‘The Maze Runner’ hits a brick wall

If Thomas were in his mid-50s, we’d be worried about early-onset Alzheimer’s. But when a healthy boy emerges from a box with next to no memories, something greater is at play. Thomas, like the rest of the boys in James Dashner’s bestselling dystopian children’s book, “The Maze Runner,” is missing part of his memory. Vocabulary like shank, shuck, klunk, keeper and slopper sound foreign.

Physically, Dashner’s hero looks around 16 years old, but Thomas doesn’t remember where he came from, what he had for breakfast, what he did yesterday, or who his parents are. When he arrives at the Glade, Thomas is consumed by panic, fear, curiosity and confusion as he confronts the frightening prospect of losing his mind.

The Maze Runner by James Dasher

“The Maze Runner”
By James Dashner
378 pp. Delacorte Press.
2009.

Dashner invokes the idea of tabula rasa — that we’re all born with a “blank slate.” But Thomas’ mind isn’t completely blank. For one, he remembers his first name. And he remembers other things too.

“Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works,” writes Dashner. “Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.”

These discrepancies seem awfully convenient for an author. It’s like Dashner’s creating a child without having to raise him. But Thomas isn’t Dashner’s only kid. He creates a whole mini-society inside the Glade, filled with one-dimensional characters defined by their roles.

There’s Thomas the newbie; Frypan the cook; Alby the leader; Newt the second in command; Gally the bully; Minho the explorer; Clint the doctor; Teresa the girl; Chuck the comic relief; and others. Without introducing the characters with backstory and memories, it’s hard to relate to them.

Perhaps the proposition would be less ludicrous if we had something more solid to grip on to. But there’s nothing solid about the Glade. The children live next to a giant maze with walking monsters called Grievers (think Creepers) and ever-changing walls. And just when they thought they knew the rules — creating their own system of order, the rules change.

Perhaps younger readers will by mystified by “The Maze Runner’s” uninspired prose, but this puzzle’s a less thrilling version of James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” series; William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”; and Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof’s “Lost.”

“The Maze Runner” (2009) is the first book of James Dashner’s “Maze Runner” trilogy. “The Maze Runner” is followed by “The Scorch Trials” (2010), and “The Death Cure” (2011). The trilogy also inspired two prequels: “The Kill Order” (2012) and “The Fever Code” (set to be released in 2016).

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