John Dashner’s The Maze Runner series is one of a string of wildly popular dystopian young adult novels. Fans of the The Hunger Games trilogy and Divergent series will also be familiar with Dashner’s trilogy. With the December 2017 release of a movie based on the series, The Maze Runner is about to receive to an explosion of attention and new fans.
As a busy Catholic parent, you may be wondering if you should let your teens read this series and watch the movie, but not have the time to read it for yourself to determine its appropriateness. Never fear. If you are looking for a one word answer, this Catholic mom is saying No to her young teens reading this series. Read on for a synopsis and highlights of some of the moral issues the series raises.
In brief, The Maze Runner is the story of a teenage boy, Thomas, and his band of friends who accomplish rather unbelievable feats to escape a devilishly designed maze. Oh yes, and all of them have no memories. That about sums it up.
In the second book, The Scorch Trials, Thomas and his friends are again put through a series of perilous experiments in a ravaged world. This time the boys realize that they are undergoing the trials for the greater good of the human race, in the hope of finding a cure for a disturbing, fatal illness known as “the Flare.”
The third book, The Death Cure, is Thomas and his surviving friends’ fight to take down Wicked, the organization which has forced the experiments upon them.
This series is wildly popular because it is a fast-paced story of a group of loyal teens facing nearly insurmountable challenges, with a generous dose of mystery to suck in the reader. But from a Catholic perspective, there are a plethora of moral problems with these books.
One thing parents need to know is just how violent this series is. All three books, but especially the third, present scenarios where teenagers must engage in and witness disturbing violence and gruesome deaths, all depicted graphically. For a book that is singularly lacking in description overall, the author devotes an inordinate number of paragraphs to detailing graphic violence. My view is teenagers should not be reading about this sort of violence, especially when it is in the context of other teenagers committing the violence.
Moving into more vicarious themes, another thing you as the parent need to know is how this book deals with euthanasia. Dashner offers some oddly contradictory views. On one level, The Maze Runner world does not choose to euthanize the segment of the population who are going mad. However, Dashner provocatively offers an ongoing speculation of whether it would just “be kinder” to do so. Then, in the third book, Dashner creates a specific scenario in which one of the major characters, Newt, realizes he has caught the fatal disease and is rapidly going mad. Newt asks Thomas to kill him in the name of their friendship. After various feelings of turmoil and guilt, Thomas ends up deciding to do so. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this twisted scenario Dashner devises is that Thomas never frames the problem in terms of right and wrong. His decision and motivations are all based on a chaos of feelings: loyalty, revulsion, guilt, love, friendship. There is no overarching moral framework or absolute right and wrong even mentioned.
Another moral question raised in The Maze Runner series is an ongoing exploration of how far the end justifies the means. Perhaps the biggest question Thomas grapples with throughout the series is does trying to save the human race justify intentionally killing some? In my view, the book does not give a definitive answer. Thomas thinks first yes in the prequel, then no, then maybe. In the end, his conclusion seems to be that perhaps yes, you can kill some people if you are absolutely positive it will save the majority. Like the euthanasia question, here is another serious moral issue that a teenager is trying to grapple with all by himself. The idea that they alone must create their own morality in a vacuum is not what we want to be instilling in our Catholic teenagers.
A final danger signal I see in these books is Dashner’s choice to use the word “Creators” to refer to the ruthless adults at Wicked who designed the killzone experiments. To me, this raises a question of whether the book is meant to be an analogy for humankind, stuck in a fallen world by an uncaring Creator. Reading too much into this word choice? Maybe. But maybe not. In any case, for all these reasons, I would pass on The Maze Runner as a reading choice for your teenagers.