Have you ever had a bad morning where you wake up in a dingy elevator with no recollection of how you got there, where you’re going or even your own name? And then you find yourself in a fight for your life during a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future?
No? Well, that’s what happens to our protagonist Thomas in The Maze Runner by James Dashner.
The Maze Runner has everything: action, adventure, hybrid monsters called Grievers that resemble a cross between boogers and the Terminator, and even a budding romance. For once, a dystopian, young adult novel isn’t about kissing.
This book will fly through your brain as though your eyeballs have magically discovered a way to project a movie that is directly translated from words on a page.
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is empty.
But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade,a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.
Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as anyone can remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, for just as long, they’ve closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark.
The Gladers were expecting Thomas’s arrival. But the next day, a girl is sent up- the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might find their way home… wherever that may be. But it’s looking more and more as if the maze is unsolvable.
And something about the girl’s arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he might just have some answers- if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind.
The Maze Runner is the first in a five-book series and really captures the imagination of its readers. It has so many strong themes that make it such a good novel including themes of friendship, bravery, civilisation vs savagery, death and persistence.
But my favourite thing about it is Dashner’s message: there is a real need for order in a society, and without it, we lose hope.
Part of the Killzone Experiment in The Maze Runner was to see if the kids were capable of forming an orderly society if left to their own devices, and it turns out they were. They created a hierarchy of jobs with which to occupy their time, which increased food production and thus a sense of security.
They also developed a system of rules and punishments that evolved out of the need for self-preservation. And finally, they devised a systematic approach to solving the Maze. All of these factors gave the boys a sense of order, which was crucial to preventing the senseless panic they would’ve otherwise fallen into.
When Thomas first arrives at the maze, Newt told him about the necessity of order.
“Our whole existence depends on things working… Order. You say that bloody word over and over in your shuck head. Reason we’re all sane around here is ’cause we work our butts off and maintain order. Order’s the reason we put Ben out – can’t very well have loonies runnin’ around tryin’ to kill people, now can we? Order. Last thing we need is you screwin’ that up.”
— James Dashner, The Maze Runner
The Gladers rely on order, one of their primary rules, to maintain their way of life. Order gives their lives in the Glade regularity, hope, and purpose. Without it, the crushing reality of their situation would give way to despair and they would give up or turn on each other. Order allows them to maintain a community instead of fighting against one other.
In contrast, the Maze is chaotic. It changes every night, making it nearly impossible to map and solve. In the Maze there is no mercy and normal rules do not apply. The Grievers have no set of ethics and extreme caution must be employed at all times.
Unlike the Glade, the Maze is not a safe place. The Glade is set in stark contrast to the Maze as a place where some form of civilization still exists – perhaps more so than in the real world.
Newt tells Thomas:
“That’s one of the reasons we run this place all nice and busylike. You get lazy, you get sad. Start givin’ up. Plain and simple.”
— James Dashner, The Maze Runner
Newt hints at the real need for order in society throughout the novel. If the Gladers have nothing to do, they have time to think about their predicament and lose hope.
With hard work, they remain busy, build a productive community, and can be hopeful that a way out of the Maze is possible. This is Dashner’s message for today’s society.