Fireside Fridays ~ The Maze Runner

I recently finished James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy, comprised of The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure. It follows the story of Thomas, a teenaged boy who wakes to find himself in a cold metal box with only one memory: his name.

In the first book, he meets a group of other teenaged boys living in a strange maze whose walls shift every night. As long as they stay behind the walls of their Glade at night, they’re safe from the mysterious monsters that crawl in the darkness. The problem? The only way to escape from their prison is to map the maze and solve it. That job belongs to the Runners—an elite group of the boys who frantically try to copy down the walls’ positions each day while arriving back at the Glade before nightfall. Thomas wants to become a Runner, but everything is complicated by the arrival of a girl—the first one ever to enter the Maze—named Teresa who’s unconscious, with the words “WICKED is good” written on her arm.

The next two books follow the stories of Thomas, Teresa, and the Gladers as they try to survive the trials imposed on them by WICKED—World In Catastrophe, Killzone Experiment Department, the organization that is trying to find a cure to the Flare, a deadly disease caused by the sun’s flares that makes its victims go crazy and eat other humans. Thomas has been abused by WICKED too many times to trust them, but why does the phrase “WICKED is good” pop up so often? Even worse, his memories are coming back, and his past is not what he wants it to be.

I do have to hand it to Dasher: He keeps up the pace and suspense well. It was hard to put the books down. There are many twist and turns, secrets and surprises, revelations and hard decisions, and numerous other ingredients for an exciting plot.

But beyond the edge-of-the-seat pacing? There wasn’t much there. I closed the last book feeling empty and even uneasy, and I knew, even before I finished, that I wouldn’t recommend this series to anyone. Here’s why:

1) The Quality

The writing seemed to be pure suspense, confusion, secrets, and even horror. There was no description and little character development. When characters changed or acted surprisingly, it was because of how others had forced them or because of secrets they’d kept, not because of personality, growing maturity, or lessons learned.

2) The Mantra 

WICKED is good—what message does that send? In the memorandum at the end of The Death Cure, the leader of WICKED said they had had the right motivations, though maybe they executed their plans in a wrong or ineffective way. It’s basically up to reader to choose whether they’re right or wrong, and it never answers the “Does the end justify means?” question that it raises.

3) The Deaths

There’s just a lot of death in it—and no, I’m not against death all the time. Many books I like involve a lot of death. But in this case, it often seemed unnecessary, and I was often unsure that the reasons for the killing were justified. {**SPOILERS**} For instance, Thomas kills his friend Newt, because Newt has the Flare and is going crazy. Newt begs him to put him out of his misery, and though Thomas doesn’t want to, he eventually does. It is never exactly clear whether this was the right thing to do, but Dashner hints that it is. And at the end, it seemed like, sure, just kill off Teresa because Thomas has Brenda now, and besides, Teresa was a jerk. It was the easy way out.  {**END SPOILERS**} The books minimized the gravity of death. Human life was much too cheap.

4) The Motivation/Theme

Why do the protagonists, the Gladers, do what they do? Are they trying to save humanity, protect the world, defeat evil? Those are honorable motivations, but Thomas and his friends seem to spend three books attempting to save their own skin. Although WICKED says it is rescuing humanity, but Thomas won’t believe it (which is understandable, since WICKED has damaged their trust pretty badly). Still, it’s rather self-centered. Plus, when I finished the book, it left me empty. What exactly was the point of this book? Why did the good guys do what they did? Why should I admire the characters and their actions? The book doesn’t answer this; it’s simply an adrenalin-laced tale of deceit, moral ambiguity, and survival.

5) The (Lack of) Authority Figures.

There are no good authority figures—all the adults work for WICKED, which is portrayed as untrustworthy, deceitful, and dangerous for most of the book (until the end, where Chancellor Paige weakly tries to defend its motives). Teenagers are the smartest and best, and they survive, despite facing cruel adults and lacking good ones. The overall message on authority that the book sends is that you can’t trust adults; they just want to use you for their own ends. Trust your teen friends instead.

