How Percy Jackson and the Olympians changes the books: Episodes 1 and 2

Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Percy Jackson and the Olympians /

The first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians are finally on Disney+. Eighteen years after the release of the first novel in the series by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, the book about a kid who discovers he's the son of the Greek god Poseidon finally has a screen adaptation that is worthy of the gods. (I’m debating which is the more perfect adaptation between the TV show and the Broadway musical...guess it’ll take me the entire season to decide. I’m four episodes in and can’t quite choose a winner yet.)

Author Rick Riordan had been openly critical of the film adaptations of the first two books in his series, and rightfully so. With the new TV show, he not only got the chance to contribute; he's at the helm of the production. Riordan is creator, executive producer and writer, and his wife and long-time fan of his stories Becky Riordan also serves as executive producer. Naturally, so close to the heart of the story, the TV show perfectly grasps the spirit of the books and stays faithful to plot and characters. The writing, casting and acting are also completely on point.

However, every story must make changes when switching mediums. In this series of articles, we will analyze the differences between the episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the books they’re based on.

Differences between the Percy Jackson books and the show: Episode 1, "I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher"

Episodes 1 and 2 were absolutely truthful to the source material, with some tiny changes. Let’s talk about them!

  • The first change in Episode 1 involves Grover Underwood, back when he’s still (posing as) a seventh grader at Yancy Academy. Grover shocked all book readers when he reported Percy to the headmaster, claiming to have seen him push their classmate and bully Nancy Bobofit into the fountain outside the Met. Along with the audience, Percy himself is deeply hurt by the betrayal. Later we find out Grover lied so Percy can move out from boarding school and outrun the monsters who’ve found him, thus saving his life.
  • Things go slightly differently in the book, where Grover actually tries to take the fault for pushing Nancy and Percy finishes term at Yancy only to get expelled a few months later for talking back to a teacher. The show serves up a twist.
  • There's an ominous moment from the novel that didn't make it into the show. In the book, the Fates cameo as three old ladies knitting. Percy and Grover see them, and when looking directly at Percy, the Fates snip the cord they are working with, deeply upsetting Grover, as the gesture seems to suggest that Percy’s death is imminent. While in no way of real consequence to the story’s plot, this moment sets the tone for conflicts to come; it’s a moment of transition from a time in Percy's life when the worst thing that could happen to him is expulsion to a time when he's constantly having near-death experiences. Perhaps we'll get a deleted scene?
  • I rather appreciated the slight shift in tone with Gabe Ugliano, Percy’s smelly step-father. In the book, he’s an abuser. The show depicts him as a despicable person, but more pathetic than evil; he’s an absolute loser, but not an aggressive one. Percy’s mom Sally openly stands up to him and that seems to work for Gabe, who doesn’t resent having a wife who has agency. In fact, he rather enjoys it.

Something else that the show did cleverly: when Percy gets home, we see that Sally is out on the fire escape getting soaked in the rain. It may look like she’s simply there enjoying the raindrops -- and she may very well be -- but astute book readers might catch the writers’ intent: that she’s out there Iris-Messaging Grover, something she can only do through water. This would be the only possible moment that Grover has to bring Sally up to speed on everything without Percy knowing since it’s clear from the end of the episode that they’ve communicated extensively.

In the book, on the other hand, Sally and Grover haven’t talked before they meet, but Sally is aware that someone at school is watching Percy on behalf of Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for the children of Greek gods. She is very reluctant to send him there, afraid she’ll lose her son forever.

If you’d like to read along, the first episode of Percy Jackson and the Olympians follows chapters 1 through 4 of the first book, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

Differences between the Percy Jackson books and show: Episode 2, "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom"

There are very few differences to bring up in Episode 2. Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood, which comes alive in ways drawn right from the books. The devil’s in the details and they are all on point, down to the sleeping bags on the floor of the Hermes cabin. Here are the changes worth noting:

Annabeth Chase has less screentime than she does in the book. Instead of her sharing the job of showing Percy around camp with Chiron, the show gives it to Luke Castellan. The writers oif the show probably wanted to introduce Luke before Percy leaves Camp Half-Blood for the next few episodes.

At any rate, my absolute favorite moment in the episode is this exchange between Luke and Percy:

"“Annabeth sees the world differently, always six steps ahead of everyone else. You should cut her a break.”"

"“Whose side are you on, anyway?”"

"“Oh, hers. Always. She’s my little sister.”"

I am glad that the show is establishing so early on the deep bonds between Luke, Annabeth, Grover and Thalia, since their history is essential to the story.

The show did not adapt the book scene where a hellhound from Hades invades Camp Half-Blood to attack Percy after the game of Capture the Flag and is disposed of by Chiron. While the scene serves to show how angry the gods are that Percy has been claimed, I feel the show gets along perfectly well without it.

A small jargon change I’ve noticed: the book refers to all sons and daughters of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades as “children of the Big Three,” while in the show they are called “forbidden children,” a reference to the pact made by the three most powerful gods not to sire any more demigod children after World War II.

Episode 2 follows chapters 5 through 8 and the beginning of 9 of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

My rate of episodes 1 and 2 is a well-deserved full A.

Next. Lanfear. Exclusive: Natasha O'Keeffe talks embodying Lanfear in The Wheel of Time season 2. dark

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