Novel * James Dashner * Mazepocalypse * 2009
The Maze Runner is a boy book. It’s a story about boys, for boys, written by a boy. Not like, an actual child, relax. However, there is some real male pandering going on here. Like, the author’s website is DashnerArmy.com and I wish I was making that up but nope it’s right there on the back cover in front God and everyone. There’s a hashtag and everything. (Oh it redirects to jamesdashner.com now, boo, stand up for your terrible url) That’s beside the point I guess, let’s circle back to the boy-ness of this novel, because that’s pretty much the crux of whether or not to read this book. Are you a boy, around 12 to 14 years old? Dope, pick up a copy and enjoy. Are you literally anyone else? Well then, there are other Y.A. adventures to be had that might suit your tastes better. I’m really not trying to be down on this novel, it’s fine, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
The story is populated entirely by teen boys. Pretty much every character. It’s about a conflicted teen boy who is thrust into an alien situation. He’s surrounded by a large group of other conflicted teen boys who all talk in a sort of forced-slang complete with made-up swear word substitutes. Guess what I hate the most? It’s fake swears. In this instance, “shuck” = “fuck” and “klunk” = “shit.” It’s the worst and I hate every single instance. I know this is young adult fiction and all, but I’ve totally read my share of Y.A. and oh hey guess what, you’re allowed to swear! Turns out, teen boys use curse words. Awkwardly and hesitantly sometimes, but they use the shucking klunk out of them, all the time. Anyway, back to the confused teen boy who’s been thrust into this weird boy-society.
Nobody knows why there’s a random group of boys just chilling in the middle of nowhere. To his credit, Dashner creates a solid sense of mystery and otherworldliness at the beginning of the novel. The boy-society is by turns taciturn and aggressive, which makes sense given who’s running the show. The leaders – the oldest, strongest boys – are barely holding on. All of their material needs are being met, in that they can eat and sleep in peace and, I dunno, get in slapfights and argue about video games or whatever else 14 year old boys do. Masturbate constantly. Whatever, boys are gross. The point is, for the most part the boy-society is self-sustaining and relatively safe. Everyone has a job, there is structure. Nobody has any memory of anything else or any kind of life, never mind that they still retain language and a general shared experience from before life in the Glade (this is the name of the boy-base, a pleasant-ish area of grass and woods where they live and work).
After the introductory period, where Thomas our plucky protagonist becomes acquainted with his new situation, we go on to learn two things which upend the status quo. The first is what lies outside the Glade. This, obviously, is the Maze. It’s right in the title. Just think how disappointed you’d be if there wasn’t a Maze. No worries on this count, there’s a Maze, and people run in it. The Maze changes every night, nobody knows what the deal is, oh and there’s weird amorphous boogins that haunt it. These things, called Grievers, are semi-industrial organisms that roll around and jab needles in people. Look, I don’t know either. Sometimes runners die when they run afoul of these things, and then another teen boy is introduced to the Glade, like Thomas. The second thing is more disconcerting to the boy-society. Apropos of nothing, another kid is introduced to the Glade. And the twist? It’s a girl! The most beautiful girl anyone has ever seen, a veritable angel fallen from the heights of glorious heaven, of course. At least she’s in a coma so we don’t have to be bludgeoned over the head with how smart and sassy and practically-perfect-in-every-way she is.
Until she wakes up that is, and oh hey guess what she’s smart and sassy and hot and basically it’s a teen Mary Poppins situation all around. And you know, it’s clearly a book for boys, so who cares? Especially now, when the vast majority of young adult fiction is oriented to teen girls, why not pander to the boys? For a goddamn grown-up, the perfected female trope is obnoxious and obvious. For a 14 year old boy who’s reading a nerdy book for nerds and likely has no experience kissing girls or touching boobies, why not indulge the adolescent fantasy of the perfect girl to sustain his imagination? I’ve skimmed through enough annoying teen-girl fantasies of love triangles featuring the flawed-but-smoldering-sex-bomb boy and the sensitive-but-secretly-brave boy to last me a lifetime so I can deal with the boy version of the same dumb thing.
Obviously it’s still a good time to make fun of these things.
Anyway, it turns out that Thomas has some kind of telepathic, mystical connection with this flawless porcelain princess and eventually they figure out that they knew each other once. Maybe they were kissy kissy friends but I suspect a Luke/Leia fakeout coming, not that I’ll ever make my way through the other books to find out any time soon. Anyway, eventually Thomas leads a contingent of teen boys to start figuring out the nature of the Maze, and more importantly, the Creators behind the Maze. Here’s another issue with this novel: the generalized capitalization of nouns. This lends a sense of weight and authority to otherwise average-ass words. It’s not a maze. A maze is something you do on the back of your kid’s menu at Long John Silver’s. A Maze is a life-or-death construct meant to test your abilities. A creator is someone who makes a sick Eiffel tower out of Legos. A Creator is a shadowy figure who torments you with unlikely experimental artifacts.
I’m going to skip to the end because I don’t get any of this at all. Obviously Thomas and Teresa use their superior brains and intuition and sex energy to break out of the Maze. Here they come face-to-face with the proper-noun-ass Creators! And then Chuck, the hapless comedic sidekick, gets offed and Thomas goes bonkers and blah blah blah what the fuck is happening, here? It’s clear that there has been a cataclysmic event of some kind. The Flare. It killed all the forests and then bugs came and there was a plague? As far as made-up apocalypses go, this one feels pretty slapdash. Fine, whatevs, the Flare is clearly just a device to set up the teen-boy army. The Creators are really a mysterious cabal of authoritarian scientists called WICKED (sick name, bruh) who are trying to preserve humanity by using incredibly scarce resources to torment and murder a group of teenagers by the most convoluted and expensive means possible.
Looking back on what I’ve written here, I think I might not like this book very much, which is odd considering that after finishing it my only thought was “that was okay.” I suppose it’s just because others have done this overall theme and vibe so much better. It also doesn’t have much of a sense of humor about itself, any moment of levity that bubbles up feels forced. Books like this, which rely on pulpy tropes and featuring archetypical characters, probably shouldn’t take themselves very seriously. That more than anything is why I’m probably not going to follow up with the series. I guess I’ll never make Lieutenant in the #DashnerArmy.