A young man wakes up in an empty elevator in James Dashner’s book The Maze Runner, cheapest now a major motion picture. The book began the long-running series and clearly operates as an origin story about a group of young men who are seemingly trapped inside an arena– nicknamed the Glade– and surrounded by a large and mysterious maze.
Thomas is the main character here, unhealthy a teen who realizes his name on the novel’s first page. Most of his memory has been seemingly wiped away and when he arrives in the Glade, he meets dozens of young men who experienced the same predicament. Alby, the group’s tough-minded leader, shows Thomas around the arena letting him fully experience the cryptic environment that they begrudgingly call home.
With the group composed of only isolated males (until one female shows up a third of the way through), it’s easy to compare this novel to William Golding’s classic novel, Lord of the Flies. Clearly there is no comparison in terms of quality though. While Golding’s novel had a timeless quality (it’s still one of my favorite books of all time), The Maze Runner often settles into something smaller, never fully capturing some of the main dynamics and rivalries at play here.
The most thoughtful relationship here is between Thomas and the likeable Chuck, a sensitive boy who was the last one to enter the maze before Thomas (each month a new recruit is sent into the maze). Chuck is a mischievous teen and often acts and sounds more like a normal teenager than most of the other kids here, who are less willing to admit how homesick and frightened they are. When Chuck goes to visit Thomas in one of the book’s nicest moments, he’s willing to put his feelings on the line stating, “Thomas, I’m kinda messed up, man. It’s weird to feel sad and homesick but have no idea what it is you wish you could go back to…”
Dashner unfortunately makes some of the other teen boys more immature and silly than they would need to be, speaking to grosser subjects (klunk quickly becomes the shorthand for feces) than necessary. The rivalry between Thomas and Gally, an obnoxious teeb who serves as Thomas’ biggest antagonist, also feels unearned with its casual name-calling. “This shank probably klunked his pants when he heard old Benny baby scream like a girl. Need a new diaper Shuck-face,” he says to Thomas during an early encounter.
Despite its limitations though, The Maze Runner creates an intriguing and distinct world and Dashner offers a new nice twists and surprises along the way. He succeeds best in creating a mystery that slowly unfolds. Thomas learns more and more about his memories with each passing day. Because this is the first novel in a series, its conclusion only begins to answer the larger questions at play here. How the story unfolds in the sequels (which I haven’t read yet) will help determine if this whole story was worth delving into.
The Maze Runner isn’t as provocative or powerful as the original Hunger Games, which it shares many similarities with, but it’s a solid start for this series.
Stay tuned for my review of the movie.