I thought I’d take a look at the science fiction and fantasy Maze Runner series of young adult novels and films.
The books and films are aimed at the young adult market. The books are an easy and fun read and they contain loads of interesting ideas. They’re tightly plotted with plenty of action. I enjoyed reading them.
The books are:
- The Maze Runner (2009)
- The Scorch Trials (2010)
- The Death Cure (2011)
There are two prequels:
- The Kill Order ( 2012)
- The Fever Code (2016)
The first three books tell the story of Thomas, who finds himself without any memories, in the middle of terrifying and mysterious maze. He’s there with a group of boys. It’s Lord of the Flies in a maze. I don’t want to give too much of the story away but his journey is a bit like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, not literally obviously, but it goes from one strange mystery to another. The three books boast bio-mechanical monsters, mutant zombies, a boy meets girl story, parental-like baddies who know better than the kids, and post-apocalyptic landscapes.
These multi-part YA stories, often trilogies, have a three act plot structure that’s basically stretched out over the course of three novels. Once you’re hooked on the first novel it’s easy to buy the second and third just to find out what happens to the characters. The second novel tends to take a dip in quality and acts as a bridge to the third.
- The first novel hooks the reader.
- The second novel poses a bigger problem the one posed in book one.
- The third novel solves the problem posed in book two.
You can see the pattern in novels like Ready Player One, Ready Player Two, and there’s almost certainly going to be a Ready Player Three, the Chaos Walking series, and The Hunger Games.
The Maze Runner novels were published in 2009, 2010, 2011. I’m not sure if they were written together (and published in a staggered fashion for marketing purposes), or if they were written sequentially year after year. Either way, that’s pretty good going.
The novels get slightly shorter as they go along:
- The Maze Runner: 101,182 words
- The Scorch Trials: 96,869 words.
- The Death Cure: 87,385 words.
And there are slightly more chapters as the series progresses:
- The Maze Runner: 62 chapters.
- The Scorch Trials: 65 chapters.
- The Death Cure: 73 chapters.
The story is basically:
- The mystery of the maze. An escape story.
- Transiting a dangerous desert (that’s between the maze and the city).
- Taking the fight into the city (the enemy stronghold).
The Maze Runner series is written in the third person past tense. The storytelling is lean and efficient. It’s easy to be sniffy about young adult fiction but there’s a lot for any writer to learn from these books about plotting and writing action scenes.
I think The Hunger Games is slightly better written. It’s written in the first person, present tense. It’s one of the better examples of what can be done with this combination. Like The Maze Runner it’s an addictive read an excellent example of creating tension by constantly putting the protagonist in peril:
- Protagonist’s fear of a situation
- Danger of actually being in the situation
- The relief of surviving the situation
- Anxiety about another challenged
- Facing the next challenge head on and winning though resilience and strategy
- Another point of reflection between the action scenes
The Maze Runner books are slightly different in tone to the films. The Thomas in the novels feels a little less certain of himself. This is the norm with YA novels and their adaptations. (It will be interesting to see how the two main characters in the new Chaos Walking (2021) film are treated, especially the male character.)
The Maze Runner trilogy was a success, although not on the standout multi-billion dollar scale of the Harry Potter films (few things are).
The Maze Runner (2014)
- Budget: $34 million.
- Box office: $348.3 million.
- Rotten Tomatoes: 65% (170 reviews)
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)
- Budget: $61 million.
- Box office: $312.3 million.
- Rotten Tomatoes: 46% (147 reviews)
Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)
- Budget: $62 million
- Box office: $288.2 million
- Rotten Tomatoes: 43% (169 reviews)
Adapting novels into films is a challenge. Novels seem better suited to mixing the protagonist’s inner world with dramatic action. In films it’s either character based with a disappointing story or action packed and featuring cardboard characters.
I think the Maze Runner films hit a successful balance between the characters and the action. The ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are on the stingy side in my view, reflecting the inherant story overlap between the three films, especially the end of the second film and the start of the third. The budget doubled in the second and third films, and that’s reflected in the outstanding CGI.