6) The (Lack of) Consequences.

{**SPOILERS**} Thomas used to work for WICKED, which caused a lot of problems and was the source of many innocent people’s deaths. After his brain got wiped, he realized how much he hated WICKED, but there was never any consequences for his former job. Yes, it’s good that he changed, but shouldn’t there be at least some consequences for his previous actions? Same thing for Brenda and Jorge—although they were former employees of WICKED, they didn’t seem to have any scars from that, no punishment for the wrong choices they made. It was like, “Sure, you can make bad choices, but as long as you finally figure out what’s right, no one cares”. {**END SPOILERS**} It sends a message that you can act irresponsibly and even immorally as you long as you fix your game before the end. The problem is, in real life, you don’t know when the end is, and every choice you make has a cost.

7) The Main Character.

What makes Thomas or any of the protagonists “good”? I felt like I rooted for him just because he was the main character, and he was a poor victim of WICKED. What about his personality or the way he treated others was really special or admirable? He didn’t sacrifice himself for anyone, and he didn’t really change or grow (besides seeing through WICKED’s lies and distrusting all adults). Sure, he had a super smart brain. Great. I need more reasons than that to like him.

8) The Language.

There was some “real” profanity (nothing very bad and nothing very frequent), but there was an enormous amount of made-up swears: shuck, shank, klunk, etc. First, they’re a little too close to the real things for comfort, and second, they punctuated just about every sentence. Theodore Roosevelt said: “Why curse when there is such a magnificent language with which to discourse” and “A big man should never lower himself to small language.”  I understand that these are kids in a future world, so they’re not going to talk like Shakespeare or the founding fathers, and I also appreciate Dashner’s attempts at creating a unique and realistic language for his world. But here are the messages it sends to kids— it’s okay to swear in every sentence, cool people have dirty mouths, the best way to express yourself is through slang words and curses, and times of high emotion excuse you from controlling your mouth or speaking articulately.

In the end, Dashner gets credit for fast-paced action and a creative idea, but the dangerous and ambiguous messages he sends his impressionable audience make it not worth it.

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15 thoughts on “Fireside Fridays ~ The Maze Runner

  1. Dearest Abby,

    These books sound very disagreeable to me. I cannot stand horror or bad language. I agree that the books do not seem to be sending the right message to young people.

    All my love,

    Grammty

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  2. I briefly considered reading the Maze Runner trilogy, but after reading a few bad reviews (which said things very similar to what you mentioned) and discovering that the Amazon sample chapters pretty much proved those reviews true, I decided against it. The fake-swearing was what really turned me off, though. There is a certain amount of swearing, real or fake, that I can endure, but this was just too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I kind of wish I had read reviews first or gotten a sample of it, although I’m glad I was able to review it. Yes, that was a huge problem for me! I knew they weren’t “real” swears, but I feel like it’s not always the words themselves that’s important—it’s the fact that they’re curses and that the characters using them aren’t self-controlled enough to express their emotions differently.

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  3. Mmm, thanks for this review. A lot of people I know have this on their favorites list… and some of them are Christians. *sigh* Of course, they also like The Fault In Our Stars and stuff like that, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that this series isn’t good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very welcome. I don’t want to judge anyone, Christian or not, for reading and enjoying this series, but I am disappointed that it’s been so well-received and that no one seems to realize the problems with it. Yeah, I got a sample of “The Fault in Our Stars” on my Nook, and I thought, “Okayyy, not reading any more of that!”. xD

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely, insightful review, Abs. I haven’t read The Maze Runner, and now I don’t think I will, but I know some teenagers from choir who read this series and think it’s good, and now I’m incredibly saddened for them. Can’t even Christians look deeper into what they read?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Vic. Mmm, I know, it is discouraging when it seems like Christians don’t care about what they read or don’t realize how contrary to Biblical truths books they enjoy can be. I realize everyone has different standards, but I just feel that many popular books like these don’t fit with the qualifications in Philippians 4:8.

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