percy tells the reader specifically that it shouldn’t be so good . When Annabeth is busy nursing Percy back to health, she uses the nectar, which Percy goes into detail describing . Grover has an amazing sense of hearing. Percy describes every detail he can see around him. He describes the burning sensation of the chimera’s poison, "I could feel it burning and coursing through my veins" (Riordan 211).

All of the senses shown in the book bring the reader in, and allow them to experience the journey with Percy. The immortal world makes the mortal world seem boring and tedious. Most teenage boys would agree that the normal world is very boring, and they wish for more. Through the senses portrayed in the novel, Percy sees the world the same way. Yet again, we see a way the target audience can relate to this very relatable character. It’s as if the author has taken everything about the average young male, put them all together, and named his creation Percy Jackson. The characterization in the story is truly the most prominent aspect of appeal. The audience also needs to relate to the area, they need to be able to picture where the story is actually happening.

The setting is very mixed up, but not randomly. The major events take place specifically in the sky, the sea, and underground. This is to represent the three Big Gods, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. It takes place in the present, so the reader probably recognizes a lot of the places that Percy visits, both from the world they live in and the Ancient Greek stories they may have heard about. It also allows them to have an understanding of the culture and background that the story takes place in, making decisions and events easy for them to understand.

Percy is from a place that shares a lot of aspects with where most kids might live. It’s a working class environment, it’s an apartment, he has a mean stepdad, Smelly Gabe, and he has a loving mom who makes delicious cookies. Even though it’s not the most luxurious place in the world, Percy often mentions how much he misses it, though he is conflicted. He wants to go back to see his mom, but that also means confronting his stepdad. Out of all the places people from Riordan’s target audience might live, Queens, New York was probably the best place to choose for Percy to live, in terms of relating to his audience. This is because Queens, New York is quite a well known place. It’s a place that has a lot of common characteristics of American society; school bullies, apartments/rent, semi-decent housing, divorce, etc. It’s just about impossible for most young males to not have something to relate to.

Percy’s stepdad is the embodiment of how young people often see their step parents. "Smelly Gabe was in the living room, playing poker with his buddies. The television blared ESPN. Chips and beer were strewn all over the carpet." (Riordan) Smelly Game just uses Percy’s room as he sees fit. He asserts his power over him, which fits in with the theme of power. He also leaves it a mess, which most adolescent young boys should be able to relate to. It doesn’t matter what a step parent is actually like, the perception of them will always be the same; they just can never replace a real parent. This is something particularly directed at readers who have gone through some sort of divorce. It’s a common situation that they can relate to. And to see that his step dad is with the worst of them, almost brings them justice. Finally, someone sees the step parent as badly as they do. Also, the fact that Gabe uses Percy’s room as a study to throw his junk everywhere, is something every child can relate to; that invasion of privacy that just about every parent is guilty of. It’s annoying for even the most tolerant adolescent, but we have to put up with it, just like Percy Jackson. There aren’t only negative points to relate to, though. There are also positive points, such as vacationing with your parents, and the

‘nicer’ parent.

Deep down, every kid wants to go on a vacation to the beach with their mother, and just get away from everything. In this book, Percy and his mom sometimes do go to the beach for vacation. Seeing him do it, even with all of the other stuff going on in the book, almost gives the reader hope that it might happen to them.

Camp Half-Blood is the perfect example of how Percy notices everything. He tells the reader, "in all there were maybe a hundred campers, a few dozen satyrs, and a dozen assorted wood nymphs and naiads". And, "The landscape was dotted with buildings that looked like ancient Greek architecture… and, unless I was hallucinating, some of their horses had wings" (Riordan) He notices everything. This isn’t particularly a trait that most readers would have in common with Percy, but it certainly draws the readers in. It gives them a good description of where Percy is, and what’s going on, so they never get confused. It’s like watching a movie, but better because you can use your imagination rather than rely on someone else’s interpretation.

There is a point in the story that is symbolic to choices people make. When

they’re young, people often are given two choices. This symbolism takes place in the Underworld. When Percy first arrives at the Underworld, he sees 2 lines. One of the lines says "ATTENDENT ON DUTY". The other lines says "EZ DEATH" (easy death). Anyone who chooses to go to the first line, gets judged on the way they lived their life. So if they think they did good in their life, they can go there, and hopefully go to Elysian Fields, which is like heaven. However, if they did lots of bad in their life and they go to that line, they will go straight to the Fields of Punishment, which is like hell. Most people opt out of the choice, because they’re afraid of which option they’ll get. The ones that opt out go to the Asphodel Fields, which is like limbo. This choice could remind the reader of a choice often given to them by their parents; like a gamble. In school, my parents used to tell me that if I make good grades, they’ll reward me. If I make okay grades, they will not do anything. And if I make bad grades, they’ll punish me. At younger ages, many readers have probably gone through similar situations with their parents. These two lines are a great representation of this, and many readers might be able to recognize this.

Recounting on Percy, we’ve seen that he is witty and sarcastic, rebellious yet loving, and the things that happen to him are very similar to the things that happen to young males. To the target audience, he is a very relatable character in a very relatable book. The things that they go through, their best friend Percy Jackson also has to go through, and that’s what he becomes by the end. The reader’s friend. This impressive degree of characterization and relation to the audience is also seen in all of

the other techniques used by Riordan; symbolism (the pearls), foreshadowing (dreams, Oracle), drama (betrayal, Annabeth), sound effects (sibilance with Medusa), and humor. All of these techniques are utilized to the fullest to bring in the audience, particularly young males, and intrigue them.