Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
Tracie's NEW BOOK!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Lightening Thief

The Lightening Thief
by Rick Riordan

 Discussion Questions
1.      Percy has been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The main traits of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The ADHD child often has trouble keeping his mind on one thing and organizing a task. He feels restless and fidgety. He may blurt out comments or act without thinking. Does this profile fit Percy? Discuss how Percy does/does not seem like an ADHD child.

2.      Percy says, “Mr. Brunner expected me to be as good as everybody else, despite the fact I had dyslexia and I had never made above a C- in my life. No – he didn’t expect me to be as good. He expected me to be better.” What do you think of Mr. Brunner as a teacher?

3.      When describing his mother, Percy says, “She’s the best person in the world, which just proves my theory that the best people get the rottenest luck.” How does this apply to Percy’s mom? Is this theory true in life? In the Greek myths?

4.      Percy gets exasperated with his mother because she puts up with Smelly Gabe, yet he is proud of her because “she did have a rebellious streak, like me.” Do you find Sally Jackson a strong character? Does she stand up for herself? For her son?

5.      Percy’s first encounter with an Olympian god is Mr. D, Dionysus. Initially, Percy has a hard time believing Mr. D is immortal. What is your reaction to the way Dionysus is portrayed in the book? The Greek gods have very human traits – would this make them easier or harder to believe in?

6.      Chiron describes Western Civilization as “a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years.” He says the Greek gods are part of this, and move around as different nations become the central power of Western Civilization – Greece, Rome, Germany, France, England, the United States. What do you think of this idea? Is “the West” a clearly identifiable cultural force?

7.      Annabeth is the daughter of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare. Read the description of Athena in this guide. Look at some of the myths about Athena, including the stories of Arachne, Medusa and the founding of Athens. How is Annabeth like her mother? Does anything about Annabeth’s character strike you as unlike Athena?

8.      After Percy learns he is a half-blood, he wonders who his own father is. He also learns that some half-bloods never find out. He says, “I thought about some of the kids I’d seen in the Hermes cabin – teenagers who looked sullen and depressed, like they were waiting for a call that would never come. I’d known kids like that at Yancy Academy, shuffled off to boarding school by rich parents who didn’t have the time to deal with them. But gods should behave better.” How would you feel if you were in Percy’s place? Would it be easier to believe your father was dead, or to know that he was alive but not communicating with you?

9.      When Percy finally learns the truth that he is the son of Poseidon, are you surprised? What hints are dropped before the revelation? How does Percy’s personality fit/not fit the god Poseidon?

10.  Throughout the book, humor is used to counterbalance the serious situations Percy faces. For instance, the Minotaur wears white Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear, and Percy wants to tell the mummified Oracle, “thanks, wrong door, just looking for the bathroom.” What’s your reaction to the book’s humor? Does it seem appropriate for a sixth-grade narrator? Does it change your perception of the mythology?

11.  When describing the effects of Mist, Chiron says, “Remarkable, really, the lengths humans will go to fit things into their version of reality.” How is this true in the novel? In Greek mythology? In real life?

12.  Medusa tempts Percy to stay with her as a statue. She warns him that he is simply a pawn of the Gods. Does Percy seem like a pawn? Why or why not? If you were given Percy’s quest, would you undertake it or would you rebel?

13.  Read Grover’s account of the search for Pan in chapter 12. Percy wonders if this is a hopeless quest, trying to reclaim the spirit of the wilderness. Do you think the search for Pan is an appropriate metaphor for modern man’s relationship with nature? Is “the wild” being lost forever?

14.  Dreams play an important role in the narrative. At Montauk, Percy first dreams of a horse and eagle fighting on the beach. Later, he dreams of a voice from the pit. As he gets closer to Los Angeles, his dreams get scarier and more specific. What would the book be like without these dream episodes? Is there information that Percy can only get from his dreams?

15.  Percy’s fight with Echidna and the Chimera is a low point for his morale. He begins to doubt that he is capable of being a hero. Why does he feel this way, and do you think his doubts are reasonable? What does this fight scene reveal about Percy’s character?

16.  The god Ares says he loves America. He calls it “the best place since Sparta.” What does he mean? Do you think this is a fair critique of American society? Why or why not?

