I’m rereading the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan this year because it’s been a while. These include the original series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus. They’re aimed at middle grade and young adult readers and feature the half-god children of Greek and/or Roman gods, on quests to save the world or whatever.
Occasionally I will be posting on Myth Monday concerning related Percy Jackson shenanigans. My intention is to do a sort of “Who’s Who,” but Riordan packs SO many mythological characters and references into his books that I may have to pick and choose what to focus on. For book 1, The Lightning Thief, I’m going to focus on characters that show up on the page and are not just referenced, and especially the “monsters.” For this post I’ll give a brief overview of who the monster is in classical mythology, some observations on what Riordan does with them, and any additional
jokes commentary I feel led to make.
Obviously, SPOILER WARNING for The Lightning Thief. Skip to the end of this post for references used (aside from any links).
- The Furies: are really, really scary ladies that punish guilty people that have avoided justice. Often the victims curse the guilty party, thus summoning the Furies. Other times, Hades would send the Furies himself. Besides tearing the guilty parties apart, the Furies enjoy using panic and overwhelming remorse. In The Lightning Thief, the Furies show up several times and appear to be grouchy, stern old ladies at first until they let their monstrous, birds-from-hell forms show. Hades uses them to chase after Percy, because Hades suspects Percy of committing a crime.
- The Fates: are not to be confused with the Greek Grey Sisters or the Norse Norns, which are other threesome teams of terrifying ladies with scary amounts of power. The Fates are also called the Moirai, and are responsible for essentially weaving history and destiny together as it happens. They’re often portrayed as very ugly old knitters. When a person’s life is over, they snip the thread representing the person’ life right out of their tapestry. In The Lightning Thief, they appear only briefly as old ladies knitting socks (rather than the traditional tapestry). Riordan employs the “less is more” technique by not having the characters even speak to the Fates, but their presence still terrifies them.
- The Minotaur: is the stepson of King Minos of Crete. It’s this whole awkward story where Minos’ wife gets cursed by a god because of reasons so she falls in love with a bull and SOMEHOW gets pregnant by it, thus producing the Minotaur. Don’t ask too many questions. Minos then uses the Minotaur to eat up all of his enemies. Riordan is sort of lazy with the Minotaur in The Lightning Thief: it’s just another mindless monster he throws at Percy and Co. to slow them down from reaching safety.
- Hellhounds: See Cerberus, also, below. Hellhounds are, if you can believe it, really scary dogs from the underworld.. Cerberus is the most famous one. In The Lightning Thief, we see a hellhound that is summoned to Camp Halfblood (although not one of Hades’, as it turns out), as well as Cerberus later in the underworld.
- Medusa: is a really scary lady with snakes instead of hair. She was a priestess of Athena, but then she either canoodled with Poseidon in Athena’s temple (which is a no-no) or she got too proud of her own beauty and tried to compete with Athena (also a no-no). In any case, Athena turned her into a monster and cursed her so that anyone who looked at her would turn to stone. She wears a burka in The Lightning Thief, which is a really problematic authorial choice but at least it covers her until she chooses to petrify someone (it’s like…a metaphor). I like her vocal powers of persuasion and the way she tries to turn Percy (son of Poseidon) against Annabeth (daughter of Athena).
- Echidna: is the mother of a bunch of monsters in Greek mythology, including the Sphinx, the Nemean Lion, and possibly the chimera, a goat/dragon/lion hybrid (because that sounded like a good idea). In The Lightning Thief, Echidna is disguised as a random lady so that she can corner Percy in the Gateway Arch, along with her “Chihuahua” son, which turns into the chimera. Don’t trust tiny dogs.
- The Lotus-Eaters: are some island inhabitants that Odysseus and his men come across in The Odyssey (and also feature in a weird Tennyson poem). Odysseus’ men are really happy to find a hospitable island with plenty of food to eat and booze to drink, but soon they are enchanted to forget where they came from and where they’re going. Odysseus has a hard time dragging them away. Rick Riordan turns the island into the Lotus Casino which is filled with games, sports, and food to entertain Percy and his friends, along with an endless supply of “LotusCash” to help them enjoy themselves. Percy and his friends are be-spelled for a while just like Odysseus’ men, before they are able to wake themselves up long enough to get away.
- Procrustes the Stretcher: I don’t think there is ever a time when you would want to be friends with a guy called “The Stretcher.” Theseus ran into this guy, who captured and/or lured travelers into his house and then strapped them to a bed and if they were too short to fit it, stretched them, and if they were too tall, chopped off any extra bits. Percy and his friends in The Lightning Thief come across “Crusty’s Waterbed Palace” where Procrustes tries to do the same thing with them. In both stories, the hero manages to turn the tables (or beds) on Crusty. Gross.
- Cerberus: is a three-headed hellhound who guards the Underworld. He is usually terrifying in the myths, and one of Hercules’ 12 Crazy Labors is to steal Cerberus and bring him out of the Underworld. In The Lightning Thief, Cerberus is reveleaed to be a big old softie who just needs some playtime. Percy’s friend Annabeth bonds with him, setting him up to return in future books if needed. PS this company exists.
- Chiron: is a centaur who taught pretty much every dude-hero in Greek mythology, including Hercules, Perseus, Jason, and every other fighter in the Trojan War. Ridiculous. In The Lightning Thief, he’s the main teacher at Camp Halfblood and is responsible for training the Greek demigods on how to stay alive. Here is a realistic portrait of him passed down through the ages.
- Charon: is the ferryman of the Underworld. You have to pay this guy to get across the Styx and Acheron rivers and into the Underworld proper, so hopefully you got buried with some money. I like the “waiting room” in The Lightning Thief where those without ferry fare have to wait. Because I’m terrible and it makes more sense than just hanging out on a riverbank. Also I like how Riordan decided to put both Charon and Chiron in his first Percy Jackson book. THANKS, NOT CONFUSING AT ALL.
- The Nereid: is one of the fifty Nereids or sea nymphs, who are daughters of Nereus and Doris. They are the nice happy beautiful side of the multi-faceted ocean personality. In The Lightning Thief, Percy’s dad Poseidon, god of the sea, sends a Nereid to help Percy at times, since he can’t help his son personally. It’s kinda weird how Percy keeps thinking the Nereid is his mom, though.
- Satyrs: are nature-spirits that look sorta human but have horns and goat-feet. They can get pretty drunk and sketchy. Percy’s best friend Grover turns out to be a satyr, and he often gets very upset by humanity’s mistreatment of nature and pollution of the Earth.
Thanks for reading! I’ll cover the gods and goddesses in a future post.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.
Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief. Disney Hyperion, 2005. Print.