17.  The Lotus Casino in Las Vegas is a modern-day version of the Land of the Lotus Eaters, which Odysseus visited on his way back from Troy. Read the original version from The Odyssey. How do the two accounts differ? Is the danger Odysseus faced similar to the danger faced by Percy and his friends? Is society today more dominated by “Lotus Eaters”?

18.  As the book progresses, we learn more about Annabeth’s family life, and her unhappy history with her father. How does this compare with Percy’s own family? How does this help the two half-bloods overcome their mutual distrust?

19.  Read the modernized description of the Underworld in Ch. 18 – the EZ Death line, the security ghouls, the pollution in the River Styx. What do you think of this portrayal of the afterlife? Percy says Asphodel makes him depressed because “so few people did good in their lives.” Do you think believing in paradise and punishment makes people more likely to do good deeds? What do you think of the Greek concept of Asphodel, a neutral area where most of the dead are sent to do nothing for eternity?

20.  Percy’s trip to the Underworld does not turn out as he suspected. What do you think of Percy’s decision to leave his mother behind? What does the scene in the throne room tell you about the three friends – Annabeth, Grover and Percy?

21.  When Percy finally meets his father, Poseidon seems distant and hard to read. Percy says that he is actually glad about this. “If he’d tried to apologize, or told me he loved me, or even smiled – that would’ve felt fake. Like a human dad, making some lame excuse for not being around.” Do you agree with Percy? Do you find yourself liking Poseidon or not?

22.  How does the last line of the prophecy – you shall fail to save what matters most in the end – come true? What do you think of this ending? Did Percy make the right choice? What would you have done in his place?

23.  In the end of the book, do you sympathize at all with Luke’s feelings of betrayal? How does his story act as a foil (a counterpoint) to Percy’s own?

 About the Author

Rick Riordan spent fifteen years as a classroom teacher in public and private middle schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Texas. In 1997, he began publishing mystery novels for adults. His popular Tres Navarre series has won the top three national awards in the mystery genre – the Edgar, the Anthony and the Shamus.
He began The Lightning Thief as a bedtime story for his son. The novel draws on Riordan’s experience teaching Greek mythology and his interaction with students who have learning differences. It is his first work for young readers.
Rick Riordan now writes full-time. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and two sons.

A Talk with Rick Riordan
Q. Where did you get the idea for Percy Jackson?
A. My son was studying the Greek myths in second grade when he asked me to tell him some bedtime stories about the gods and heroes. I had taught Greek myths for many years at the middle school level, so I was glad to do it. When I ran out of myths, he was disappointed and asked me if I could make up something new with the same characters.
Off the top of my head, I made up Percy Jackson and his quest to recover Zeus' lightning bolt in modern-day America. It took about three nights to tell the whole story, and when I was done, my son told me I should write it out as a book.

Q. You were a teacher for a long time. Why did you leave the classroom?
A. That was a hard decision. I love teaching. I love working with kids. After I finished the first Percy Jackson book, I didn't think I'd be able to keep writing a book a year and do a good job in the classroom, so I made the reluctant decision to leave teaching.
The good part is I still get to work with kids as a children's author. Hopefully, I'll be able to get even more kids interested in reading Greek mythology.
Q. Did you share the Percy Jackson novel with any of your students before it was published?
A. My nine-year-old son was the first one to hear to story, but I also wanted to be sure it would interest older kids. I picked a few of my sixth, seventh and eighth graders and asked them if they'd be willing to "test drive" the novel.  I was nervous! I'm used to showing my work to adults, but I had no idea if kids would like Percy. I finally understood what it must be like for them, turning in an essay to me and waiting to get their grades back! Fortunately for me, the kids loved the book.
Q. Any advice for young people who might want to be writers?
A. Don't be afraid to ask for help! Find a teacher you respect. Correspond with authors. You will find that a polite email will almost always get a response.
Secondly, read a lot! Read everything you can get your hands on. You will learn the craft of writing by immersing yourself in the voices, styles, and structures of writers who have gone before you.
Thirdly, write every day! Keep a journal. Jot down interesting stories you heard. Write descriptions of people you see. It doesn't really matter what you write, but you must keep up practice. Writing is like a sport -- you only get better if you practice. If you don't keep at it, the writing muscles atrophy.
Finally, don't get discouraged! Rejection is a part of writing, and it hurts. The trick is to keep at it. Wallpaper your room with rejection notes, if you want, but don't give up.